June 8, 2017
Watergate it wasn’t. Not even Clarence Thomas versus Anita Hill. This was Jim Comey’s revenge tour and the former FBI boss threw every bomb, punch and handful of mud he could find at Donald Trump.
Three hours later, the president was still standing. A little dirtier, to be sure, but stronger because he survived the much-anticipated onslaught.
Consider the day from the partisan angles. If you started as a Trump supporter, you still are. You were buttressed by the disclosures that the media got lots of big anti-Trump stories wrong, and not surprised that Comey, like much of the permanent government, was against the president from the start.
At the end of the day, you’re wondering, Where’s the beef? Where’s the crime?
On the other hand, if you’re a Democrat salivating over what you hoped would be the first big step to impeachment of Trump, your dreams were dashed. The most optimistic interpretation of the facts don’t add up to anywhere near an impeachable offense.
Even worse for the left, Comey confirmed that Trump was not under personal investigation in the Russia-collusion probe. That had to hurt like Election Night all over again, with Hillary Clinton losing again.
Even those who tuned in just hoping for a good show had to be disappointed. Comey-palooza, like its protagonist, never delivered on its hype.
It wasn’t for lack of trying. Comey came to destroy Trump, and Dem Senators did all they could to raise the ante on his statements and suggest implications he didn’t. Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia has been especially a nasty partisan, and yesterday was no exception.
But his problem, like Comey’s, is the facts. Not to mention the star witness’s own conduct and his insufferable only-honest-man-in-Washington act.
In one revealing sequence, Comey said he didn’t want to create “a J. Edgar Hoover situation” with Trump, where he held important information as a weapon to be used when needed. Which, of course, is exactly what he ended up doing.
The career prosecutor made extensive notes of his meetings with the president he didn’t trust, yet held them tight as long as he held his job. When he was fired, he gave those notes to a friend to leak to the media with the hope they would lead to the appointment of a special counsel — which they did.
In other words, the so-called whistleblower is the most sneaky, Hoover-like of them all. If this is rectitude in Washington, Heaven help America.
Comey also had concerns about the previous administration.
For example, he believed former attorney general Loretta Lynch was protecting Hillary Clinton’s campaign by meeting with former President Bill Clinton and ordering Comey to call the investigation into her private e-mail server a “matter,” which tracked what Clinton was calling it.
Comey also said there were other events that led him to suspect Lynch, but would only discuss them behind closed doors.
It’s important to know what those other matters were and how Lynch came to decide the investigation was a “matter.” Did Bill Clinton suggest it? Was President Obama part of the decision, or was his public statement that Clinton did nothing wrong sufficient to give Lynch her marching orders?
Yet we may never know because Comey didn’t take notes and kept his concerns to himself, and made all the key decisions about the Clinton case. He hid his misgivings about Lynch just as he did about Trump — until he got fired. Then he became a nonpartisan truth-teller.
Comey’s actions illustrate why no president ever fired J. Edgar Hoover. They were all afraid of him.
I believe Comey deserved to be fired. But there is no denying that Trump’s private conversations with him, combined with the various explanations for the dismissal, have created a problem of the president’s own making.
Just how big a problem depends on what special counsel Robert Mueller finds, which means Trump is not out of the woods. We don’t know what, if anything, Comey added to his case behind closed doors, and his extensive praise of Mueller should concern Trump.
Ultimately, impeachment is much more of a political matter than a legal one, and it is rarely invoked because of the great upheaval it causes and the necessity of bipartisan support for conviction.
So while politics might ultimately save Trump, politics also present an immediate hurdle. Given his outsider status and outsized personality, his main challenge is to prove that he can govern responsibly enough that Republicans will follow his lead and adopt his agenda.
Yet many in the GOP congress are still skittish, and it hasn’t helped the president that his public approval numbers are low by historical standards.
One result is that most of Trump’s achievements have come through executive orders and on the foreign stage. The House struggled to narrowly pass a repeal of ObamaCare, and, with the notable exception of the Senate’s confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, Republican control has produced nothing close to game-changers.
Meanwhile, the hope of tax reform, or even tax cuts, is shrinking by the day. Despite increased optimism and a rising stock market, the economy hasn’t sizzled and high-paying jobs remain elusive in many parts of Trump Nation.
At times, Trump seems to understand as much and what he needs to do about it. His visit to Ohio Wednesday to introduce his infrastructure bill, and his twitter silence during yesterday’s hearing, speak to a focus on the long game and the need for team-work.
At other times, he engages in petty squabbles that send Republicans scurrying for cover. Five months into his tenure, many of those he needs feel secure enough politically to keep their distance.
This is the urgent problem Trump must fix if he is to be a successful president. He needs enough public support to pull congress his way so he can deliver on his promise of jobs, jobs, jobs.
If he can do that, impeachment will remain a liberal fantasy.