Republicans are having a hard time defending President Trump against the accusations from former FBI Director James Comey, who testified on Thursday in regards to conversations he had with Trump. One Republican senator admitted that if Trump did imply or ask Comey to drop all or some of the investigation into Michael Flynn and his connection to Russia, that would have certainly been wrong, but he pressed Comey about whether it was illegal for the president to do so. Since the entire reason for Comey’s testimony was to help determine if Trump was guilty of obstruction of justice, it should seem fairly obvious that, yes, it would be illegal.
Another Republican senator decided to use semantics to make it seem as if the conversations between Trump and Comey were merely a way for Trump to express his hopes about the investigation. The senator, James Risch of Idaho, repeatedly pointed out that Trump, according to Comey’s own record of the conversation, said “I hope” before making any statements. Risch then concluded that since Trump didn’t directly order Comey to drop part of the investigation, he isn’t guilty of obstructing justice.
John Cornyn, a Republican senator from Texas, chose to focus on the portion of the conversation in which Trump asked Comey to declare to the public that Trump was not the subject of an FBI investigation. Cornyn posited that such a request was reasonable since there was no investigation, but he still failed to see the point behind all these seemingly disconnected actions taken by Trump.
In perhaps the most audacious excuse presented by any Republican, Paul Ryan told reporters that Trump was merely inexperienced and didn’t know what he could and could not do as president. Of course, while that might be true, that doesn’t mean that the president wasn’t aware of potential problems that could have arisen from the Russian/Flynn investigation, which suggests that he actually did attempt to obstruct justice but just didn’t realize that’s what he was doing. Unfortunately for Trump, ignorance of the law isn’t a valid excuse.
The fact that so many different narratives are emerging from the Republican party in an attempt to explain or defend Trump is a strong indication that those establishment Republicans don’t know the best way to create a unified message. What that probably means is that they are all aware there is no single unifying message they can put forth.
Since the conversations between Trump and Comey were private and apparently weren’t recorded, unless Trump recorded them himself, it will be nearly impossible for the Republicans to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump did not attempt to interfere in the FBI’s investigation. Of course, that also means that it will be nearly impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump did, in fact, make such an interference attempt. At this point, it comes down to the word of Comey against the word of Trump.
Despite the fact that no apparent direct order from the president was issued to Comey during those private conversations, Comey felt that the reason for them was to intimidate him to drop the portion of the investigation that Trump ‘hoped’ would be dropped. While that might not be a direct order, it is still a serious issue, especially if the president is learning to use semantics and intimidation to get his way.
Even with the Republicans grilling Comey for three straight hours, they were never once able to disprove any of the testimony from the former FBI Director. Not only that, but it doesn’t seem as if they Republicans will have any success in sweeping the testimony under the rug.