After fired FBI director James Comey’s much-ballyhooed testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, President Trump could come away feeling vindicated in two key respects. First, Comey acknowledged that Trump never attempted to impede the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election; second, Comey admitted that Trump was not under personal investigation. In two other, more minor respects, the Comey hearing was a winner for Trump, too: first, Comey acknowledged that Loretta Lynch improperly intervened in the Hillary investigation; second, Comey said that he had leaked material to the press, undermining his own credibility in some ways.
All of which could add up to a relatively solid defense for Trump, despite Comey’s allegations that Trump wanted to establish a “patronage” relationship with Comey and said he “hoped” Comey could find a way to let former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn off the hook.
That defense would look something like this:
I did not collude with Russia during the 2016 election. I have said that all along, and Comey confirmed that there is no evidence to suggest collusion by me; he even admitted, finally, that I was not under personal investigation. He told me that privately, but wouldn’t say it publicly, which upset me. That’s the real reason I fired him — out of anger that I wasn’t being exonerated in the public view, despite Comey knowing full well that I was not under investigation.
Furthermore, I didn’t obstruct any investigation. Comey admits I never tried to obstruct the Russia investigation; he even admits that I said he should check out my “satellite” associates regarding Russia. As far as my comments on General Flynn, they were merely hot-headed statements about my hopes — I know and like General Flynn, as does Comey. I’m not interested in protecting Flynn if he’s guilty of something. But we still have no evidence that beyond Flynn lying to Mike Pence about his phone calls to the Russians — phone calls that have not been shown to be anything but within legal bounds — anything was done that was wrong, in my opinion. I hoped Comey would feel the same way and bring the investigation to what I felt was a just conclusion, but I never instructed him to kill the investigation outright.
Actually, Comey knows that I didn’t obstruct his Flynn investigation. He said in his testimony that all investigations moved forward smoothly. If Comey thought I was obstructing his exercise of his duty, he should have quit or said something. He didn’t — not to me, not to Attorney General Sessions, not to anyone.
Look, I know I should have had patience with the process. But I’m not by nature a patient man. I want to get things done, and the cloud hanging over my administration thanks to Democratic scandalmongering has hampered my ability to pursue policies to help the American people. Calling my actions obstruction — without any evidence of an underlying crime — is nasty.
So let’s get back to work. I’ll try to contain my impatience with a process that simply doesn’t exist in the private sector, where we’re judged on whether we perform or not, not on what people say about us. And all of my Democratic colleagues should stop trying to oust me out of loyalty to Hillary Clinton, and start trying to focus on helping me help Americans.
That’s what Trump could say.
Instead, he’s sent out his lawyer to deny the key components of Comey’s account. This sets up an open conflict in credibility between Trump and Comey, and that’s no good for Trump. Trump would be wise to acknowledge his personal faults while pointing out that there is no real case against him outside of those faults. But that would take humility — and, dare I say it? — a bit of 4D chess.