Media’s false equivalencies about Comey and Trump


One thing the press does badly in its admirable pursuit of balanced coverage is create false equivalencies.  That’s what’s happening when the press says the exchange of accusations between former FBI Director James Comey and President Trump is just another “food fight.”

That term – used by Fox’s Chris Wallace and House Speaker Paul Ryan – suggests both Comey and Trump have descended into unseemly name-calling, leaving the American people confused about who is telling the truth.

Comey’s position is further undermined because Hillary Clinton supporters and insiders, such as Bill Clinton’s former special counsel Lanny Davis, have joined Trump in claiming Comey is a liar.  Davis and Trump just use different adjectives.  Trump says Comey is a lying “slimeball” who “committed many crimes.”  Davis says he a liar who is a “renegade narcissist,” whatever that is.

The truth is neither Trump not Davis has identified lies in Comey’s account of how he handled the criminal investigations of Clinton and Trump during the 2016 election.

Trump claims Comey lied to Congress and should go to jail for leaking “classified” information to a friend knowing it would be passed on to the New York Times.  But it wasn’t classified information and wasn’t a crime.

There was no classification on the memo he gave a friend describing Trump’s request to “let…go” the criminal investigation of fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn for his contacts with the Russians. Nor, fact-checkers have concluded, is there any proof Comey lied to Congress.

The truth is Trump wants to destroy Comey because he is mad the FBI director would not promise loyalty and would not obstruct justice by dropping the Flynn investigation.

Comey was absolutely correct when he objected in an NPR interview to the president saying he should go to jail.   “The president of the United States just said that a private citizen should be jailed. And I think the reaction of most of us was, that’s another one of those things. This is not normal. This is not OK. There’s a danger that we will become numb to it and we will stop noticing the threats to our norms.”

On the Democratic side, Davis says Comey lied in saying he felt duty bound to report back to Congress when he found thousands of Clinton emails on Anthony Weiner’s computer in October, shortly before the election.   Davis charged: “Comey only promised Congress in September 2016 that if anything new came up on the emails issue that might cause the FBI to reconsider its non-prosecution decision, he would ‘take a look’ — not that he would make a public disclosure to Congress before doing so.”

But that’s not a lie. Comey clearly felt that his promise to take a look included getting back to Congress.  Davis is mad at Comey because he blames the former FBI director – probably rightly – for costing Hillary Clinton the election.

Comey has a hard-headed streak of self-righteousness, and could possibly have handled the hot potato investigations into Clinton and Trump better.  But there is a principled, non-political defense of what Comey actually did.

Yes, it is unusual for the FBI director to berate a subject of an investigation who is not being charged, as Comey did in June 2016 when announcing Clinton would not be prosecuted. But in saying Clinton had been careless with the classified emails, Comey was not only accurate, but he also was explaining why he would not press for charges against Clinton.  Carelessness is not enough proof of criminal intent under the Espionage Act.

Plus, Comey has a point when he explains he commented in October, 2016 about the Clinton investigation because it was a public matter, while the didn’t comment on the investigation into the Trump/Russia connection because it was just beginning and there was no clear evidence of the candidate’s complicity.  He also has a point when he says Clinton’s election would have been branded illegitimate if she had won after Comey had failed to disclose the emails on the Weiner computer.

Last week Carl Bernstein of the famous Woodward and Bernstein reporting team, told a GJR First Amendment celebration the Trump cover-up orchestrated from the Oval Office is of similar proportions to Watergate and that it is “metastasizing,” the same word he once used for Watergate.

But Bernstein challenged the conventional wisdom that Trump would be committing political suicide if he were to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller.  Bernstein doesn’t think Republicans in Congress would abandon Trump the way Republicans abandoned President Nixon.  A new CNN poll shows that a majority of Republicans now believes Mueller is acting unfairly toward the president. Somehow Trump’s transparently false accusations about the Russian “witch hunt” as  “fake new” have traction with the Republican base – even if the Pulitzer Prize committee found those stories to be best of the year.  Maybe too many Americans are listening to the false propaganda of Trump’s agent at Fox New, Sean Hannity.

The American people need to face up to the fact that this American president is aberrant. As Comey put it, “I don’t care what your views are on guns or immigration or taxes,  There’s something more important than that that should unite all of us, and that is our president must embody respect and adhere to the values that are at the core of this country. The most important being truth. This president is not able to do that.”

Comey says he is against impeachment.  He wants the American people to take on the responsibility of voting Trump from office.  On that he may be wrong.  This deviant presidency can do a lot of damage in two and one-half years.  Elections are the normal way of removing a bad president.  Impeachment is the way to end a deviant presidency.


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