WASHINGTON – How long will this go on? House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., offered some bad news on this score immediately after the long-awaited appearance of former FBI Director James Comey before a Senate Committee last week.
Indicating that the House Republican majority is solidly behind President Trump, Ryan said the clumsy things the president said to Comey, which some Democrats claim are unlawful, are the result of some brand of Trump innocence.
Ryan said Trump is unfamiliar with law enforcement and the sophisticated ways of Washington.
“The president is new to this,” he told reporters. Ryan has apparently bought into Rush Limbaugh’s careworn story line that all of Trump’s manifold mistakes and disruptions are the result of the president’s naiveté.
Ryan’s comments strongly suggest that House leaders will duke it out with the truth all the way to the bitter end, that they will stand by Trump cheek by jowl in his probable battles with special counsel Robert Mueller over release of the president’s tax returns, and the possibility of White House voice recordings ordered by Trump.
These tilts may ultimately go to the Supreme Court.
Trump referred to White House voice recordings in one of his manifold tweets. Last week, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said that all of the many differences between Comey and Trump over what was said in their nine encounters can easily be cleared by Trump releasing the tapes, if there are any.
Briefly, Comey, whom the president fired with no notice, testified that Trump asked him to drop the FBI investigation into retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, whom Trump named his national security adviser and then fired.
Through his personal attorney, Trump has effectively denied that he ordered Comey to drop the criminal probe against Flynn. During Comey’s Senate testimony, he was asked if Trump’s “order” constituted a criminal obstruction of justice. Such a finding could be grounds for impeachment. Comey said such a charge would be up to Mueller.
Comey’s reputation as a spotless Boy Scout took a couple of hits in his testimony. First, he volunteered that he had, before his firing, turned over the notes of his meeting with Trump to a friend to be leaked to the New York Times for publication. The friend is Columbia law professor Daniel Richman, according to published reports. Some of the leaked memo found its way into print.
Comey’s testimony tends to validate conservatives’ claims that a “deep state” of appointees of former President Barack Obama have joined with media to drive Trump out of office. There is, to be fair, no public record of such a high-ranking federal official ever before volunteering that he leaked privileged material to the media.
Secondly, Comey volunteered that last year he bowed to the insistence of then Attorney General Loretta Lynch that he avoid calling the FBI’s investigation into Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s handling of her classified emails a “criminal investigation,” which is what it was. Lynch demanded Comey call it “a matter.” And he did.
These admissions by Comey raise many questions. Why did he so peaceably agree to cover up for a Democratic candidate, and then become so aggressive about a Republican president? And what other confidential information has been leaked by Comey?
Another matter that promises to stretch out this whole affair is the view by retired Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz that the president has a constitutional right to terminate the FBI director any time he wishes. The president has the same right to order the FBI to terminate any investigation it is conducting. These powers, Dershowitz says, come from the president’s constitutional role as the nation’s chief law giver and magistrate. So, where is the obstruction of justice on Trump’s part?