President Trump says many, many untrue things. Yet to this day, the media is reluctant to label those things “lies,” not knowing whether Trump actually knows any better.
James Comey has no such compunction. Indeed, if there was one talking point he had prepared for his testimony Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee, it seemed to be that Trump and his team are liars.
And not only is Trump a liar, but Comey says he tailored his treatment of Trump — even before Trump was president — to his belief that Trump is a confirmed liar.
Comey got things started early at Thursday's hearing by flatly accusing the White House of lying about his termination and defaming him with the reasons offered for it. In one of the more remarkable opening statements in the history of congressional hearings, Comey said the stated reason that FBI employees had lost confidence in him was simply ludicrous.
“Although the law required no reason at all to fire an FBI director, the administration then chose to defame me — and, more importantly, the FBI — by saying the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader,” Comey said. “Those were lies, plain and simple.”
Comey at one point denied Trump’s contention that Comey had reached out to him and proactively told him he wasn’t under investigation. Trump said in an interview with NBC’s Lester Hold last month: “In one case, I called him. In one case, he called me.”
Asked whether he called Trump, Comey said simply “no.” Then he clarified that he may have called the White House switchboard, but only after being asked to do so. “But I never initiated a communication with the president,” Comey said.
Most strikingly, Comey was also asked about his decision to document his meetings with Trump in memos — memos that investigators are trying to obtain and that have been the subject of some media reports. Comey acknowledged in his statement released before the hearing that he didn't write such memos about his encounters with President Barack Obama.
On Thursday, he explained the reason for the disparate treatment: He believed Trump would lie about those meetings.
“I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting,” Comey said. “It led me to believe that I gotta write it down, and I gotta write it down in a detailed way. … I knew that there might come a day where I might need a record of what happened, not just to defend myself and the FBI and the integrity of our situation, and the independence of our function.”
Comey took notes because he was concerned Trump "might lie about the nature of our meeting."
— Greg Miller (@gregpmiller) June 8, 2017
Later on, Comey appeared to allude to Trump's dishonesty again, saying he documented the meetings because of "the nature of the person that I was interacting with and my read of that person.”
The former quote came during a discussion about his decision, after a meeting at Trump Tower, to leave the building and immediately write down his notes on the discussion. And that meeting he was talking about here took place Jan. 6 — before Trump was even president. This suggests that Comey's opinion of Trump was colored very early on and that he had relatively little faith in Trump from the get-go.
In other words, it's becoming clearer and clearer that Comey was proceeding from a very early juncture under the impression that he might one day be pitted against the president, and he prepared accordingly. The question from there is how hard he'll go after Trump.
It's also hugely significant that we have a top former law enforcement official plainly and unmistakably accusing the president of the United States of being a liar. Even Democrats sometimes dance around that question; Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, for instance, on Thursday referred to Trump's “untruthful” statements, apparently not wanting to seem to have prejudged them.
Comey, who is now a private citizen, doesn't have to hold back anymore. There were reports in advance of Thursday's hearing that he intended only to be a “fact witness”; his willingness to call Trump a liar shows that he considers himself engaged in a showdown with a dishonest president that he saw coming long ago.