Somewhere in the White House, an aide to President Donald Trump has stuffed the president’s cellphone and other devices under a pillow in a distant room, or perhaps behind the Roosevelt china. Objective: Keep Trump away from any tweeting temptations as fired FBI Director James Comey testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee. It’s not likely to work.
If the president has not yet taken seriously the separation of powers in the U.S. Constitution, or the document itself, he’s about to go to school.
And he will read over the next few days endless analyses comparing the Watergate hearings of more than 40 years ago to the Russian connection hearings on Capitol Hill, and to the testimony of Comey before Congress. In addition, on the eve of Comey’s appearance, more reports have surfaced, alleging that Trump talked to other intelligence officials to try to get them to rein in Comey’s look at fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Trump’s already offered a few versions of his firing of Comey: that it came at the recommendation of a senior Justice Department official … or that he decided Comey had to go long ago … or that he thought, as he’s alleged, to have told Russian visitors, that Comey was a “nut job” whose exit would make things easier.
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For Comey’s part, the nation has thus far heard only secondhand reports that Trump had demanded his personal loyalty in a meeting – inappropriate for a sworn official whose first allegiance is to Constitution and the truth. Then there is, for Trump, the potentially dangerous version of the Trump-Comey meeting, in which Trump asked Comey to lay off Flynn, reluctantly, because Flynn is alleged to have deceived Vice President Mike Pence about meetings with Russians.
If Comey testifies that Trump did that, the president has a world of trouble before him. Such an action, if investigated and proven to the satisfaction of Congress, would represent an attempted obstruction of justice.
The Watergate hearings chaired by North Carolina Sen. Sam Ervin brought little-known White House aides before the public in historic televised hearings. But these hearings, also to be televised, bring James Comey, a man known to all by now after his earlier testimony, and known as well because of Trump’s attacks on him.
Heading the Senate Intelligence Committee before which Comey will appear is North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, who now faces the test of his 12-year career in the Senate (and 22 years total in Congress). Burr’s every move will by analyzed with Ervin in mind – comparisons of style, perhaps, but also comparisons measuring Burr’s ability to run the hearings with strength but fairness, and his willingness to take on the power in the White House.
This hearing or likely hearings may not draw Super Bowl ratings, but they’re going to be watched with intensity by millions of Americans. And President Trump, though he may tweet, will not likely be commenting with cracks about ratings or comparisons to his former show, “The Apprentice.” His lawyers will doubtless make one thing clear to the president: James Comey is no apprentice, and the gravity of the outcome will have implications for the future of Trump’s presidency, perhaps even for its length.