Following former FBI director James Comey’s Senate testimony last week, President Trump took to Twitter, claiming “total and complete vindication.”
The White House did get some good news: Comey said that the president was not personally under investigation while he led the bureau, and that a New York Times article detailing contacts between Russian intelligence and the Trump campaign was “in the main … not true.”
But that is by no means the end of the story. As Comey was careful to point out, it was not the function of his testimony to prove or disprove any case against Trump or anyone else. Building such a case remains within the jurisdiction of Robert Mueller, the newly appointed special prosecutor and former FBI director. Moreover, as a former FBI agent, I know the importance of reading between the lines; and in this case, a great deal went unsaid both about the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the peril the president himself could face.
First, consider the deafening silence that greeted Comey’s revelation that, even before Trump took office, the FBI director began taking copious notes of his conversations with the president-elect. Invited to explain, Comey said that he made the record in part because he was “honestly concerned that [Trump] might lie about the nature of our meeting,” a fear that the director did not feel in his dealings with either of Trump’s immediate predecessors. And here is the remarkable thing: Not one single senator, of either party, questioned the characterization of the president of the United States as someone likely to tell lies. We know why, of course: The president has made clear, again and again, that his word cannot be trusted. And, Comey said, the president did indeed lie about their conversations, prompting the director to release his contemporaneous, unclassified account.