Watching James Comey’s testimony—if you’d already read and re-read his prepared statement—was a bit like seeing an old crooner come out of retirement for one last concert tour. He played all his biggest hits.
Under questioning from members of the Senate intelligence committee, Comey treated us to an extended version of the classic “I Need Loyalty, Want Loyalty.” He did the crowd-pleasing “Lift the Cloud.” He closed with the bittersweet “We Had That Thing, You Know.”
And then there was the unforgettable encore, in which Comey described the President of the United States as a lying liar who lies.
It was a lot to take in. In the hours before the testimony we heard Wolf Blitzer promise “a lot—A LOT—of high drama!” We saw a blurry… something that we were later told was Comey’s head as it entered an SUV for the ride to Capitol Hill. We watched as the cable news commentators punched in early. This was a day on which they would be using every arrow in the Quiver of Punditry, including:
- The Headshake of Disbelief;
- The Dismissive Wave;
- The “I’m Not Going to Stop Talking Even Though I See and Hear That You Are Also Currently Talking”;
- The Forced Smile/Fake Laugh Combo; and
- The Excessive Adjectives of Exaggerated Outrage!
According to reports, Trump’s staff tried to keep him busy so he wouldn’t be tempted to follow the hearing and respond on social media. They set up meetings. They scheduled briefings. One member of the Cabinet probably sketched a crude drawing of a well-endowed lady. I bet that one did the trick.
(According to his testimony, Comey made it clear to the Attorney General that he did not want to be left alone with Trump—a sentiment that is likely shared by most staffers and all women.)
Despite the president’s sagging approval ratings, chronic untruthfulness and toddler-like demeanour, the Republican determination to defend Trump persists. It’s getting harder, though. At the hearing, they really had to work at it.
Senator James Risch seized on the word “hope.” (According to Comey’s written testimony, Trump had told him: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting [Michael] Flynn go.”)
“He said ‘hope,’ ” Risch said. “He did not order you to let him go.”
Comey said he took the president’s remark as direction, not idle musing. But Risch scoffed: It wasn’t precisely worded as an order, nor was the proper paperwork submitted in triplicate—so heck, Trump was probably just harmlessly expressing his inner desire. It’s got to be explicit! You know, like when the mafia says, “Nice restaurant you’ve got here. It would be a shame if we dispatched two guys at 3:15 a.m. to burn it to the ground due to your refusal to remit monthly protection money, as per our ongoing illegal request.”
Sen. Marco Rubio—who lost his backbone in a tragic bootlicking mishap—took the view that because Trump potentially tried to obstruct justice only the “one time,” it’s no biggie. Fast forward to breaking news from 2019: “It’s crazy to be talking about impeachment when President Trump has launched only one nuclear war,” Rubio said through the half-formed mouth on his mutated shoulder.
Meanwhile, outside the hearing room, House Speaker Paul Ryan offered a slightly different take: Trump isn’t evil—he’s simply naïve. “He’s just new to this,” Ryan said. He doesn’t know! The poor little guy—he’s like a shaky-legged, newborn faun who is completely unaware that he tried to methodically obstruct justice for his own personal benefit. Adorable!
Each of these stands as a flawed and dubious defence. All of them, however, have more credibility than the view put forth by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the luckless presidential spokesperson, who said in a background briefing during the testimony: “I can definitively say the president is not a liar.” (This is a lie.)
The wisest choice may be to not even try to defend Trump. Republican Congressman Kevin Cramer said of the president: “Remember, this is what we love about him—that he’s got this different style.” Cramer makes a good point. The American people just endured eight long years of governing competence, economic recovery and international respect. Time to change things up.
This certainly makes more sense than the zig-zagging line of questioning put forth by Sen. John McCain. In an awkward sequence, McCain asked Comey to… about… uh, I don’t actually know. No one knows. It was weird and McCain looked confused. He seemed to be asking why the FBI wasn’t investigating Hillary Clinton for potentially working in secret with the Russians to ensure her own humiliating and emotionally devastating defeat. “The Senator’s time has expired,” the chairman finally said. It sure felt that way.
Apart from the whole obstruction-of-justice thing, the Comey hearing will be remembered for casting a light on another important issue: the medical fact that citizens of the United States are becoming increasingly difficult to shock.
Here are some things that shocked Americans in the past. George H.W. Bush looked at his wristwatch during a debate. Howard Dean screamed weird. Barack Obama wore a tan suit.
Here are some of the things that happened this week alone, and generated something between “indifference” and a “resigned shrug”:
- Eric Trump said Democrats “are not even people.”
- It was reported that the Trump Organization laundered money through a charity for kids with cancer.
- The President depicted Qatar as a breeding ground for terrorism, two weeks after offering to sell the country some “beautiful” American military hardware.
- Trump reacted to a terrorist attack on innocent civilians in Iran by essentially saying: They had it coming.
- The President floated a new idea for paying for his border wall with Mexico (the same wall he insisted America would not have to pay for). Trump’s brainwave? Nail some solar panels up there! Boom—the wall pays for itself. If that doesn’t work, maybe just make it 1,000 miles of tightly packed vending machines. Those damn Mexicans will pay for the wall one bag of Sun Chips at a time.
Small surprise, then, that for all the coverage—for all the genuine interest and exclamation-marked tweets—the testimony of James Comey may not register lasting shockwaves, or make any tangible difference to the current political order.
True, it’s not every day that the president is described as a congenital liar who obstructs justice. But we’re getting close.