Amidst the escalating swirl of scandal and dysfunction of the Trump presidency, James Comey’s silence is deafening and dangerous. It is time for him to step forward and testify before Congress about his conversations with the president.
It is time for him to have his John Dean moment.
At the height of the Watergate, in June, 1973, Dean, who had been President Nixon’s White House Counsel, testified before the Senate Watergate Committee. He was the first official to publicly accuse Nixon of direct involvement in Watergate and the attempted cover up. His appearance before the Senate committee played a decisive role in the drama that galvanized the nation’s attention more than forty years ago. It was also a sterling example of courageous action.
Dean famously recounted for the Senate committee how he had warned Nixon that the unfolding Watergate cover-up was a ”cancer on the presidency.” Those words have special resonance today as events unfold exposing President Trump’s arrogance, fecklessness, and abuse of power.
How we respond to the current cancer on the presidency depends on Comey and his willingness to reveal what the president told him and asked of him.
How we respond to the current cancer on the presidency depends on Comey and his willingness to reveal what the president told him and asked of him. Newspapers report that Comey wrote a memo February recounting a conversation he had with President Trump. Those reports suggest that the president raised the specter of arresting journalists and asked Comey to end the FBI’s probe of Michael Flynn’s Russia connections. They may be enough to convince the already convinced that Trump needs to be removed from office. But convincing the already convinced will not be enough.
To persuade others, in particular Republicans who previously have staunchly defended the president, Comey must come forward and speak for all to hear and see. He must be subjected to rigorous cross-examination about what was said, when, and by whom. The need for him to do so is urgent.
The former FBI Director made a mistake when he rejected an invitation from the Senate Intelligence Committee to appear at a closed hearing of the committee. He should not repeat that mistake now as he thinks about how to respond to new invitations from that committee and from Senator Lindsay Graham to offer new testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Graham was right to say that “I think it would be good for him if he did. It would be good for the country.”
Comey’s credibility as Trump’s accuser has been enhanced by his controversial role in the 2016 presidential campaign and by Hillary Clinton’s recent statements about him. Two weeks ago, Clinton, speaking publicly about her electoral defeat for the first time said that she was confident about winning the presidency until Comey’s October 28 letter informing Congress that he was reopening the investigation into her private email sever.
As she told CNN anchor Christiane Amanpour at a Women for Women International event in New York, “I was on the way to winning until the combination of Jim Comey’s letter on October 28 and Russian WikiLeaks raised doubts in the minds of people who were inclined to vote for me but got scared off — and the evidence for that intervening event is, I think, compelling [and] persuasive.”
Comey further set the stage for his John Dean moment when he told the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month that “It makes me mildly nauseous that we would have had an impact on the election.”
As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once noted, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”
Comey can bring some sunlight to the controversy now crippling the Trump presidency. Only if he does so will we have the chance to excise the cancer that Trump has brought to the highest office.
What a sweet irony it would be for the man who may have helped put Trump in the White House to now help show him the door.