It’s easy to lose sight of what’s at the heart of this investigation. An authoritarian regime with no respect for human rights worked to manipulate the 2016 election, raising the real possibility that we have a different president than the one we the people would have chosen on our own. Former FBI Director Jim Comey underscored what’s at stake, saying that at the center of this is Russia "trying to shape the way we think, we vote, we act. That is a big deal."
This is not exactly breaking news, but it’s clear now that anyone who thinks the president is not a liar must believe Jim Comey is willing to lie under oath. Trump lied to the American people about the reason he fired Jim Comey, lied about Comey’s standing within the FBI, and lied directly about whether he asked Comey to lay off of Michael Flynn. Comey confirmed this convincingly in the strongest possible terms, and several times disputed Trump’s version of events. This is now so clear that the president’s spokesperson felt compelled to assert that “the president is not a liar,” which sounds a bit like the administration “doth protest too much” and has echoes of Nixon’s infamous “I am not a crook” line.
Comey’s testimony not only confirmed previous reports that in a White House meeting Trump leaned on Comey to drop the Flynn investigation (in what Comey interpreted as “a direction”), but added other disturbing details—including a March 30th phone call in which the president described the Russia investigation as “a cloud” and asked what could be done to “lift the cloud.” Comey confirmed that his senior colleagues at the FBI were very troubled by this behavior. And, by emphasizing that he has handed over memos about his interactions with Trump to Robert Mueller, he all but confirmed that Trump is under investigation for obstruction of justice.
Why did Attorney General Jeff Sessions participate in Jim Comey’s firing after having recused himself from the Russia investigation? Was this a violation of his recusal conditions? Comey said twice today that this is a “reasonable question.” Ethics watchdogs have filed a Freedom of Information request to make public the actual recusal memo and requested the Department of Justice’s inspector general look into Sessions’ role. This is on top of a complaint filed by the ACLU with the Alabama State Bar for Sessions’ misleading testimony to the Senate about his Russia contacts.
Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee used most of their oxygen to weave a convoluted defense of Trump. The epitome of this was Sen. McCain’s downright confusing attempt to suggest that Comey was treating Trump more harshly than Hillary Clinton, which—to make any sense—implied that Clinton might have colluded with the Russians to sabotage her own campaign.
The more serious attempt was to claim that the president saying he “hoped” the Flynn investigation would go away can’t rise to the level of obstructing justice. This was effectively refuted in several ways. Sen. Harris noted that an armed robber saying he “hopes” you give him your wallet doesn’t make turning over your cash voluntary. Comey himself said that given the president’s position and authority, he took it as “a direction,” and also noted with Sen. King that it made him think of the Henry II line about a rival who was then murdered: “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”
The bottom line is that conservative politicians continue to attack Americans’ freedom to vote, while winking and nodding at an authoritarian regime interfering in our election. When will they choose country over party, and democracy over power?