Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) — once labeled “Little Marco” by President Trump and who struggled in the closing days of his presidential campaign to fathom supporting his rival’s presidential bid – devoted his entire allotted time to essentially easing the blow for the president.
Under a series of questions about James B. Comey’s interactions with Trump, Rubio had the former FBI director lay out that Trump had made some narrow, specific requests: That the FBI probe be steered away from former national security adviser Michael Flynn; and that Comey disclose what was already known by senior lawmakers – that Trump himself was not under investigation.
Rubio also tried to cast doubt on Comey’s behavior in the entire affair, asking why the former director didn’t raise his concerns immediately with senior White House officials or the White House Counsel’s office.
“I don’t know,” Comey told Rubio. “I think the circumstances were such that I was a bit stunned and didn’t have the presence of mind.”
Rubio also asked Comey why he hadn’t told Trump directly that it was inappropriate for a president to ask an FBI director for details of an ongoing investigation. Comey explained that the first time it came up, he dodged by telling Trump, “I’ll see what I can do.” The second time he explained to Trump that it was best to make such requests through the White House Counsel’s office.
Rubio did, however, raise questions about FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe. In his written testimony, Comey said that Trump had asked about the acting director, given that Trump had brought up his wife’s ties to Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe during the presidential campaign.
“I wasn’t sure what to make of it, honestly. It was so out of context that I didn’t have a clear view of what it was,” Comey explained to Rubio.
The Florida senator and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), another member of the intelligence panel, had dinner with Trump on Monday night at the White House. Officially, the meal was designed to discuss GOP legislative priorities, but the timing – just days before Comey’s testimony – drew attention.
Rubio’s decision to use his time to try to tamp down the focus or importance of Comey’s interactions with Trump is notable, at least because the senator once described Trump as a “con man” who couldn’t be trusted to be president.