I’m having a hard time seeing former FBI director James Comey as a victim.
Don’t get me wrong: Ask me who I think has more credibility between Comey and his nemesis, President Donald Trump, and Comey wins that contest hands down.
Trump promised to release his taxes once elected but still refuses to do so.
Trump vowed to build a wall along the southern U.S. border and make Mexico pay for it, but that clearly is never going to happen.
Trump vowed to drain the swamp in the nation’s capital but instead muddied the waters by bringing in more political hacks, white nationalists and a cabal of advisers with suspicious ties to Russia and other foreign governments.
Trump takes ill-advised swipes at our European allies, but blows kisses at despots and dictators.
But let’s get back to the dominant story line of the day, of the past month, really: The disconcerting dust-up between Trump and Comey.
I have little doubt that Trump dumped Comey last month because he wouldn’t play along — which, in this case, means he wouldn’t pledge his loyalty to Team Trump.
How else do you explain Trump praising Comey one moment — just days before the presidential election in November — for having the “guts” to make public the FBI’s probe into Hillary Clinton’s private email server and then firing him in May for his handling of that same investigation?
None of the arrows are pointing in the right direction for the president on this. It all looks and smells bad.
But I can’t let Comey off the hook, either — or, more pointedly, place him on a pedestal.
I mean, how do we reconcile Comey’s inside-the-Beltway reputation as a straight shooter who does the right thing under pressure with his timid interactions with Trump?
Are we to believe that Comey lacked the presence of mind to tell Trump that he couldn’t meet alone with him while his agency’s investigation into Russia’s meddling with the presidential election was under way?
Or, did the FBI head — and again, this doesn’t track with his reputation — simply lack the backbone to stand up to the president?
Apparently so — at least until he was fired.
Case in point: What did Comey do a day after Trump allegedly asked him to end an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn? He ran to Attorney General Jeff Sessions to urge him to never leave him alone again with Trump.
I’m sorry, but that is a boundary that a strong and independent FBI director must be able to enforce. Comey needed to put Trump in his place then and there — and let the chips, namely his job security, fall where they may.
Instead, without the benefit of an audio recording to support his recollection of the conversation, he typed up a memo, which he later leaked after Trump fired and began discrediting him publicly.
Comey said he took that unusual step after Trump challenged his account of their conversation in a May 12 tweet: “James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”
That tweet, Comey said, prompted him to throw a counterpunch.
“I woke up in the middle of the night … because it didn’t dawn on me originally that there might be corroboration for our conversation,” Comey said Thursday in testimony before the Senate intelligence committee. “And my judgment was, I needed to get that out into the public square. And so I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter … because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel.”
Again, what we’re left with here is two conflicting narratives — a he-said-he-said — that may come down to whom you believe, or whom you want to believe. There is, of course, a lot more to this political saga, and a lot more evidence beyond Comey’s testimony that will figure into any final determinations. Which is why we need to tap the brakes for a spell until we know what all the pieces of this puzzle are.
Instead of making sweeping conclusions one way or the other or calling for an impeachment that won’t go anywhere anytime soon, we need to let Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed to ride herd over the investigation into ties between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials, finish his work.
Comey testified that Team Trump began spreading “lies, plain and simple” to discredit him. That, unfortunately, isn’t hard to believe if you’ve witnessed how this administration has comported itself since Day 1, starting with its estimate of Trump’s inauguration day crowd.
Comey, as he’s demonstrated, can fend for himself.
A bigger question, the one that Comey himself wouldn’t answer outright, is whether the president is guilty of obstructing justice. But the biggest question — the one we can’t lose sight of — is where the sketchy trail from Russian operatives who interfered with the last presidential election actually ends?
That may tell us all we need to know about Trump and his fledgling administration. Meanwhile, the jury’s still out on Comey, who, for now, has raised more prickly questions than definitive answers. My gut tells me something’s not right.
But rather than rushing to judgment, I want to see where the facts take us.
James Ragland is a columnist for the Dallas Morning News. Readers may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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