James Comey is not a weakling, cowed by power -- which makes even more convincing what he revealed of the power of Donald Trump's intimidation. Klein calls this "the simple, chilling takeaway of James Comey's testimony. . . . It is separate from the legal question of whether Trump obstructed justice, or the political question of whether congressional Republicans care even if he did."
Klein says, further: "[Trump] is a man who lies constantly, who values loyalty over integrity, who has little understanding of nor respect for the values and restraints that people in power impose on themselves to keep from misusing their positions, and who intends to use both his powers of hiring and firing to stock the government with people who will serve him first and the country second."
Ironically, Klein points out that the parts of the testimony that Trump's "defenders are touting," as validation for Trump, are the very parts that most clearly illustrate the troubling qualities. Both Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Diane Feinstein questioned Comey along the line of why he didn't stand up to the president and tell him what he was asking was inappropriate.
Comey's response is telling: Rather than his usual, carefully thought-out answer, he was a bit vague, even uncomfortable: Comey: "I don't know. I think -- as I said earlier, I think the circumstances were such that it was -- I was a bit stunned and didn't have the presence of mind. I don't know. . . I don't know if I would have said to the president with the presence of mind, "Sir, that's wrong." In the moment, it didn't come to my mind. What came to mind was, "Be careful what you say . . . . Maybe other people would be stronger in the circumstance. That's how I conducted myself. I hope I'll never have another opportunity. Maybe if I did it again, I would do it better."
This is the same man that another Vox.com writer called "an unruffled professional . . . a masterful performance" regarding his overall testimony. Yes, that is Comey's usual level of mastery. But I suggest, as does Klein, that rattling even James Comey, says more about Donald Trump than about Comey.
Republicans have seized on this to try to discredit Comey. If Trump's request was so terrible, why didn't he rise up in indignation or quit on the spot? But Ezra Klein suggests "another way to understand this story:"
* * * * *Klein writes: "[Comey] was elevated to that [FBI Director] position precisely because he had proven himself unusually able to resist political intimidation. . . . [He was] one of the hardest civil servants to intimidate. But when trapped in a room with the president of the United States, and when his job and all the good he believed he could do in it was dangled before him, even he felt the pressure. To his credit, he didn't crack. But he felt it, just as Trump knew he would.
"This story is not exculpatory for Trump. It is damning for him, and unnerving for us. It is a reminder of how much harm the wrong man can do if he wields the power and prestige of the presidency unethically. . . . The picture Comey paints of Trump is grim -- and so is the picture Trump paints of himself."
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In answer to Sen. Mark Warner's questions about why he began taking notes on his meetings with Trump, Comey mentioned three things: Trump repeatedly tried to meet with him alone; they were discussing unusually sensitive topics; and "I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meetings."
Stop and consider that: The FBI Director thought he couldn't trust the President of the United States to meet with him without lying. And he was right. Trump has already changed his story several times about their meetings.
Perhaps even more troubling, is that the quality that Trump says he admires the most is "loyalty." Even loyalty over integrity. In his testimony, Comey quotes Trump as having told him: "I need loyalty. I expect loyalty." Klein's article continues:
* * * * *"There is no doubt which answer Trump wanted from Comey, and after realizing he wasn't going to get it, Trump fired Comey. . . . Imagine that it wasn't Comey who Trump had invited to dinner, but a candidate for the FBI directorship who shared Trump's values, and was more focused on his advancement than his integrity. . . . In that case, we might never know the conversation had happened, but the FBI would now be serving Trump, rather than the American people. . . .
"[Trump] holds an office that gives him vast power for intimidation, patronage, and reprisal. We know he is a man who will use that power to serve his own ends. We know the people who survive in Trump's employ will be those who carry out Trump's commands. We know he is a man who will fire those, like Comey, who refuse his requests. . . .
"This is day 139 of Donald Trump's administration, and it is clear that he is dangerously unfit for the role. The question is whether Republicans will admit it to themselves, and if so, what they will do about it. . . . The country needs more from them right now than excuses for behavior that they know is wrong."
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That is Ezra Klein. I agree with all that he writes. Tomorrow, I will share extensive quotes from a New York Times op-ed that likens the situation Comey was in at that one-to-one dinner to what a woman employee experiences with a predatory boss who tries to intimidate her.