Fred Kaplan writes: After James Comey’s sworn Senate testimony Thursday, even stalwart Republicans are finding it harder to deny that Donald Trump has no business being president. But it’s not stopping them from defending him anyway or from bringing the nation closer to disaster.
House Speaker Paul Ryan tried to excuse the most incriminating portions of Comey’s statement—the highly detailed claims that Trump pressured him to swear loyalty, to drop the probe of Michael Flynn, and to tell the public that Trump himself was not under criminal investigation—by saying that the president is “just new to this.” In other words, Ryan was saying, Trump isn’t a crook; he’s just ignorant.
Leaving aside the civic bromide that ignorance is no excuse when it comes to breaking the law, Ryan is off the mark, at least in this case. Trump kicked several officials out of his office before twisting the FBI director’s arm. As Comey asked at his hearing, why would he do that if he didn’t know he was about to engage in improper behavior?
New Jersey Gov. (and former Trump transition-team chairman) Chris Christie came closer to honesty, dismissing the president’s exchanges with Comey as “normal New York conversation.” This might indeed be the perception of a man who once prosecuted white-collar criminals, including Jared Kushner’s father, in the New York metropolitan area. In other words, Christie was saying, Trump is just strutting like a slippery operator—not quite the exoneration that he may have intended.
So these are the GOP’s rationales for Trump’s behavior: He was only talking like a felon, he didn’t necessarily commit a crime; and if he did, it’s only because he didn’t know what he was doing. It’s hard to believe that even the likes of Ryan and Christie aren’t a little disturbed by this state of affairs—not only because of what might be uncovered next, but because of what they are facing and abetting right now. By the powers vested in his office, Trump has immense powers (among other things, he has the nuclear codes), and his defenders are tolerating his presence in this office, even while knowing the risks.
Yes, “He’s just new to this,” but that’s the problem, or part of the problem. In fact, all presidents are “new to this.” As most of them have confessed after their terms, no experience quite prepares one for the lonely pressures of the Oval Office. But Trump takes a novice’s limits to new levels. Not only did he enter the job with no knowledge of its nature (despite bragging that he alone could fix everything), he installed an equally clueless entourage. [Continue reading…]