FBI Director James Comey prepares to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, May 3, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JIM...
JIM WATSON

Trump takes a big risk with a categorical denial on Comey

Updated
Towards the end of yesterday’s White House press conference, Donald Trump was asked a good yes-or-no question.
Q: 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: No. No. Next question.
The trouble, of course, is that James Comey wrote a contemporaneous memo, documenting a meeting he had with the president in which Trump allegedly told the then-FBI director, in reference to the Russia investigation and Michael Flynn’s role, “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.”

The existence of this memo – and others that are reportedly like it – make Trump’s direct, on-camera denial incredibly risky. The president could’ve hedged, used imprecise language, or even said he couldn’t comment on such matters because they’re part of an ongoing federal investigation, but he instead offered a categorical answer.

And that reminded me of a story about Ken Starr.

On Jan. 26, 1998, with the White House embroiled in a sex scandal, Bill Clinton famously declared in front of the media’s cameras, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” Clinton knew at the time that there was only one other person who knew that wasn’t true, so he assumed he’d get away with it.

Nearly nine months later, Ken Starr presented Congress with 11 grounds for presidential impeachment, and the 11th specifically pointed to this Clinton comment. The independent counsel’s report said, “The President also misled the American people and the Congress in his public statement of January 26, 1998, in which he denied ‘sexual relations’ with Ms. Lewinsky.”

And that, from Starr’s perspective, was one of several reasons Clinton deserved to be impeached.

Against the backdrop of Trump’s denial yesterday, it’s something to keep in mind.

Donald Trump, James Comey and Scandals

Trump takes a big risk with a categorical denial on Comey

Updated