The “collusion” narrative was a fraud, plain and simple. We know that now. Hopefully, it won’t take another six months to grasp a second plain and simple truth: Collusion’s successor, the “obstruction” narrative, is a perversion.
The Left loves narrative. The ever-expanding story manipulates time, space, and detail to fit a thematic framework. Political narrative has some surface appeal, but it is deeply flawed. It obscures plain and simple truth.
Donald Trump’s political enemies are trying to build an obstruction case on the antithesis of obstruction: the president’s insistence that the collusion fraud be exposed.
Over a period of weeks, Trump came to understand what was being done to him. His exasperation was evident in his every bull-in-a-china-shop turn. An ardently pro-law-enforcement candidate, he came to office believing the FBI was in the fraud-exposure business. He thus could not comprehend why then–FBI director James Comey would not assure the public of what Comey was privately assuring both the president and the public’s representatives in Congress, namely: The notion that the president was a suspect was false. Implicitly, the narrative that Trump had colluded with Putin to steal the election was false.
The president justifiably believed this cloud of suspicion was grievously harming his fledgling administration. Despite both the dearth of collusion evidence and Comey’s acknowledgment — in non-public Capitol Hill briefings — that Trump was not a suspect, congressional Democrats continued to peddle the collusion narrative. The narrative became the rationale for “The Resistance.”
After the flame-out of the “Electoral College has destroyed democracy” storyline, the Left moved on to “collusion” as the Original Sin that rendered Trump illegitimate. Thus, Democrats rationalized, it was imperative to deny cooperation with Trump on any matter of governance — the approval of executive officials needed to run the government, the confirmation of judges, the Obamacare collapse, tax reform, Syria, debt ceiling, Afghanistan, jihadist attacks in the U.S. and Europe. Anything. The point of the collusion narrative was to delegitimize Trump in the public mind; cooperating with him, treating him as the legitimate president of the United States, was out of the question.
From Trump’s perspective, it was inconceivable that someone as sophisticated as Jim Comey could not see what was happening, how the cloud of suspicion enveloping Trump was damaging his administration. Over time, Comey’s explanations for why he needed to remain silent publicly made less and less sense to the president.
The rationale that it would ultimately serve Trump well if the FBI went about its business and cleared him in the normal course was a presumptuous elevation of the bureau’s work over the rest of the government’s. What, after all, is the normal course? The FBI had been investigating for months and months. Not only had it found no collusion; it had signed on (with the CIA and NSA) to an Obama-engineered report that not-so-subtly suggested a cui bono theory of Trump collusion in Putin’s machinations.
It wasn’t just the failure to dispel suspicions about Trump; the bureau appeared to be fueling them.
Even less compelling was the rationale that the FBI should resist public statements about an ongoing investigation. The Hillary Clinton e-mails caper had revealed the arbitrariness of this once-solid protocol. The FBI now seemed to speak publicly, or refrain from doing so, based solely on Comey’s subjective sense of “the public interest.”
From where Trump sat, this was not about protocol. There was nothing but Comey preventing Comey from announcing publicly what he was telling Trump and Congress privately. Comey was choosing not to do so — unmoved by the damage the narrative was causing the administration.
What of the director’s concerns about a “duty to disclose”? This, Comey explained to Trump, was his fear that if he publicly cleared the president, but then some unanticipated evidence emerged at some unknowable future time, raising new suspicions, Comey would be obliged to publicly brand Trump a suspect.
Trump became convinced that this, too, was specious. That Comey had created “duty to disclose” problems in the Hillary investigation was the director’s own fault, due to a series of missteps. Why, Trump had to wonder, should his administration be made to suffer for it? Unlike Hillary, as to whom there was mountainous evidence of guilt, Trump had not colluded with Russia. The narrative of his guilt was fraudulent. Why should he continue to bear the brunt of suspicion just because someday some new fraudulent claim might be made?
Unlike Hillary, as to whom there was mountainous evidence of guilt, Trump had not colluded with Russia. The narrative of his guilt was fraudulent.
