Originally Published: June 14, 2017 6:01 a.m.
In this Golden Age of Spin, it’s difficult to assess what actually happened Thursday on Capitol Hill.
Judging by Friday’s New York Daily News, with the word “Liar” branded on Donald Trump’s face; by The New York Times’s Watergate-like front page, and by CNN’s panel of panting pundits, so large and loud that it seemed like the dais at a Friars’ Club roast, you’d think Trump was cooked.
Then again, if you happened to watch Sean Hannity and pal Laura Ingraham celebrating on Fox News Channel, or if you took seriously the president’s tweet Friday morning in which he claimed “total and complete vindication,” you’d swear that happy days are here again.
So what gives?
James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee was artful and intriguing. But his set of (public) facts don’t (yet) rise to the level that many in media are declaring.
Hannity, known for authoring Trump’s talking points, went so far as to say: “James Comey’s testimony is a huge victory for Donald Trump and a massive defeat for the Democrats and, of course, the propaganda media.”
Indeed, Trump has to be thrilled that Comey, (a) confirmed that Trump was not personally under investigation, at least as of the day Trump fired Comey as FBI Director, (b) stated that he knew of no ballots in the 2016 election that were actually changed by Russian tampering, (c) disclosed that Trump encouraged him to pursue the Russia probe, at least as far as Trump’s “satellite” staff was concerned, and (d) arranged for a friend to leak his memos about White House meetings to The Times.
Considering what a mess Trump has made of his presidency, that’s actually the tally of a pretty good day.
What triggered all the mainstream headlines was Comey’s bold declaration that Trump is a liar, along with Comey’s recounting the private chat in which the president asked him to “see his way clear” to “letting [Michael] Flynn go.”
Is that obstruction of justice? Probably. But no reasonable observer of Washington’s ways would think Trump would ever be charged. Even secret recordings — if they exist — wouldn’t place Trump at risk of impeachment.
The fact is, Trump skated through this, and many editors and columnists have allowed their eagerness for ultimate justice for a clearly unfit president to be momentarily captivating.
That doesn’t mean Trump and his gang are off the hook. The investigations are likely to drag on for months, even years. — particularly from Trump’s own inner circle, as some are thrown under the bus, while others are thrown overboard.
In an odd twist, the best outcome of all this might be that Trump’s agenda is stalled, even cast aside, on Capitol Hill. Also, that world leaders become even more concerned about Trump’s ability to govern and retain power, and distance themselves from his rants.
Finally, there are lessons to be learned from Watergate. First, the investigation — by media and federal authorities — took many months to complete. Second, and most important, it wasn’t the original crime that ultimately finished Richard Nixon, it was the attempted cover-up.
I’d spin Thursday’s proceedings thusly: James Comey probably gets a fat book deal out of this, and Donald Trump probably gets a single term.
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker. His book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com. © 2017 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate.