There are a number of important takeaways from today’s Comey hearings, but one of the big ones elaborated on a point I hit yesterday in discussing Comey’s prepared statement: Trump was never under FBI investigation during the time that Comey headed the FBI, Comey personally told Trump that three times, and Trump grew increasingly frustrated that Comey wouldn’t clear the “cloud” over his head by publicly saying so. Indeed, Trump’s explanation to Lester Holt of why he fired Comey is entirely consistent with this.
But with Comey’s repeated and emphatic testimony that Trump was not under investigation, we have some new revisionist history: wildly backtracking liberals and Democrats claiming that nobody ever said Trump was under FBI investigation. And this is simply untrue. Here’s a sampling of what Democrats, liberals, and the media were saying back when Comey was privately reassuring Trump that he wasn’t under investigation:
Salon, January 20 headline: “The FBI is leading an investigation into Donald Trump’s connections with Russia” — first line, “The FBI is leading a multi-agency investigation into possible links between Russian officials and President-elect Donald Trump.”
Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, March 20: “The FBI is investigating a sitting President. Been a long time since that happened.”
The FBI is investigating a sitting President. Been a long time since that happened.
— Neera Tanden (@neeratanden) March 20, 2017
The New York Times March 20 headline: “F.B.I. Is Investigating Trump’s Russia Ties, Comey Confirms”
The Times: “Mr. Comey placed a criminal investigation at the doorstep of the White House and said officers would pursue it ‘no matter how long that takes.’”
Russell Berman in The Atlantic, March 20 headline: “It’s Official: The FBI Is Investigating Trump’s Links to Russia”
Jason Linkins in the Huffington Post, March 20: “we have a president under FBI investigation. How do you like that?” In an article headlined “Let’s Revisit All Those Times Trump Surrogates Said You Can’t Elect Someone Under FBI Investigation.”
Jack Moore in GQ, March 20 headline: “James Comey Confirms the FBI Is Investigating Trump’s Russian Connections”
Limelite, a blogger at DailyKos, March 20 headline: “Let’s Not Mince Words: Trump & Cohort Under FBI CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION.” Article: “The truth is that the facts are Director Comey is heading a criminal investigation into the past and present illegal activities of Donald Trump and a number of his former and present advisors whom he gathered to his 2016 presidential campaign. Let us be clear. Very clear. The FBI is not investigating of the basis of conspiracy theories, rumors, political axes to grind, or Russian propaganda. The FBI is conducting a criminal investigation based on factual evidence.”
LeftOfCenter, a blogger at Crooks & Liars, March 21 headline, quoting MSBNC’s Joe Scarborough: “On Election Day, Trump Was The ONLY ONE Under FBI Investigation, Not Hillary Clinton” More from Scarborough: “The FBI reports that there’s an investigation between the White House, the President’s campaign and collusion with Russia…”
Osita Nwanevu in Slate, March 22 headline: “The President Is Under FBI Investigation. Is This Normal?”
Spencer Ackerman in the Guardian, March 22 headline: “Donald Trump is under investigation for ties to Russia. What happens now?”
The Huffington Post headline, March 22, on a floor speech by Chuck Schumer: “Schumer: Delay Gorsuch while Trump Is Under FBI Investigation.” Schumer:
You can bet, if the shoe were on the other foot and a Democratic president was under investigation by the FBI, the Republicans would be howling at the moon about filling a Supreme Court seat in such circumstances. After all, they stopped a president who wasn’t under investigation from filling a seat with nearly a year left in his presidency. It is unseemly to be moving forward so fast on confirming a Supreme Court justice with a lifetime appointment, while this big gray, gray cloud of an FBI investigation hangs over the presidency.
DemocracyNow! March 22 headline on that Schumer speech: “Sen. Schumer Calls on Democrats to Boycott Neil Gorsuch Vote While Trump is Under FBI Investigation”
“So here we are, we’re having these hearings around the Supreme Court, but we also had another hearing and that’s the hearing in which the FBI has revealed that the sitting president of the United States is under investigation,” Warren said.
“And it raises a really, I think, important question and that is whether or not a president who is under investigation by the FBI ought to be ramming through a Supreme Court nominee that would have a lifetime appointment.
Rachel Maddow March 24 headline: “Schumer: Wrong to vote on Gorsuch while Trump under investigation.” Schumer told Maddow that “to have a president under investigation, appoint a lifetime appointment, it’s wrong.”
John Aravosis at AmericaBlog, May 9 headline: “Trump fires FBI Director Comey, the man investigating Trump for treason”
There was quite a lot more in that vein. It was all false. Sure, some of the media reports were more cautious and full of caveats, but the cloud of blaring headlines from mainstream-media sources gave air cover to Senators Schumer and Warren, activists like Tanden, and bloggers like Aravosis to spread far and wide the false news that Trump was under FBI investigation. Schumer and Warren went further and affirmatively used it as an excuse to try to prevent Trump from making a Supreme Court nomination. Trump was absolutely justified in being furious at this state of affairs, and it’s understandable that he had trouble grasping why Comey couldn’t clear the air as he had done in July 2016 for Hillary Clinton. Indeed, even in his interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, Holt was incredulous at Trump’s insistence that he was not under investigation:
TRUMP: I actually asked him, yes. I said if it’s possible, would you let me know am I under investigation. He said you are not under investigation.
HOLT: But he’s — he’s given sworn testimony that there’s an ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign and possible collusion with the Russian government. You were the centerpiece of the Trump campaign.
TRUMP: Well, all I can tell you is#…#
HOLT: So, was be being truthful when he said you weren’t under investigation?
Trump is not in the clear after today: His actions in leaning on Comey over the Michael Flynn investigation were plainly improper, to pick the clearest example. But in light of Comey’s repeated confirmation that the FBI was never investigating Trump during his tenure at the FBI, and that he had privately briefed both Trump and Congress to that effect, a whole lot of people — starting with Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren — owe President Trump an apology.