Wednesday, June 7, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He pronounced himself "completely and totally vindicated" by an advance copy of James Comey's opening statement for tomorrow's testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Comey's statement does contain the surprising revelation that he did give Trump an indication that he was not personally a target of one specific counterintelligence investigation. (In Trump's letter firing Comey, he made a point of asserting that Comey had told him "on three separate occasions" that he was not under investigation.) 

But there is no way to read Comey's statement as "vindicating" Trump. It refers only to the FBI's counterintelligence probe into Russia's election interference, which was aimed at uncovering "sources and methods" rather than building criminal cases. It applies only to events before March 30--and a great deal has happened since then. And most damaging of all, the reason Comey gives for refusing Trump's request to publicly declare that he was not a target is that the FBI would then be obliged to correct such a statement when and if the situation changed. 

This is not the first time that Trump has declared himself "vindicated" by developments that do no such thing. Trump's statement did not address other points of interest in Comey's statement: that Trump sought to bargain with Comey for his personal loyalty, that Trump contacted him nine times in four months (compared to two contacts in four years under President Obama), or that Trump asked Comey outright to stop investigating Michael Flynn.

Why should anyone care about this?

  • Presidents are entitled to defend themselves, politically and legally, but calling this a "vindication" insults the intelligence.
  • It's bad if a president does virtually any of the things described in Comey's statement.