‘L’ Words Loom Large in Washington

Jewish Light Editorial

“Justice, Justice you shall pursue.” 

— Deut. 16.20

The above quote from our sacred Torah is one of the bedrock values of the Jewish faith. Last week’s much anticipated testimony by fired FBI Director James Comey on his meetings with President Donald Trump have illustrated just how challenging it will be to find true justice in the investigations into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

In the wake of Comey’s dramatic testimony and reaction from the White House and others, three words are key in determining how the continuing crisis will play out: loyalty, lies and leaks.

When Comey released a preview of his testimonythe day before his appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee, most attention centered on his revelation that Trump had said to him in a private meeting, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.”

The context, of course, was Trump’s concern over the investigation into Michael Flynn, the president’s short-lived national security adviser, and Flynn’s possible ties to Russia. Comey said he was noncommittal, asserting that he could promise only honesty. 

When Trump pressed him whether that meant honest loyalty, Comey said he agreed, though it became clear to him later that the two men had dramatically different interpretations of the phrase. Trump denies making any request for loyalty.

In his testimony, Comey minced no words about his views of the administration’s veracity. He said he had been defamed by allegations that the FBI was in disarray and its agents had lost confidence in him. 

“Those were lies, plain and simple,” Comey said. 

Who’s telling the truth? It’s hard to know for sure, but the straight-arrow former FBI director came across as credible, particularly compared with a president who has made more than 600 documented false or misleading claims since taking office, according to the Washington Post’s “Fact Checker: The Truth Behind the Rhetoric” online column. 

If Trump ever answers questions under oath, as he said Friday he would be willing to do, that might even things up a bit.

Comey also acknowledged once again that he had told the president that he was not personally under investigation at that time. In their reaction, Trump supporters zeroed in on that part of Comey’s testimony, with the president’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, saying flatly that Trump “feels completely and totally vindicated.”

That point is debatable, given the apparently widening scope of the overall inquiry, but one other part of Comey’s testimony that was a focus of questioning by Sen. Roy Blunt hardly painted the former FBI director in the best light.

Comey revealed that news stories about his conversations with Trump, based on memos he had written to preserve his memory of the meetings, resulted from his giving the memos to a friend, who then passed them along to reporters. The notes were the source of one of the most damning parts of the case, where Comey says the president asked him, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.”  

Comey said he released the information that way because reporters were “camping at the end of my driveway. … I worried it would be like feeding seagulls at the beach if it was I who gave it to the media.”

Blunt was clearly unimpressed with such reasoning.

“It does seem to me,” the Missouri Republican said, “that what you do there is create a source close to the former director of the FBI, as opposed to just taking responsibility yourself for saying, ‘Here are these records.’ ”

Blunt was not the only one who highlighted Comey’s behavior. After staying away from Twitter the day of the hearing, Trump returned to his favorite social medium Friday morning to gloat about the revelation, tweeting:

“Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication … and WOW, Comey is a leaker!”

So each side found something positive in Comey’s appearance, but the testimony hardly put the crisis to rest. Meanwhile, the administration’s ambitious agenda, from health care to immigration to the Middle East to infrastructure, remains stalled.

And House Speaker Paul Ryan, trying to put the best face on things, didn’t exactly help his cause with this rationale of the president’s behavior:

“He’s new to government. And so he probably wasn’t steeped in the long-running protocols that establish the relationships between DOJ, FBI and White Houses. He’s just new to this.”

Inexperience is no excuse. A president shouldn’t have to learn the basics on the job. The question is moving from whether Trump actually obstructed justice to whether he understands what the proper behavior and authority of a president should be.

Loyalty, lies and leaks. As Special Counsel Robert Mueller pores over evidence in the case, one other “L” word comes to mind:

Lordy, it would be nice if there really are tapes to clear things up. 

Stay tuned.