Instead of blithely imbibing on the Stanley Cup and NBA playoff games, a different kind of spectacle is gobbling up America’s attention. It’s an enthralling, albeit surprising sport from which viewers can’t be detached. It’s the year’s defining moment in a year filled with defining moments. I speak, of course, of the Comey Countdown. Otherwise known as the C-SPAN Super Bowl or Washington’s Wimbledon or the Political Grand Prixes, anyone with so much as a passing interest in politics has been awaiting this moment on bated breath. Not since the lewd Lewinsky days or the ignominious Nixon hours have Americans been so fixated on the country’s political goings-on.
Just how is it we’ve come to arrive at this fever pitch? After all, in any other case, the now former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony would be nothing more than fodder for political wonks. It would pique the interest of D.C. insiders and the periphery. Unlike this niche of journalists and enthusiasts, most other Americans wouldn’t sacrifice a balmy summer’s day to witness this type of event. We’re supposed to be estivating, barbecuing, sun-bathing, frolicking—instead, all eyes are glued to the screen and all ears are stretched like strings to hear what James Comey has to say.
For those late in joining this tale, the background is as follows: James Comey, the once FBI Director who worked for the Obama administration and briefly for President Trump’s, is set to testify before an open court about the circumstances surrounding his firing on May 9th. Much to President Trump’s consternation, Comey was leading an investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. Trump, believing himself guiltless of any sin, urged Director Comey to share publicly this wishful innocence. Comey refused. Trump’s patience wore thin and his acrimony grew. It ultimately grew such that Trump pulled the trigger and fired Comey. He did this—under conflicting motivations—and the fall-out was severe. Opponents bellowed, “foul play” and obstruction of justice accusations flailed in the air. The cacophony became a chorus and it seems now more feasible. What’s more, tune has its canary in James Comey, who’s ready and willing to sing. What he says will assuredly be revealing and could possibly be damning.
Damning, that is, for President Trump. Frankly, this testimony could spell the end of his short-lived but hitherto successful political career. Pundits have hinted that a damaging testimony from Comey could potentially sink this ship. It’s due cause for disquiet in the Trump cabinet, which has been walking on needles since Inauguration Day. Administration aides see Comey’s day in court as an inflection point and possibly a breaking point in the early dawn of Trump’s tenure.
An early missive has been made available, and it details what exactly Comey intends to say. As per this premature account, Comey will describe the frequency with which he and the president spoke. This in itself is innocent enough, except when one considers how unusual it is. For the president to be so incessantly contacting the Department of Justice on his own behalf is an unsettling thing. The two held private audiences on no less than nine occasions, surpassing in number and in kind those held between both men’s predecessors.
Recognizing this, and feeling slightly uneased by this breach in custom, Comey began keeping detailed notes each time he and the president met. It was either Comey’s punctiliousness or paranoia (or maybe a combination of both) that led him to do such a thing. Immediately after every meeting with President Trump, Comey would jot down in his journals all of the conversation’s noteworthy points.
Trump’s supporters and Comey’s skeptics have raised a legitimate concern. In regard to his seemingly meticulous memos, the question of doctoring or imperfect recall becomes a problem. It could be that Comey misremembered or is deliberately misrepresenting his accounts. For this, one must examine his history and his idiosyncrasies. Comey sees himself as the honest ne plus ultra in a deceit-ridden political clime. He’s played this role to the annoyance and ebullience of both sides—Democratic and Republican. Whether with Clinton or with Trump, he’s inconvenienced both parties in turn. He’s been scrupulously consistent, if not importunately so. For this reason, the question of his impartiality and of his notes’ legitimacy can’t be so easily raised.
Assuming, as I must, that Comey’s notes are indeed veracious, it looks like Trump has been caught red-handed. From Comey’s account, it appears that during an evening meal, the president made an alarming request. During the repast, which was attended only by Trump, Comey, and the West Wing walls, the president basically asked for Comey’s fealty. Above all, the president thirsts for loyalty, and those who provide it are reciprocated in turn. Comey, however, appears to have ambiguously rebuffed the president’s request. Trump asked for his loyalty. Comey assured him his honesty. These otherwise clear distinctions combined into Trump asking for his FBI director’s “honest loyalty”, to which Comey agreed. Subsumed in the semantics, Trump and Comey left the dinner thinking different things.
Trump later raised his concerns about his controversial and treasonous National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn. Again, addressing Comey, the he said, “I hope you can let this (the Flynn-Russia investigation) go”. He wanted Comey to “see his way clear” of the investigation into General Flynn. Comey, we now know, did not and for because of this, was fired. Unburdened of his bête noire, Trump allegedly celebrated the fact that Comey was gone. He told aides and Russian emissaries that firing the “nut job” James Comey would ease pressure on him personally and the Russia investigation generally.
This is where things stand as Comey prepares for his day in court. Most clear-eyed Trump supporters are nervous, and rightfully so. In a most sympathetic reading, Trump’s private audiences and remarks to James Comey will be considered outré or the mistakes of a political neophyte. More realistically though, they’ll be seen as nefarious and calculated—as not-so-subtle attempts to exculpate himself from the pestering collusion allegations. Comey’s testimony might indicate how Congress will proceed. It could be that his testimony roils and stirs its members into pressing the “obstruction of justice” case even further. The countdown continues. America awaits with eagerness and glee.