Who knew that having an ousted former FBI director talk to Congress would be the hottest ticket in town?
In a year of things unprecedented, add to the list the frenzy that ensued when James Comey's opening statement dropped on Wednesday. And the countdown clock to his testimony—appealing to the Trumpian reality-TV-loving masses: People actually starting lining up at 4 a.m. to get into the hearing as if it were a queue for a new iPhone … or really anything other than a Congressional hearing. (Senator Chuck Schumer made sure fired U.S. Attorney Preet Brahaha, who has become something of a bete noire to Trump, had a primo seat, right up front.)
The entire hearing did not disappoint. And how could it? Comey already knows how to be the star of a show after inserting himself in the eleventh hour of the the 2016 election, arguably tipping the scales to Trump, a fact he later said made him “mildly nauseous” to contemplate. Would that the rest of us were experiencing something so mild.
Comey’s testimony was bombshell after bombshell. He completely confirmed that Russians interfered in the 2016 elections in a multitude of ways. He made it clear that the special prosecutor, Robert Mueller, was indeed going to investigate whether Trump is guilty of obstruction of justice. He let the world know that General Mike Flynn is the subject of an open criminal investigation because of his contact with the Russians. He explained that he started documenting his conversations with Trump because “I was honestly concerned that he would lie about the nature of our meetings ... I knew there might come a day when I would need a record of what happened.”
Step back and consider that: James Comey, the head of the FBI, a career lawyer in a Republican administration under George W. Bush, a Republican for most of his life, felt he needed to cover his own ass because he knew that the Republican President of the United States was a liar.
Comey also went to the head of the DOJ, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and asked him to make sure that he wouldn’t have to meet with Trump one-on-one again. (Sessions, Trump toady that he is, never responded to the request.)
Now, step back and consider that as well. James Comey, the head of the FBI, the man who stood up to George W. Bush and then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez over Bush’s warrantless domestic spying program, was concerned about being left alone with Trump.
Nearly everyone that listened to Comey’s testimony came away thinking that Trump’s reputation was shot. Well, even more shot than before. Obstruction of justice? Check. Completely without credibility? Check. A president who “has so little regard for his oath of office that he cannot appreciate his deficiencies, has no desire to remedy them, and is thus prone consistently to behave in fashions repugnant to the very nature of the presidency.” Check.
The one group of people that listened to Comey’s remarkable stories of collusion, of pressure, of lie upon lie, and still somehow determined that Comey, not Trump, was at fault? Congressional Republicans, of course. Marco Rubio, among others, spent the entire time haranguing Comey in a fashion eerily reminiscent of the language of workplace sexual harassment: If Comey knew Trump was asking him to do something wrong, why didn’t he just tell Trump no? Rubio’s defense of Trump was especially pathetic and craven given Trump’s utter disdain for "Liddle Marco."
John "the Maverick" McCain, who supposedly stands strong against partisan politics, came at Comey incoherently, and somehow tried to bring it back to, what else, Hillary's emails. Sorry he went over our heads, he said later, he shouldn't have stayed up so late watching baseball. (No, really. He said that.)
Senator Richard Burr, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wanted to talk about Hillary Clinton’s emails, of course, because we will be talking about Hillary Clinton’s emails until the Earth turns to ash.
What the hearing showed at root is this: Republicans are willing to put up with outright collusion with Russia, with a president who is utterly amoral and unconcerned with the truth, with an administration utterly hobbled by a combination of inexperience and deceit. They’ll put up with all of these things—things that are undoing the fragile fabric of America—because they get a chance to enact an agenda that actively harms poor people, women, LGBTQ individuals, and people of color. We always knew Republicans were willing to go to great lengths to achieve their awful aims. No one—not even those of us that believed the very worst of the GOP—could have imagined this utter nihilism.
James Comey certainly didn’t imagine it. He believed he could put his thumb on the scale of the 2016 election—not because of nefarious intent but because he genuinely believed he was required to—and it wouldn’t matter. Either Hillary Clinton would win, and Comey’s actions would have made no difference, or Trump would win, and everything would still be fine. Instead, Comey got a boss who demanded loyalty like a Mafia don, pressured him to drop an investigation, and ultimately fired him anyway. This was never what James Comey dreamed of when he made himself the leading man of the 2016 election.