Views / Opinion

Comey Day was both shocking and to be expected: Rosemary Westwood

The former FBI director's testimony wasn't the breaking point in a volatile America but, like a thunderstorm, at some point, it's got to break.

Former FBI Director James Comey testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill June 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. Comey said that President Donald Trump pressured him to drop the FBI's investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and demanded Comey's loyalty during the one-on-one meetings he had with president.

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Former FBI Director James Comey testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill June 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. Comey said that President Donald Trump pressured him to drop the FBI's investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and demanded Comey's loyalty during the one-on-one meetings he had with president.

On the one hand, you almost want to run around the room screaming, then rush to the door and shout to the entire block something about “Comey!” “Trump!” “Flynn!” and “Russia!” and “loyalty!” and “liar!”

On the other hand, you kind of want to shrug.

In Dickensian fashion, Comey Day was both shocking, and to be expected. Both unprecedented, yet in the context of a scandal-ridden Trump administration, banal.

The former director of the FBI James Comey, fired by Trump this spring, testified publicly about his contact with Trump, his firing, and the Russian influence in the U.S. election before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday.

It was explosive, in the sense that a former FBI director gave a public, withering critique of the sitting U.S. president that the New Yorker argued pointed directly to obstruction of justice.

He suggested Trump doesn’t care about Russian attacks on the U.S. election, an unthinkable charge in the pre-Trump era.

He accused Trump and his and his administration of “lies, plain and simple” for defamatory statements about the director and the FBI in general made after Comey was fired.

He underlined that Trump directly asked Comey for his “loyalty” and asked for the investigation of former NSA director Mike Flynn to be dropped, via the words “I hope you can let this go.”

What emerged was a portrait of an FBI chief who deeply distrusted his president, who viewed him as less ethical, or perhaps even knowledgeable, than presidents past. A man who took meticulous notes on the gut feeling that he may one day need to defend himself and the FBI, and who viewed the president’s behaviour — particularly his insistence on meeting one-on-one with Comey to talk about the Russian investigation — as pertinent to the entire Russian-interference investigation.

Trump’s whole Mafia boss vibe was on full display. And Comey — who’s now earned the hatred of both political parties in less than a year — came off as a gallant defender of the truth.

On the other hand, much of what was discussed was already known. Parts of Comey’s testimony had previously been leaked to the press, and what was new was released on Wednesday, the day before. Trump himself has said he fired Comey with Russia on his mind, to speed that investigation, so it wasn’t news that Comey came to view his own firing under that light.

It was certainly important to hear Comey, from his own mouth in his own words, explain these titillating, Tinker-Tailor-Soldier-Spy-esq details of presidential intrigue.

But they played perfectly in the predictable partisan political atmosphere, in which it doesn’t matter what you say: If you’re not with Trump — explicitly, full-throatedly, unreservedly — you’re against him. And not just him, but the entire RNC, Fox News, and every Trump voter in the nation.

Thus, the conservative National Review headlined that Trump “pressured” Comey, but didn’t “obstruct” the investigation. Trump’s spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said she was “insulted” at the suggestion that Trump was a liar. Fox News underlined that the word “hope” means Trump didn’t order Comey to drop the Flynn investigation. And Donald Trump Jr., the son who most resembles a moppet, praised the stock market's rise and retweeted a comment that “today was a big win” for President Trump.

Paul Ryan, the Republican speaker of the house, brushed off Trump’s actions as those of a newbie unsteeped in protocols, which Matthew Yglesias of Vox News called “part of an ongoing process of Republicans lowering the bar for Trump’s statements and conduct in a way that is both nonsensical and dangerous.”

And it’s true: The history of Trump and RNC has been one of excuses, of giving a pass to outrageous behaviour for various reasons, but often for the two on display this week: Trump’s both dumb/ignorant of political norms, and not a criminal. (Just the kind of praise I look for from my references.)

And while it may have felt like the whole world was watching (the testimony covered the front page of the BBC’s website on a U.K. election day, was carried live across major TV networks and radio stations, and took over Twitter) — there was a notable voice absent: That of the president himself. He of nimble thumbs hadn’t tweeted since Wednesday, when Comey dropped his bombshell of a testimony in advance in writing.

Only Trump’s personal lawyer responded at length, calling Comey a liar and denying Trump made the “loyalty” and Flynn comments.

Back to the Trump-said, someone-else-said dynamic we go (unless Trump released the audio recording he once insinuated he keeps). Back to the land of dual realities on the left and right, part of the reason few believe this testimony gets Trump that much closer to impeachment.

But it’s hard to believe that four years can pass like this, even in a volatile America. Comey Day wasn’t the breaking point, but you can feel it coming like a thunderstorm. The air is condensing. The temperature is rising. At some point, it’s got to break.

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