Commentary: Comey testimony, a Rorschach Test for the nation

By Janet Williams

Remember when you were a kid and plotted with your friends or siblings to do something you know your mom or dad would never approve of? You didn’t want the grownups in the room as you hatched your scheme, whatever it was.

Janet Williams, editor,

That’s what I thought of listening to the former director of the FBI, James Comey, testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday.

In his prepared statement, Comey described how when he went to the Oval Office for a counterterrorism briefing, President Trump cleared the room of Vice President Mike Pence, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Jared Kushner and several others before discussing Mike Flynn.

Flynn, if you remember, is the former general tapped by Trump to serve as his national security adviser. Less than a month into the job, Flynn was gone. The reason? He was under investigation by the FBI for contacts with Russians.

As carefully recounted by Comey, Trump told the then-FBI director that Flynn was a good guy and then said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Comey, in his written testimony to the Senate committee, said, “I had understood the president to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December.”

As Jeffrey Toobin, a lawyer and columnist for The New Yorker, pointed out, that behavior shows guilty intent, as in you know you’re about to do something wrong so make sure Mom and Dad aren’t in the room.

That’s exactly why House Speaker Paul Ryan’s lame attempts to explain away Trump’s behavior won’t work. Ryan said Trump was so inexperienced in the ways of politics and Washington that he didn’t realize he was doing something wrong, like obstructing justice.

If Trump was such a political neophyte, then why clear the room of potential witnesses? Why not just say what was on your mind with Vice President Pence and Sessions in the room?

The answer is simple — he knew what he was doing and he knew it was wrong.

The hearing itself serves the ultimate Rorschach Test. Everyone from every side of the political equation reads something a little bit different into it.

The reactions ranged from the president lied and obstructed justice to Comey cleared Trump when he said he wasn’t a target of the Russian hacking investigation. And then there’s those like Ryan who dismiss Trump’s behavior with the defense that he just didn’t know any better.

It’s clear that the Republicans in Congress have bought the neophyte defense, or at least they’re clinging to it so they can push their agenda while the rest of us are distracted by the president’s shenanigans.

As Comey testified and later, the president and his minions responded, the House quietly passed an overhaul of the banking reforms enacted after the great recession. Those reforms were meant to protect consumers and the economy from the excesses that nearly caused the whole system to collapse in 2008 and 2009.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, a secret committee is working on its version of healthcare legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act. The House version would result in as many as 23 million Americans losing coverage as those older and sicker face astronomical rises in premiums.

What is the Senate doing? Who knows because the work is being done without public hearings or testimony from people who might be affected.

That is not to say that the investigation into Russian meddling in our elections and Comey’s testimony aren’t important. They are. It’s vital we have confidence in the process we use to elect our leaders.

However, I have little confidence that hearings like Comey’s will get us there because we are so divided and we only listen to the snippets that support our existing beliefs. So when Comey says Trump lied about the reasons for firing him, as much as half of the public dismisses it as another Washington “he said—he said” dispute. The other half, the ones not in the Republican-controlled Congress, are ready to start impeachment proceedings.

There is an objective truth here and I believe that so far, the evidence is on Comey’s side. We will have to wait for the judgment of history to tell Ryan and his fellow believers in Congress that they are dead wrong about Trump and he’s not the neophyte they pretend he is.

Janet Williams, an Indianapolis writer and journalist, can be reached at

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