Yesterday afternoon, former FBI Director James Comey’s opening statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee landed on the political world like a bombshell. The remarks, which Comey will deliver under oath this morning, raised the prospect of serious wrongdoing on the part of Donald Trump, with Ben Wittes describing the statement as “the most shocking single document compiled about the official conduct of the public duties of any President since the release of the Watergate tapes.”It’s against this backdrop that Marc Kasowitz, Trump’s outside counsel, tried to pretend that Comey’s written version of events is great news for his client.
“The President is pleased that Mr. Comey has finally publicly confirmed his private reports that the President was not under investigation in any Russian probe. The President feels completely and totally vindicated. He is eager to continue to move forward with his agenda.”
For the record, I don’t think he was kidding.
Obviously, attorneys are obligated to represent their clients’ interests, but let’s be clear: Comey’s statement yesterday put Trump’s presidency in jeopardy and may help bring about its premature end. If the former FBI director’s account is accurate, the president demanded Comey’s loyalty, and suggested the demand was tied to Comey’s future career. Trump also personally urged the FBI director to back off an ongoing federal investigation, which looks an awful lot like obstruction of justice.
The statement from Trump’s outside counsel doesn’t deny, refute, or contest any of these allegations.
Just as importantly, though Comey’s statement didn’t highlight this, the information the former FBI director documented suggests the president didn’t just obstruct justice – he also brazenly lied about it to the American public.
1. Trump was asked on Fox News last month whether he ever asked Comey for his loyalty. Trump responded, “No, I didn’t.” We now have reason to believe this was a lie.
2. Trump was asked at a White House press conference last month, “Did you at any time urge former FBI Director James Comey in any way, shape, or form to close or to back down the investigation into Michael Flynn?” Trump replied, “No. No. Next question.” We now have reason to believe this was a lie, too.
3. Trump was asked by NBC News’ Lester Holt about the private dinner he had with Comey, and the president said the FBI director “asked for the dinner.” We now have reason to believe this was also a lie.
In other words, before the hearing even begins, and senators help explore Comey’s account in more detail, the former FBI director has documented specific instances about the president of the United States lying to the public about his alleged misconduct.
To the extent that reality still has meaning, this isn’t what “vindicated” means.