As the collusion narrative continued its drag on Trump’s administration, the president went beyond seeing Comey as an obstacle to exposure of the hoax. He worried that the director might be colluding in the “collusion.”
Key was Comey’s point-man role in the Russia investigation — the collusion narrative’s nest. From Trump’s vantage point, this had to look like Comey’s salvation. Following Hillary Clinton’s defeat, Comey had been second only to Trump on the Democrats’ villains list. The Russia investigation rehabilitated him in the eyes of the “Resistance,” but only as long as Comey appeared to be pursuing the collusion narrative, by which they hoped to drive Trump out of office. Simultaneously, Comey’s pursuit of the Russia investigation burnished his credentials with many Republicans. Though irritated by his handling of the Clinton e-mails investigation, the Beltway GOP tends to be hawkish on the Kremlin and lukewarm on Trump.
The president is not the most well-informed man, but he believes himself to be a shrewd reader of people. When he looked at Comey, he no doubt detected a motive to keep the collusion narrative alive. Whether he was right about this, and whether Comey would really act on such a motive, is beside the point. The possibility would have grated on the president.
Trump’s self-absorption is his most blinding character flaw. It is a valid complaint that he does not care enough, if at all, about Russia’s interference in the election — i.e., that he thinks only about the media’s use of it to tarnish his victory, not what it augurs about Kremlin intrusions in American political processes. But neither did Trump care enough about the Russia investigation to obstruct it. What he cared about, obsessively, was the false suggestion that he was complicit in whatever the Kremlin had done.
With that mindset, believing the collusion narrative was crushing him, he came to see the FBI director as a man who (a) knew the narrative was false, (b) resisted saying so publicly for flimsy reasons, and (c) had an incentive to perpetuate the narrative that might better explain his reluctance to discredit it publicly.
Comey was not fired until May 9, but his days were clearly numbered after his March 20 House testimony. Fully aware of Trump’s agitation, and against law-enforcement protocols, the director nevertheless asserted that the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of Russia’s election interference was focusing on possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. He even added for good measure that the FBI would be assessing whether criminal violations had occurred. Concurrently, Comey confided in lawmakers that Trump was not a suspect in the investigation, but he declined to make that salient detail part of his public testimony.
As anyone could have predicted, the media pounced. The FBI director, according to multiple reports, had made an extraordinary announcement that the president was a suspect in potential crimes involving collusion with the Putin regime.
That was the last straw.
Once you understand that, you understand why Trump fired Comey. And you understand why Trump issued the rash tweet that Comey had better hope there weren’t tapes recording their White House conversations — a suggestion Trump finally disavowed this week. Trump was not trying to cast himself as Nixon, or Comey’s firing as the “Saturday Night Massacre.” Leaks painting an unflattering portrait of Trump were already coming out of the former director’s camp. In effect, Trump was reminding Comey, “You know you assured me, multiple times, that I am not a suspect.”
It was the same message Trump conveyed in his cover letter removing Comey: the insistence — accurate, as it turned out — that Comey had three times said Trump was not a suspect in any FBI investigation. At the time, it stuck out like a sore thumb since it had no logical connection to the rationale for removing the FBI director laid out in the underlying Justice Department memos. But Trump could not resist mentioning it. In the end, it was what he actually cared about. It was a window on the real reason for the firing.
An FBI investigation is supposed to be a search for the truth, undertaken for the benefit of the public, which the bureau and the government serve. That is why the corrupt obstruction of such an investigation is a crime. But if the investigation has the effect of deceiving the public, and that effect is caused by such irregularities as misleading leaks and public statements by government officials, that is never in the public interest.
The Russia investigation, to the extent it seeks to understand and guard against Putin’s treachery, is a search for the truth. Trump has not interfered with it; indeed, Comey’s testimony indicates that he encouraged it — acknowledging it would be good to find out if his “satellites” had done something wrong. The collusion narrative, however, is a fraud on the public. It is not obstruction to expose a false narrative.
— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.