Repub­li­cans cir­cle wag­ons

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - — Lisa Mas­caro

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.”

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