Mr. Comey’s not very good day

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - BY WES­LEY PRUDEN Wes­ley Pruden is edi­tor in chief emer­i­tus of The Times.

One day of huff­ing, an­other day of puff­ing, and we’re just about where we were. Half of us want Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­dency to suc­ceed, whether we like ev­ery­thing about the Don­ald or not, and the other half re­gards him as the anti-Christ.

James Comey’s big day be­fore the U.S. Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee was treated in Wash­ing­ton as some­thing of a na­tional hol­i­day, with ev­ery­one gath­ered around tele­vi­sion sets in of­fices, bars and shops to watch the bombs fall, to watch Chan­nel 4 mor­tar Chan­nel 9.

The pres­i­dent was ex­pected to be in rags and tat­ters by the end of the day, but he was hardly dam­aged. Mr. Comey hurled no gre­nades, but landed an oc­ca­sional punch, and when night fell Demo­cratic dreams of im­peach­ing the pres­i­dent had shrunk from no fire, no smoke, to not even an in­crim­i­nat­ing va­por.

“The as­sump­tion of the crit­ics of the pres­i­dent, of his pur­suers, you might say,” as Chris Matthews of MSNBC did say, “is that some­where along the line in the last year the pres­i­dent had some­thing to do with col­lud­ing with the Rus­sians . . . to af­fect the elec­tion in some way. And yet what came apart this morn­ing was that the­ory.”

More in sor­row than anger, said a dis­ap­pointed Mr. Matthews, a fierce and re­sis­tant Demo­crat un­til the last yel­low dog dies, Mr. Comey re­vealed that Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn “wasn’t cen­tral to the Rus­sian in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” and that kills the idea that he might have been in a po­si­tion to tes­tify against the pres­i­dent. “And if that’s not the case, where’s the ‘there’ there.”

The Don­ald was re­vealed again as a man who talks too much, with a gift for the mem­o­rable in­sult, the de­mand to have his ego stroked. But didn’t we al­ready know that? What we know now about James Comey, only sus­pected ear­lier, is that he’s what the Bri­tish call “wet,” a wimp un­der pres­sure. He of­fered ev­i­dence at last of col­lu­sion, but it was only ev­i­dence of his ea­ger­ness to col­lude with his own emo­tions. He was in­ca­pable of stand­ing up to Don­ald Trump, be­yond the in­stinc­tive def­er­ence ev­ery­one ac­cords a pres­i­dent.

He’s guided by his feel­ings, which per­haps ex­plains why he has be­come a late hero of the present age. He tes­ti­fied that he “felt” “di­rected” to ter­mi­nate the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the ac­tiv­i­ties of Mike Flynn. “I mean, this is the pres­i­dent of the United States, with me alone, say­ing, ‘I hope this.’ I took it as, this is what he wants me to do.”

One of the most telling mo­ments of the day was an ex­change with Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein of Cal­i­for­nia, a Demo­crat, ask­ing the ques­tion that Repub­li­cans have raised over the weeks of ru­mor and not much real news. When he “felt” that Mr. Trump was ask­ing him to throt­tle his in­ves­ti­ga­tion, she asked: “Why didn’t you stop, and say, ‘Mr. Pres­i­dent, this is wrong.’?”

“That’s a great ques­tion,” Mr. Comey replied. “Maybe if I were stronger, I would have.”

This is the rough and tough G-Man, scourge of killers, rob­bers, rapists, ter­ror­ists and pur­vey­ors of wicked may­hem the world over. “Maybe if I were stronger, I would have.” That’s a real man that real men would fol­low any­where.

An­other Demo­cratic sen­a­tor, Joe Manchin of West Vir­ginia, asked him the $64 ques­tion: “Do you be­lieve this rises to ob­struc­tion of jus­tice?” He wanted to an­swer. What was the point of his big day, oth­er­wise? Maybe if he were stronger, he would have. But he just didn’t know. “That’s Bob Mueller’s job, to sort that out.”

The big­gest bomb­shell of the day — more a grenade than a bomb — was his dis­clo­sure that he was the leaker of one of his memos to the press, meant to put some steam in the Demo­cratic cam­paign to make the sack­ing of James Comey a new Water­gate. “My judg­ment was,” he said, “I need to get that out into the pub­lic square.” He couldn’t ac­tu­ally screw up the courage to drop the dime him­self, so he farmed it out to a col­lege pro­fes­sor friend.

Mr. Comey’s big day was not a good day for fake news and anony­mous sources. He con­firmed the pres­i­dent’s as­ser­tion that the FBI di­rec­tor had in fact told him three times that he was not a tar­get of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. CNN and ABC News both had re­ported that he would call that a lie, and both net­works had to “cor­rect” and “re­tract” in lieu of apol­o­giz­ing man­fully to their view­ers.

Even more damn­ing for the fake-news in­dus­try was the de­bunk­ing of the story in The New York Times, head­lined “Trump Cam­paign Aides Had Re­peated Con­tacts With Rus­sian In­tel­li­gence,” that first sent the story “vi­ral.” What a ter­rific story. This would be worth a Pulitzer for sure. But maybe not. “In the main,” tes­ti­fied Mr. Comey, “it was not true.”

But the beat goes on. You can be sure of that.

James Comey

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