The day after Donald Trump fired his national security advisor, Michael Flynn, he reportedly had a private chat with then-FBI Director James Comey. According to a memo Comey wrote at the time, the president said, "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."That, of course, sounds remarkably similar to obstruction of justice, leaving the White House to try to come up with some kind of defense. As of last night, Trump's communications team released a statement -- no official wanted to put his or her name on the document -- that said, "[T]he president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation.... This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey."This morning, however, reporters started hearing a slightly different defense. NBC News' Marianna Sotomayor noted on Twitter this morning:
"A senior WH official tells @PeterAlexander that POTUS wasn't telling Comey to end Flynn investigation and suggest this is the way he speaks"
Politico's John Bresnahan had a similar item, noting that he heard from some congressional Republicans last night that the president's comments to Comey were an example of Trump "just spouting off." The comments weren't a "serious attempt at obstruction."If this is going to serve as the GOP defense, it's worth taking a moment to unpack it.First, on its face, the idea that everyone should overlook what a sitting president says to the director of the FBI about an ongoing counter-espionage investigation is a very tough sell.Second, let's not forget the context and setting. Comey was in the Oval Office for a terrorism threat briefing. At its conclusion, the president asked everyone in the room to leave except the then-FBI director, to whom Trump made a specific appeal about an ongoing investigation. If this was just casual chatter, why wait until they were no other witnesses?Third, even if we went out of our way to be charitable, and assumed that Trump's rhetorical appeal was meaningless, the president also fired the FBI director. According to Trump, he did so specifically because of his dissatisfaction with Comey's investigation into the Russia scandal. In other words, we're not just focusing on what the president said, but also what he did.Trump World is going to have to do better than this.