James Comey’s testimony is not going to break the impasse in Washington and will satisfy neither side. Trump supporters are claiming that the president was exonerated because Comey did not claim that Trump ordered him to drop the Russia investigation and did not present an airtight accusation of obstruction of justice. Trump opponents point to the fact that Comey stood by his claim that the president asked him to drop the investigation of Mike Flynn and that such a request is unethical, even if it doesn’t clearly rise to the standard of obstruction of justice.
Whatever your opinion of the he said-he said dispute between Comey and Trump, the matter underscores just how wrong Trump supporters were about one thing: Character does still matter.
The fundamental question in the matter is who to believe. Do Americans trust the former FBI director with an axe to grind and a reputation for protecting himself politically or do they trust the sitting president with a casual regard for the truth, a man who has a reputation for saying whatever seems expedient at the moment and walking it back or pretending it was never said later.
When a president needs the benefit of the doubt from the country, as Trump does now, it helps if he has a good reputation. Trump does not. A Quinnipiac poll from May found that 61 percent say that Trump is not honest. When asked the first word that comes to mind about Donald Trump, the top three answers were “idiot” (39 percent), “incompetent” (31 percent), and “liar” (30 percent).
Right now, given the choice of whether to believe Donald Trump or James Comey, most Americans are going to believe Comey on the weight of their reputations. That Trump realizes this is evident by attempts to smear and discredit Comey with personal attacks. These attacks serve to make Trump look more guilty and there is a good chance that they will backfire disastrously for the administration.
The problem for Trump and the strategy of attempting to destroy Comey’s reputation is that Comey is likely to have evidence. Comey testified in his opening statement that he shared Trump’s comments with the senior leadership team of the FBI immediately after their dinner on January 27. If these other FBI agents corroborate Comey’s testimony, then Trump supporters are left in the unenviable position of either admitting that the president abused his authority and then lied about it or believing that Trump is telling the truth and everyone else is lying.
A second possibility is that Trump “taped” one or more of the meetings and that these tapes, if found and released, would show who is telling the truth. The odds are that it would not be Trump, given the rumors that Trump made similar requests of other intelligence officials.
“Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” Comey said at one point in his testimony. So do I, because that is likely to be the only way to prove the case to the Trump faithful. As if that would even do it.
Comey’s testimony won’t be enough to impeach Trump. The case for obstruction of justice is tenuous enough that it probably won’t persuade many Republicans in Congress to desert him.
What it will do is end his legislative agenda (such as it is). Gone is almost any chance of working across the aisle for health care reform, tax reform or the myriad other issues that are vital to the future of the country. It is looking more and more like Obamacare is here to stay thanks to President Trump’s poor judgment… along with the poor judgment of the voters who made him the Republican candidate.