James Comey, the director of the FBI, continues to act like a jerk for every season. The man who first tried to save Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and then tried to wreck it at the eleventh hour, reprised his familiar tap dance Monday with Congress. It’s getting stale.
The kindest interpretation anyone could put to his testimony Monday to the House Intelligence Committee, which ran almost six hours, is that the man has trouble with his mouth. He talks too much, which is usually a fatal flaw in a cop. This is what got him in trouble with just about everybody during the presidential campaign.
Mr. Comey acknowledged Monday what everybody already knew, that the FBI is conducting an investigation into whether President Trump coordinated his campaign with the Kremlin. But then, as is his custom, he retreated into the shade of his unique ethics code, repeatedly declining to say whether specific persons close to the president were suspected of breaking the law. He didn’t want to “wind up smearing people.”
Rep. Davin Nunes of California, the Republican chairman of the intelligence committee, recognized Mr. Comey’s smear by indirection. “There’s a big gray cloud that you’ve put over people who have very important work to do to lead this country, and so the faster that you can get to the bottom of this, it’s going to be better for all Americans.”
This was a remarkable hearing, seeking inside stuff from the intelligence committee, which, with its Senate counterpart, is supposed to be one of the most discreet, secretive panels on Capitol Hill. But with the attempted insurrection against the Trump administration consuming all the oxygen in Washington, everyone feels liberated to let it all, whatever “all” is, hang out.
All that the Democrats on the intelligence panel wanted to talk about Monday are the contacts, if any, between the Trump campaign and the Russians. The Republicans mostly wanted to ask questions about the intelligence leaks to the media, and how the “intelligence community’ shared information, if it did, with “the media community.”
Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, a Republican, suggested that the leaks were “political.” (Well, duh.) Mr. Gowdy asked Mr. Comey whether that amorphous “intelligence community” had shared juicy stuff collected on the Trump campaign with Barack Obama or his attorney general, Loretta E. Lynch. Mr. Comey answered primly that of course he couldn’t say anything about his conversations with either president.
The Donald had tried to set the tone and thrust of the hearing, posting tweets that Democrats had “made up” the allegations of Russian contacts during the ‘16 campaign to discredit Republicans. “The real story that Congress, the FBI and all others should be looking into,” he tweeted just as dawn was breaking over the Potomac, “is the leaking of Classified information. Must find leaker now!” (Exclamation point the president’s.)
The hearing was crucial for the Democrats, who have staked everything on the Trump-Putin connection, such as it may be, to keep alive the insurrection. There was fresh speculation as Mr. Comey’s testimony began that certain Democrats with a tighter grasp on reality are trying to dampen expectations that a Trump collusion with the Russians in nefarious plots will be proved this week. Democrats feasting on fantasy are convinced that it’s inevitable and imminent that Donald Trump will be exposed as a traitor, a renegade, a Judas and perhaps the anti-Christ, removed from office and there might even be another election, with all 11 million illegal immigrants now in the United States allowed to vote.
Democratic grown-ups are fretting about what happens to their base when nothing is proved, leaving nothing but anticlimax to warm partisan hearts. Michael J. Morell, an acting director of the CIA during the Obama administration, and who endorsed Hillary, accused Candidate Trump of having been recruited by Vladimir Putin as “an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.”
But that was then. He told an intelligence forum last week, as reported by Glenn Greenwald in The Intercept, that “there is smoke, but there is no fire at all. There’s no little campfire, there’s no little candle, there’s no spark. And there’s a lot of people looking for it.”
James Comey was counted on to light the candle — not to push away the dark, but to ignite the powder magazine to blow Donald Trump out of the White House. He plays the jerk again. His act is getting a little old. If the president is the evil man the plotters of the insurrection say he is, the time to light the fuse should be at hand. A reporter asked at the White House Monday whether Mr. Comey retains the president’s confidence. “Yes,” a spokesman said (with the tell-tale kiss), “at this time.”
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.
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