It’s not difficult to make the case that when Donald Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey in order to undermine an ongoing federal investigation into Trump’s political operation, the president committed obstruction of justice. Not surprisingly, Trump’s lawyers are pushing in the opposite direction.In fact, as Joy noted on last night’s show, the Wall Street Journal reports that the president’s personal attorneys have “met several times with Special Counsel Robert Mueller in recent months and submitted memos arguing that the president didn’t obstruct justice” when he fired Comey. One memo, in particular, made the case that Comey is not to be believed, “calling him prone to exaggeration, unreliable in congressional testimony and the source of leaks to the news media, these people said.”
Let’s put aside, for now, the fact that if anyone is “prone to exaggeration,” it’s the spectacularly dishonest man in the Oval Office. Instead, the memo is emblematic of something broader: Trump and his team believe going after Comey – again – is an important presidential survival tactic.
Indeed, as the New York Times noted, Trump renewed the offensive in earnest this morning.
In an early morning tweet that appeared to seize on a statement from two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee about Mr. Comey’s handling of the inquiry, Mr. Trump complained of “a rigged system,” returning to his grudge against the former F.B.I. chief. […]
“Wow, looks like James Comey exonerated Hillary Clinton long before the investigation was over,” Mr. Trump wrote on Friday. “A rigged system!”
This is interesting for a few reasons, so let’s unpack it.
In an interesting coincidence, while Trump’s lawyers are making the case that Comey isn’t to be trusted, two Senate Republicans – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Sen. Lindsey Graham – claim to have evidence that the former FBI director began drafting a statement on Hillary Clinton’s exoneration before the completion of the investigation into her email server protocols.
The GOP senators, appearing eager to help with Team Trump’s offensive against Comey, wrote in a letter to the FBI this week, “Conclusion first, fact-gathering second – that’s no way to run an investigation.”
This is what the president was seizing on this morning to argue that the system is “rigged.”
But this doesn’t make any sense. First, it’s not exactly scandalous to think the FBI director saw where the investigation was headed, and began making notes for a draft statement. Political hysterics notwithstanding, the case against Clinton was pretty ridiculous, and objective legal observers knew for months how the probe would end up.
Second, Trump seems to have forgotten his own White House’s talking points. Remember, after the Comey firing, the president’s team initially said the FBI director had been too harsh in his handling of the Clinton case, which led to his dismissal. It’s a little late in the game for Trump to turn around and say the exact opposite.
He can say Comey was too tough on Clinton or he was too quick to exonerate her, but when Trump makes both arguments, it’s a reminder not to take this nonsense too seriously.