How the Comey Relationship Turned Into a Problem for Trump – Gerald F. Seib Updated June 8, 2017 7:21 p.m. ET


Disadvantages of president’s political inexperience were on display in Senate hearing

Where Does Russia Probe Head After Comey Hearing?

Fired FBI Director James Comey appeared before a Senate committee on Thursday, testifying that President Trump attempted to interfere in the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib explains where the investigation heads next. Photo: Getty

By

Gerald F. Seib

Being an outsider has its advantages in today’s political climate, and last year President Donald Trump made the most of them.

Thursday, though, the world saw the downsides of coming from so far outside the system.

A basic set of rules for surviving and thriving in the nation’s capital—well understood by Washington veterans—would include: Don’t make an enemy of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, keep potential enemies inside the tent and, above all, remember that it usually isn’t the action but the appearance of a coverup that brings real trouble.

A compelling morning of congressional testimony by fired FBI director James Comey illustrated that Mr. Trump, deliberately or unwittingly, violated each of those maxims. In the process, he appears to have made a problem that always was going to be difficult for him—assertions that Russia intervened in the 2016 election, ultimately to benefit the Trump campaign—considerably worse. The Russia question is a minefield, and Mr. Trump has stepped directly on many of the mines.

The irony is that this all came into focus on a day in which the dramatic congressional hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee also produced revelations that actually are helpful to the president’s cause. Most notably, those include the fact that Mr. Trump himself was never the subject of Mr. Comey’s inquiries on the Russia connection.

Instead, though, the focus was on Mr. Comey’s description of a series of private conversations in which he said the president tried to coerce him into becoming a loyalist and sought to squelch a continuing criminal investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, then seemed to fire Mr. Comey because he wouldn’t cooperate, and subsequently lied about the origin and details of their conversations.

Those are serious assertions and have the potential to create significant legal problems—perhaps even a case for obstruction of justice—for the president, in addition to the potential problems for those around him.

In each of those cases, though, it was clear that the way Mr. Trump handled his relationship with the nation’s top criminal investigator made the situation more dangerous. In Mr. Comey’s telling, the president attempted to use meetings and phone calls to extract a pledge of “loyalty” and a “patronage relationship” from the FBI chief, and to pressure him into declaring publicly that the president himself wasn’t a target of FBI investigation.

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