Those who were playing the Trump Twitter drinking game — take a drink every time President Donald Trump tweets — during James Comey’s Senate committee testimony came away surprisingly sober.
For two days, the president maintained Twitter silence, causing surprised followers like me to wonder if he had dozed off, or worse.
But at 6:10 a.m. on the morning after former FBI Director Comey appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Trump reappeared in the Twittersphere with this: “Despite so many false statement and lies, total and complete vindication … and WOW, Comey is a leaker!”
Oh, really? As often happens with Trump’s tweets, this one fiddles with facts. That’s not an extraordinary development for our serial-exaggerator president, who has never backed off his ludicrous claim to the biggest inauguration crowd ever.
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In similar fashion, Comey’s testimony raised more questions than vindication, except for those who – like Trump – dismiss inconvenient facts as “fake news.” He cannot shrug off ongoing investigations by the Senate committee and special counsel Robert Mueller of ties between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.
Mueller’s investigation followed what, so far, is the most pivotal tweet of Trump’s presidency. On May 12, he typed: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”
That was the tweet, according to Comey’s account to the Senate Intelligence Committee, that spurred him as a private citizen to make a special request to a friend, Columbia Law professor Daniel Richman.
Comey asked Richman to tell the New York Times about the memos he had written to describe his interactions in private meetings with President Trump. The memos described why Comey thought the president had asked him, as FBI director, to drop the FBI’s criminal investigation into Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
The Times story appeared seven days after Comey was fired.
Was that a “leak,” as Trump calls it? Comey was passing his own memos, not classified documents, to the Times. As he told the Senate, he hoped the disclosure would lead to the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election and possible collusion with associates of the president’s campaign. It did.
On May 17, the day after the Times piece ran, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein named former FBI Director Mueller, a long-time friend of Comey, to the post,
Trump was apparently declaring victory because Comey wouldn’t say whether he believed the president obstructed justice by saying he wished Comey would “let” the Flynn investigation “go.” Comey told the senators that he was confident that Mueller would make that determination.
Indeed, if Trump should be angry at anyone, it is himself. By needlessly firing Comey and tweeting recklessly about it, Trump single-handedly turned his Russia problem – a “cloud” over his administration, he reportedly told Comey – into a much bigger problem.
Now it’s an investigation into possible obstruction of justice charges, the same charge that forced Richard M. Nixon to resign his presidency for cover-ups during the Watergate scandal.
Yes, here comes the old Watergate era line once again: It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up that counts.
Were it not for the rising investigation into a possible cover-up, Trump would have reason to celebrate Comey’s debunking of a February New York Times article as “in the main … not true,” although he didn’t say in the open hearing what specifically wasn’t true,
So, as the story about Team Trump’s possible collusion with Russians took a hit, suspicions about a possible Trump cover-up got a big boost from Comey’s testimony.
No, this investigation is only beginning. For those who appreciate history, it’s important to note that the Watergate investigations went on for more than two years. Bill Clinton’s Whitewater scandal lasted for seven of his eight years in office.
But the big question on everyone’s minds – Will Trump be impeached? – depends largely on the partisan makeup of the House and Senate. Legal scholars argue about it, but impeachment is a political process more than a legal one. It all comes down to how many votes the president has in Congress, which Trump’s Republican Party currently controls.
Still, there are danger signs on the horizon. A Politico/Morning Consult poll at the end of May found 43 percent of voters want impeachment proceedings to begin. Most of those cite political reasons, not criminal offenses. Still, that’s up from 38 percent the previous week.
Vindication is just one of Trump’s challenges.
Reach Clarence Page at firstname.lastname@example.org.