Something has changed in Washington this week. While unpleasant to contemplate on some levels, what was once a complicated partisan divide (nothing unusual inside the Beltway, though perhaps more pronounced of late) feels as if it’s morphed into something more serious, and the entire reason boils down to the looming figure of James Comey.
Up until now I never honestly felt that Trump’s presidency was in actual danger. There was never any real threat from Maxine Waters, Al Franken or Elizabeth Warren. Sure, they hate Trump with a burning passion, but it was all partisan bickering and complaints. And all of the various “scandals” which seemed to engulf the White House on an hourly basis weren’t going to take the President down either. If some of his executive orders were overturned or blocked by the courts, Democrats could yell from the rooftops about how he was being “cruel” or “immoral” or whatever they liked. It didn’t matter because the system was still operating as intended even if you disagreed with the President’s agenda. He was a bull in the china shop, ditching long established traditions and protocol, but he was still technically coloring inside the lines, albeit running right up to the edge of them at times.
But now, as I said… something feels different. Allahpundit covered the news about the Comey memos yesterday if you need a primer, but the claim that President Trump asked him to ditch the investigation of Flynn has the makings of potential game changer. Both sides of the commentariat have noticed it as well. David Ignatius somewhat dramatically describes the current lay of the land as Trump’s presidency beginning to unravel. And it all comes down to the question of what exactly is inside of those Comey memos and the suggestion that the alleged contents may mean that Trump broke the law. Matt Zapotosky at the WaPo uttered the phrase that Democrats have been aching to hear ever since the inauguration. Was the President guilty of obstruction of Justice? If so, then we’ve entered into the territory of High Crimes and Misdemeanors.
All around the cable news circuit there are Democrats now openly using “the I word.” No matter how much the most excitable Democrats may insist otherwise, you don’t get to impeach the President because you disagree with his policies or don’t like the things he says. But if he actually did attempt to get Comey to drop the Flynn investigation mid-stream, we’re off the edge of the map. Trump says it didn’t happen and that the private conversation with Comey is being misrepresented. Comey claims otherwise, or at least so it seems. And because the President had everyone else leave the room when the alleged conversation took place, it comes down to a case of He Said, He Said.
Philip Bump has written a pretty good summary of the situation, describing this battle as Trump “careening toward an inevitable showdown” with both Comey and the Truth.
It seems as though the flood of information over the past 10 days has been pushing us to a point that we haven’t yet reached, forcing an explicit choice between the word of the White House and the word of an outside party. The Post’s story about the revelation of classified information came close, but the carefully worded administration responses released Monday didn’t constitute a robust denial of our story. In this case, the denial of the Times report is explicit. Trump’s White House says the report about the Comey memo is not “truthful or accurate.”
Forcing the American public to decide: Whom do you believe, Trump or Comey? Or, in a layer of abstraction that will continue to complicate things, the White House or the reporting of the Times (and others, including The Post)?
Bump goes on to talk about a surfeit of circumstantial evidence pointing to the idea that Comey is telling the real story and recorded events faithfully in his memos. But all of that remains entirely circumstantial. Is that enough to obtain a conviction in impeachment proceedings? It’s tough, but not impossible. I think the people responsible for deciding (assuming it ever went that far) would be considering a number of factors. I’ll include a couple of suggestions Allahpundit put forward in the article linked above. Chief among these is figuring out why President Trump would fire Comey if he knew that the FBI Director had this sort of landmine ready to dump in his path.
It is nothing short of amazing that Trump would pull the trapdoor on this guy knowing that Comey had this sort of dirt on him. Either (a) this story is untrue, (b) Trump didn’t realize that leaning on him about Flynn was obstruction of justice, or (c) he did realize it but had a political death wish, or thought maybe the director of the FBI would play ball with him. Whatever the answer, if Democrats controlled the House right now there’s no doubt that subpoenas would be drafted this evening and articles of impeachment prepared, pending Comey’s confirmation that this happened. As it is, the GOP’s going to have no choice but to subpoena him themselves. If Comey and the other witnesses say the Times story is true, what then?
The answer to Allahpundit’s question of what then seems fairly obvious. The Democrats would love nothing more than to get revenge for Bill Clinton and push Trump over the impeachment cliff. And I’ll wager that there are more than enough Republicans who won’t want to have this particular albatross tied around their necks if they think there’s too much blood in the water at this point to keep the sharks at bay. But again, it all comes down to how much credibility everyone is willing to extend to James Comey. Therein lies the danger for Trump. Comey has been alternately praised and beaten up by both parties so many times over the past year that it’s almost useless to attempt to play the partisan card and say that he just had it out for Trump and the GOP. Much like cable news journalists, the ones I place the most trust in are the few to be found who are hated by both parties. It’s a sign that they must be doing their job fairly well. Comey has that sort of halo over his head at this point.
And if he’s not engaged in a personal war on Trump, why would he have recorded all of those conversations in official memos? Trying to say that it was just an insurance policy against potential attacks in the future sounds like thin gruel. Comey never seemed to be worried about losing his job right up until the moment he was fired. If he can convince enough people that Trump is flat out lying and that he really did try to derail the Flynn investigation, as much as I hate to say it, Trump’s goose could be cooked.
I don’t want to see President Trump fail. And I don’t say this out of any personal loyalty to him. I don’t want to see his presidency fail because it diminishes the entire country if it does. It also vastly enhances the chances for liberals in the next couple of election cycles and threatens to undo much of what little we’ve managed to accomplish thus far. At this point I would still put the odds of impeachment proceedings moving forward at less than fifty percent. But it’s not a lot less and the landscape continues to shift underneath our feet every day.