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‘The nature of the man’ is catching up to Donald Trump

Former FBI director James Comey is sworn in as he prepares to testify about a series of conversations with President Donald Trump, before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Capitol Hill in June 2017. | J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Lordy, yes, let’s hope there are tapes.

Former FBI Director James Comey revealed little new Thursday about Russia’s meddling in last year’s elections, but he really gave it to President Donald Trump. After Comey’s morning of testimony on Capitol Hill, any honest investigation will have to include the president himself.


Comey shied away from accusing Trump of obstruction of justice, that infamously impeachable offense, but he described vividly how the president, in his opinion, repeatedly pressured him to kill an FBI investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Comey admitted his dark reading of Trump’s intentions was based in part on “the nature of the man.” And he accused the president of telling “lies, plain and simple” about why he fired him as head of the FBI.

None of this was really news. Much of what Comey had to say Thursday had been leaked weeks earlier, at least once by Comey himself. But the sum total of his testimony undoubtedly has done real damage to Trump’s already low credibility, despite his defenders’ efforts to spin and dismiss.

Republicans on the Intelligence Committee astutely did not challenge Comey on the basic facts. He was sitting there too much like Superman. Their strategy was to abandon common sense and trot out the most benign interpretations of those facts, leading us to dearly hope that Trump really did secretly record his conversations with Comey.

Last month, Trump hinted via Twitter that he has “tapes” of their talks, though the White House now — true to form — refuses to confirm or deny the tapes exist.

“Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” Comey said Thursday, saying they could confirm his testimony that Trump leaned on him to kill the Flynn probe. “The president knows if he taped me, and if he did, my feelings aren’t hurt. Release all the tapes. I’m good with it.”

If Robert Mueller, the independent prosecutor now running the FBI investigation, has not subpoenaed the tapes yet, you can believe somebody is drafting an order.

Until such hard evidence comes along, though, what exactly transpired between Trump and Comey will remain hot fodder for debate on Capitol Hill and in barrooms across America.

Sen. James Risch, a Republican from Idaho, parsed Trump’s words so painfully in an effort to absolve him that you might have wished for an aspirin.

He noted that Trump had said to Comey, in a Feb. 14 meeting in the Oval Office, that “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” And Risch noted that Comey had said he interpreted Trump’s words as a “direction” to drop the Flynn investigation.

But, Risch said, there was another way to read those words: “You may have taken it as a direction, but he said ‘I hope.'”

Sen. Kamala Harris, a Democrat from California, followed with a reality check. If a person puts a gun to your head gun and says “I hope you will give me your wallet,” Harris said, “hope is not the most operative word at that moment.”

The Republican strategy was less to defend Trump than to attack Comey, questioning why he never said to Trump, “Sir, that’s wrong.”

Excellent question. Comey should have stood up more to Trump, which would seem to be part of the job, even if it might have cost him the job. But he did keep careful memos of his conversations with Trump, and he asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to spare him from any further one-on-one meetings with the president.

Comey revealed himself Thursday to be a consummate Washington strategist, no doubt. He admitted to leaking a memo of his Feb. 14 conversation with Trump, passing it along through a friend to the New York Times. He predicted its explosive contents would lead to the appointment of a special prosecutor and he was right.

Comey can be too clever by half, but his testimony was invaluable. The investigative spotlight will expand to include the president more fully, as it should.

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