Comey’s testimony adds to damaging perceptions
The appearance by the former FBI director at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing was not as explosive as some might have expected. But it added to perceptions of President Donald Trump that are not in America’s best interests, both at home and abroad
Though it was high political drama, the testimony of former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey to the Senate Intelligence Committee fell short of evidence of criminal obstruction of justice by US President Donald Trump. Comey admitted that Trump did not order him in so many words to stop investigating Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election. According to Comey, Trump said he hoped he would “let go” of the probe into former national security adviser General Michael Flynn, whom Trump fired for lying about contacts with the Russians.
Comey, who reported directly to the president through the Justice Department, may have understood this as an order. But if there is an issue of obstruction of justice it is for the special counsel appointed by the Justice Department to investigate Russian intervention. Any move for impeachment remains a long way off.
The globally awaited appearance by Comey, whom Trump also sacked, was not as explosive, or laced with new revelations, as some might have expected. Indeed, while it supplied critics of Trump’s integrity with more ammunition, it would have also fuelled a growing siege mentality among his supporters towards mainstream media. But it added to damaging perceptions of the president, at home and abroad, that are not in America’s best interests. They are reflected in polls that show Americans are evenly split, 43 to 45 per cent, for and against impeachment of the president respectively.
The impact abroad remains to be seen. If it strengthens the perception that Trump is untrustworthy and/or wounded, it will make it more difficult for the US to deal with allies and rivals alike.
What matters to everyone is the perception that government is in limbo during an investigation of Russian interference by special counsel Robert Mueller, Comey’s respected predecessor as FBI chief, who can be relied on to find any evidence of obstruction of justice. Regrettably, in the months ahead, the administration’s energy will be focused on the inquiry rather than tax and health-care overhauls or foreign policy initiatives. The inquiry must be seen to be free of obstruction, for the sake of the president’s office, if not his image.