Republicans circle wagons
Almost as striking as Comey’s testimony was the eagerness of many Republicans to stand with Trump, dismissing his private behavior as rookie mistakes of a wealthy businessman learning on the job.
While Democrats drew bright lines in Comey’s testimony of evidence mounting against Trump’s questionable actions in the White House, Republicans saw a version of events that relieved the president of any wrongdoing.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan set the tone early — “the president’s new at this; he’s new to government” — and others quickly joined his explanations.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, pressed if he was comfortable with Trump’s actions with the fired FBI director, said, “It’s a not altogether surprising.”
“This president is not a conventional office holder,” said Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate.
Republicans have been wary — at least publicly — of crossing Trump or sowing party divisions. They appeared to trust Trump’s version of events as much as those from Comey, who testified under oath before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Many Republicans believe Trump was vindicated by Comey’s appearance, since the FBI director confirmed he had told the president that he was not personally under investigation in connection with Russian interference in the election — even though the inquiry continues now with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and appears to have expanded to included Trump’s possible efforts to interfere.
“His testimony verified a lot of what the president has said and I think was generally more helpful to the president than not, but we’re not through with this by any means,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of the Intelligence Committee.
A few Republicans, though, appeared publicly pained as the investigation continues, fearing a continued drip-drip of revelations that are already distracting from the GOP majority’s agenda in Congress.
“The whole thing is unsettling,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said.
“That’s why we’re in a full-f ledged scandal, as I told you weeks ago, that’s why we need a select committee,” said McCain, whose calls with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) for a Sept. 11-style panel have been rejected by GOP leaders.
Said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) of Thursday’s hearing: “In the court of public opinion, it probably hurt Trump some. Legally, it reinforced what I’ve always believed, that he’s not under investigation for collusion — yet — with the Russians.”
For Democrats, meanwhile, the choice between Comey and Trump was easily apparent.
“He spoke, I think, from the heart,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said of Comey.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said he believed Comey was more trustworthy. “The whole Russian travesty was diminished by President Trump from the start, and I think what Comey’s trying to do is breath life back into it. And he should.”