James Comey has written a devastating and detailed tell-all of his time at the head of the FBI and his removal from the job last May by President Donald Trump. The book, excerpts of which have been released over the last 24 hours, recounts specific conversations between Comey and Trump about everything from the so-called “pee tape” to demands from the President for Comey’s loyalty.
In response to Comey’s book, Trump offered this via Twitter Friday morning:
“James Comey is a proven LEAKER & LIAR. Virtually everyone in Washington thought he should be fired for the terrible job he did-until he was, in fact, fired. He leaked CLASSIFIED information, for which he should be prosecuted. He lied to Congress under OATH. He is a weak and untruthful slime ball who was, as time has proven, a terrible Director of the FBI. His handling of the Crooked Hillary Clinton case, and the events surrounding it, will go down as one of the worst ‘botch jobs’ of history. It was my great honor to fire James Comey!”
While that response is epically Trumpian, it’s also a failure at a very basic level. It’s name-calling rather than fact-checking. It’s innuendo in place of insight. It’s just not enough. Not close.
“Yet another instance of Donald Trump proving he’s utterly incapable of being presidential,” tweeted California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, on Friday. “Stop with the name calling. Stop with the bullying. And stop with your Hillary Clinton obsession. You’re not being paid to tweet. Do your job!”
Here’s the thing: Trump is, of course, entitled to push back on Comey’s version of events. There were two people in these meetings; Comey’s perspective, no matter how well documented, is only one side of the story.
But Comey has offered a book full of details. Full of conversations between him and the President. With quotes and supporting materials.
Simply calling Comey a “LEAKER & LIAR” and a “weak and untruthful slime ball” isn’t enough to erode the mountain of evidence Comey provides in his book to make the case that Trump is unfit for the job to which he has been elected.
Where is Comey a liar? What, specifically, in the book is wrong? Does Trump have evidence to back up his attacks on Comey’s credibility?
He might! But, that’s not what the tweets Friday morning are about. And what the heck does Hillary Clinton have to do with anything?
The point here is this: Trump tends to conflate his opinion with fact. He does that even in these tweets in which he asserts Comey “lied to Congress under OATH.”
I believe what Trump is referencing is Comey’s testimony on Capitol Hill that Trump asked him in a private meeting if he could see a way to let the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn go. “I never asked Comey to stop investigating Flynn. Just more Fake News covering another Comey lie!,” Trump tweeted in December 2017.
Right. This isn’t evidence – as Trump seems to think – that Comey “lied to Congress under OATH.” Under the best possible explanation for both men, they simply had different interpretations of what Trump meant when he talked to Comey about Flynn. Under the less charitable interpretation, one of the two men willfully misunderstood – or is willfully misrepresenting – what happened. But, remember that Comey has testified under oath about his version of events. Trump has not. Lying under oath carries real criminal penalties; lying in a tweet, well, doesn’t.
What Trump should do is provide factual evidence of what Comey got wrong in the book. Not opinions about what a certain thing Trump told Comey meant. Actual facts that show Comey simply got stuff wrong – and how.
Anything short of that is just empty rhetoric. And empty rhetoric won’t fly in the face of the allegations made by Comey in his book.