Terry H. Schwadron
Undoubtedly, it will be uncomfortable for President Trump this morning when former FBI Director James Comey Jr. testifies about being asked by the President to back off on the Michael Flynn investigation. But my prediction is that Mr. Trump will emerge with enough wiggle room from all the backing-and-forthing that he will avoid an attack fatal to his presidency.
For sure, the play-by-play leading up to today’s testimony is more than damning. Amidst the early release of Comey’s statements, reports from private Senate conversations with other top intelligence chiefs, from the disclosures that Comey shared with Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions his feeling of discomfort about being alone with the President, as well as the president’s desire to “lift the cloud” over his presidency with a public Comey assurance of Mr. Trump’s innocence, there is enough there to lament a President who is either conniving, emotionally insecure, or so stupid as to not understand the priority of what he was doing.
All are serious problems for a President, of course. But his words probably do not constitute a crime.
As The Washington Post described it, “In seven remarkable pages of prepared testimony, Comey describes a president obsessed with loyalty and publicly clearing his name amid an FBI investigation of his associates, and the FBI director’s growing unease with the nature of the demands being made of him in their private conversations.”
At this point, only direct evidence of an absolute crime involving not only people who cling to Mr. Trump’s coattails or his campaign personnel or even son-in-law Jared showing inappropriate or more-than-questionable contacts with Russian ambassadors, operatives or bankers with close ties to the Kremlin will be required to move Republican congressional members to break with the President.
The question about whether the Russians inappropriately tried to interfere with the U.S. elections seems to have been answered as a yes. But Republicans still rally around Mr. Trump.
The questions about whether Flynn, Jared, Jeff Sessions and others had inappropriate meetings with Russians is still being investigated. But Mr. Trump has made clear he will cut them off one by one if need be to save himself and the idea that he won an election fair and square.
The question about whether Mr. Trump tried inappropriately to interfere with FBI investigation of Flynn and that Russian connection is almost certainly yes as well. But by the end of today I would suggest there still will be wiggle room for those Republicans to cling to the leader. By last night, Trump’s lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, said that the president “is pleased that Mr. Comey has finally publicly confirmed his private reports that the President was not under investigation in any Russian probe. The President feels completely and totally vindicated.”
Through all the tweets, the misbehaviors, through the inappropriate sharing of intelligence with those very same Russians, through bludgeoning of allies, the breaking of diplomatic traditions and admiration for bad, authoritarian leaders abroad, these Republican lawmakers have stood by Mr. Trump. No one thing nor the whole ball of wax has been considered bad enough for them to open a serious wedge between themselves and the President.
Mr. Trump ought to be sending each Republican in Congress bouquets of roses; I would send them thorns only.
There will have been many lessons learned by the end of today.
Comey will come across as a man of integrity, under pressure from a partisan, boastful, would-be authoritarian boss. Sessions will come across as a fearful quisling. Flynn will be all-but painted as not-to-be believed rogue agent. And so on down the line.
Mr. Trump will come across as ego-centric, pathetically ignorant man who wants both to save a loyal friend and to squash the very notion that someone in high places could be questioning what he has accomplished.
The President will seize on the statement that Comey offered, apparently without being asked, that Mr. Trump personally was not the direct subject of an FBI investigation. He and the White House communications team — and the Republican establishment — will argue that anything else said doesn’t matter. The key thing is that the FBI was indicating that he, Mr. Trump, was not the subject of an investigation. They will explain away the context of asking about Flynn as caring about a friend whom he just had fired for the unrelated sin of lying to the Vice President about his actions.
As close as it will come is this New York Times account: “Mr. Trump also asked Mr. Comey, in a previously undisclosed phone call on March 30, what could be done to “lift the cloud” over him from the investigation, because it was hurting his ability to govern, according to the remarks. But Mr. Comey will say that he was reluctant to make that announcement “for a number of reasons, most importantly because it would create a duty to correct, should that change.”
I’m no prosecutor, but I doubt that will be strong enough to justify talk of an obstruction of justice charge. But I wouldn’t trust Mr. Trump as far as I could tweet him.
But okay, the real issue, so far as I am concerned, is that the Republicans in Congress now demand that there be evidence of an actual crime before they consider Mr. Trump’s presidency fatally flawed.
The President’s actions have been heinous, his attitudes have been mean and vindictive, his accomplishments thin, and this presidency is officially stuck in the mud. But to the Republican chorus, he hasn’t done anything really wrong.
Drain this swamp.