Donald Trump sat down with Fox News' Jeanine Pirro last month, and the host, responding to a New York Times account, asked the president if he pressed then-FBI Director James Comey for his loyalty. "No," Trump replied. "No, I didn't."
We now have reason to believe the president was lying. The Comey statement released yesterday provides the details of the conversation in which Trump reportedly told the head of the FBI, "I need loyalty, I expect loyalty" -- and then seemed to connect his expectations to Comey's continued employment.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told MSNBC yesterday that it was "obviously" not appropriate for Trump to make such a request. Unfortunately, not every Republican leader agrees. The Washington Post reported:
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who is leading the Senate probe of possible Russian coordination with Trump associates, said he was not alarmed by Comey's account."I don't think it's wrong to ask for loyalty of anyone inside an administration," Burr said. "I don't think of what I've read there's anything of wrongdoing."
Note, Burr isn't rejecting Comey's account as unreliable. Rather, the North Carolina Republican is saying that if the account is true, he just doesn't care.
I realize assorted partisans are going to take steps to defend their party's leader, but Burr's quote is unsettling, not just because he's the chairman of the committee investigating the Russia scandal, but also because he's completely wrong.
"It is significant that we take an oath to support and defend the Constitution and not an individual leader, ruler, office, or entity. This is true for the simple reason that the Constitution is based on lasting principles of sound government that provide balance, stability, and consistency through time. A government based on individuals -- who are inconsistent, fallible, and often prone to error -- too easily leads to tyranny on the one extreme or anarchy on the other. The founding fathers sought to avoid these extremes and create a balanced government based on constitutional principles."
All Americans -- including the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee -- should care when a sitting president abandons these principles and tells the director of the FBI, "I need loyalty, I expect loyalty."
Richard Burr, confronted with this, said he doesn't see anything "wrong" with such an appeal. That's as ridiculous as it is dangerous: our system of government is predicated on the idea that those responsible for protecting the rule of law are loyal, above all, to the American system of justice. Trump, however, appears to have pressed Comey to prioritize the interests of his presidency.
Vox's Ezra Klein added yesterday, "Trump's behavior, in Comey's telling, is more befitting of a Mafioso than a president. He asks, repeatedly, for loyalty, and shows no evident understanding of the norms or institutions that bind American presidents. His actions would be worrying if they came from the regional manager of a Scranton paper firm; they are terrifying coming from the most powerful man in the world."
Partisans who dismiss this as insignificant may need a refresher on American Civics 101.