Democrats are losing all sense of proportion over James Comey’s termination, but that doesn’t make Trump right. Their overreaction doesn’t mean that Trump is a tactical genius, and it certainly doesn’t mean that he’s honest. Yes, it’s fun to create or retweet video montages showing all the times Democrats called for Comey’s firing and contrast them with their all-caps outrage when Trump actually fired Comey. Sure, I understand the eye-roll when you see people screaming about “treason,” calling the firing a “constitutional crisis,” or warning about an alleged “coup.” It’s all too much.
But — and this is vitally important — the evidence is accumulating that Trump fired James Comey in the middle of an accelerating investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and then lied to the American people about the reason. No amount of Democratic hysteria can make that right. There is no amount of leftist hypocrisy that makes that acceptable.
Let’s be clear, Trump is asking us to believe that he actually fired James Comey for mistreating Hillary Clinton when he has loudly, repeatedly, and constantly argued that Comey was too lenient, that Comey’s true sin was not recommending Hillary for prosecution. Now, suddenly, he’s embraced the Democratic critique?
It’s not even clear if that’s still the White House party line. Its explanation kept shifting in important ways throughout the day yesterday, and then came the inevitable flood of leaks that flatly contradicted the president’s story. Here’s the Washington Post:
Every time FBI Director James B. Comey appeared in public, an ever-watchful President Trump grew increasingly agitated that the topic was the one that he was most desperate to avoid: Russia.
Trump had long questioned Comey’s loyalty and judgment, and was infuriated by what he viewed as the director’s lack of action in recent weeks on leaks from within the federal government. By last weekend, he had made up his mind: Comey had to go.
And the New York Times:
For public consumption, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a White House spokeswoman, said on Wednesday that Mr. Trump acted because of the “atrocities” committed by Mr. Comey during last year’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email. But in private, aides said, Mr. Trump has been nursing a collection of festering grievances, including Mr. Comey’s handling of the Russia investigation, his seeming lack of interest in pursuing anti-Trump leaks and the perceived disloyalty over the wiretapping claim.
There are two reasons why President Donald Trump fired James Comey, according to a source close to the now-former FBI director:
Comey never provided the President with any assurance of personal loyalty.
The fact that the FBI’s investigation into possible Trump team collusion with Russia in the 2016 election was accelerating.
And, finally, Politico:
He had grown enraged by the Russia investigation, two advisers said, frustrated by his inability to control the mushrooming narrative around Russia. He repeatedly asked aides why the Russia investigation wouldn’t disappear and demanded they speak out for him. He would sometimes scream at television clips about the probe, one adviser said.
To believe Trump’s story, you have to believe that he did a complete about-face, that he’s repudiated his previous praise and his previous critiques of Comey. For example, at a campaign rally on October 31, he said, “It took guts for director Comey to make the move that he made” to publicly announce that the FBI had reopened its e-mail investigation. Now that gutsy move is grounds for termination? Trump praised Comey when he took strong action against Hillary and attacked him when he refused to recommend prosecution. But throughout, there was a consistent theme: Trump’s thoughts about Comey always directly reflected Trump’s political self-interest.
So now he’s suddenly discovered principle? Now he’s gained new respect for the longstanding norms and traditions of law enforcement? Lawyers are familiar with a term called “pretext.” Employment lawyers encounter it all the time. For example, if a boss wants to fire an employee because she’s black or Christian, they’ll rarely say: “I hate Christians. Pack your things.” Instead, they’ll look for another justification that masks the real motivation. “Jane was late Friday. She has to go. Jill didn’t fill out her TPS report correctly. Time to leave.”
Trump’s justification screams pretext. And if it is, then all the anti-anti-Trump tweets and columns in the world can’t paper over the troubling truth. Indeed, the attacks on Democrats soon become part of the problem. By obscuring the difficult facts and providing Trump’s base with a distraction from the core of the matter, the attacks enable Trump’s worst impulses. Indeed, Trump himself has picked up on their talking points, tweeting again and again and again about Democratic hypocrisy.
If we want Trump to tell the truth, to behave responsibly, and not to lash out in unreasoned fury, then it can’t just be Democrats who take him on. Yes, it’s right to point out when Democrats are wrong and unreasonable. It’s right to push back against hysteria. But you push back for an underlying purpose: to uphold the core principles of constitutional republic. Did Trump tell the truth? What was his intent? Will the FBI investigation of Russian interference proceed unimpeded? These are the core questions of the day, not whether Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer are political opportunists, not whether Keith Olbermann has lost his mind. It’s time to stop enabling Trump and start seeking the truth — even if the truth hurts.