James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee would have been high entertainment if it weren’t so disturbing. The former Director of the FBI, abruptly fired by Pres. Trump, answered every question thoughtfully in a calm, measured tone. He elaborated the details of the meticulous memos he wrote immediately after every one-on-one encounter with the president. When Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) asked Comey why he hadn’t given the memos to a reporter himself instead of giving them to a third party to leak, Comey replied,
The media was camping at the end of my driveway at that point, and I was actually going out of town with my wife to hide, and I worried that it would be like feeding seagulls at the beach.
It was a light moment in a very serious context.
Comey said he began to record his meetings with Trump after the first of these occasions, when the president-elect abused his power by demanding Comey pledge his loyalty. Comey wouldn’t do that and cited three reasons for his decision to write the memos:
- the circumstances: Trump had dismissed his advisors and officials, leaving him alone with Comey
- the subject matter: the Steele dossier and its account of “golden showers” and other salacious details
- the nature of the person: “I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting….I knew there might come a day when I would need a record” to defend himself
Wow. No prevarication. No fuzz. A senior official calling the president a liar. For anyone who’s been paying even minimal attention to the Trump saga, this allegation is not a surprise. We know Trump lies, but for Comey to assert it baldly, under oath, publicly, is truly shocking. A U.S. president who lies transparently and repeatedly is mind-boggling, an oxymoron, until now. .
From the outset, Comey bristled against Trump’s “defamation” of himself and “more importantly, the FBI. Those were lies, plain and simple.”
Comey is clearly quick-thinking and erudite. One of the best moments of the hearing came in the second hour, when Sen. Angus King (I-ME) was up at bat. In the context of Trump’s saying, “I hope you will hold back on that,” referring to Trump’s implied order that Comey suspend the criminal investigation of Mike Flynn, Comey observed, “It rings in my ear as kind of ‘Will no one rid me of that meddlesome priest?'”
Sen. King jumped in, “I was just gonna quote that. In 1170, December 29, Henry II said, ‘Will no one rid me of that meddlesome priest?’ and then the next day he was killed. [Archbishop of Canterbury] Thomas À Becket. This is exactly the same situation. We’re thinking along the same lines.” The king’s men understood his question as a directive to murder the priest.
Two men quoting a 12th-century English king makes my heart sing. As a medievalist in a former life, I am cheered and encouraged that classics and history are not yet completely extinct. That both men remember the history they’d studied and see its relevance to the present day is just what every teacher hopes for.