Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication...and WOW, Comey is a leaker!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 9, 2017
As former FBI director James B. Comey tells it, the president pursued him with an almost singular focus to say one thing publicly: President Trump is not under investigation.
Trump finally got what he wanted Thursday, when Comey testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee. Here's an excerpt of an exchange between Comey and Trump ally Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho):
RISCH: I gather from all this that you're willing to say now that, while you were director, the president of the United States was not under investigation. Is that a fair statement?
COMEY: That's correct.
See? In Trump's view, that's “complete and total vindication.”
Except the president is completely missing the point of Comey's testimony in the first place.
As usual with Trump's tweets, there's so much packed into 140 characters. So let's take things one by one.
Reason No. 1 Trump shouldn't feel vindicated: Comey wasn't testifying about whether Trump was under investigation
Comey didn't agree to nearly three hours of public hearings to talk about whether the president was/is under investigation by the FBI, as it relates to Russia meddling in the U.S. election. He was testifying that the president tried to interfere in that investigation, especially as it relates to Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
Comey made clear he's pretty sure the president inappropriately meddled in the FBI investigation. And Comey did everything but directly accuse the president of obstruction of justice.
“I took it as a very disturbing thing, very concerning,” Comey testified when he says the president asked him in a private Oval Office meeting to drop the investigation into Flynn. “But that's a conclusion I'm sure the special counsel will work toward to try and understand what the intention was there, and whether that's an offense.”
Reason No. 2: Comey may be a “leaker,” but it didn't turn out well for the president
Comey said he decided to take the extraordinary step to share with the New York Times his secret memos of the president's conversations because the president was so out of his lane. “I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel,” Comey told senators.
Guess what? Now we have a special counsel, who has wide latitude and the FBI's resources to investigate whatever he wants under the umbrella of Trump and Russia, including any potential obstruction of justice.
Reason No. 3: Others in the FBI opposed telling Trump he wasn't under investigation
If Comey hadn't been FBI director, Trump might have never received assurance, privately or publicly, that he wasn't under investigation.
Comey testified Thursday that it was a controversial decision among senior FBI leadership to tell the president he wasn't under investigation. But Comey ultimately decided to oblige if the president asked.
“I thought it was fair to say what was literally true,” Comey said. “There was not a counterintelligence investigation of Mr. Trump, and I decided in the moment to say it, given the nature of our conversation.”
Reason No. 4: Votes cast and cast votes are two different things
Another reason Trump may be feeling vindicated: Comey testified that he saw no evidence that any Russia meddling changed votes after they were cast.
That backs up a key Trump/Republican talking point: When Trump finally acknowledged the intelligence community's universal conclusion that Russia interfered in the U.S. election, he did it with a “yeah, but” clause — the “yeah, but” being that there's no evidence any votes cast were changed by Russian hacking afterward.
But Trump wants to take the evidence further than the intelligence community is willing to go. Trump's lawyer said this Thursday: “He also admitted that there is no evidence that a single vote changed as a result of any Russian interference.”
That's not quite true. Comey and other intelligence chiefs have testified to Congress that it's possible (and nearly impossible to quantify) that Russia's campaign of fake news and hacking of Democratic emails changed the way some people decided to cast their vote.
This isn't the first time Trump has said he feels vindicated about facts that don't really line up.
Remember earlier this year, when House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) trekked up to the White House to tell the president that some of his campaign staff had been caught up in U.S. spying of foreigners? Well, afterward, in response to a reporter's question, Trump said this:
Which, again, totally missed the point of what Nunes found.
Trump had never said anything publicly about whether his team was caught up in incidental collection that needed vindication. Trump had accused President Barack Obama of directly wiretapping Trump Tower. Nunes's “findings” (which The Post reported came from White House aides) do nothing to back that claim up. Nunes ended up temporarily stepping down from his committee's Russia investigation for briefing the president on all this, and there is still zero evidence to support Trump's wiretapping allegations:
Trump may have got closer to what he wanted Thursday, when Comey testified that the president isn't under investigation. But in focusing on that, Trump is totally missing the point of why Comey testified in the first place.