Ousted FBI Director James Comey’s riveting testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week characterized President Donald Trump as a habitual liar who made wildly inappropriate demands, but the President and his allies immediately seized on what they saw as a victory: Comey confirmed publicly that Trump personally had not been under investigation as long as he was at the bureau.
Trump declared “complete vindication” following the hearing, despite Comey stressing that the question of whether the President was under investigation could change in the future, and dropping several telling hints that special counsel Bob Mueller was likely examining Trump’s conversations and actions since taking office. That victory cry sounds even more ridiculous in light of the Washington Post’s revelation Wednesday night that Mueller is, in fact, looking into whether Trump tried to obstruct justice—a criminal inquiry triggered by the President’s very decision to fire Comey.
Here are five people who beclowned themselves by triumphantly boasting too soon that the President was out of the legal woods:
The President’s Twitter feed remained uncharacteristically silent during Comey’s blockbuster testimony, but he couldn’t help himself in the wee hours of the following morning, when he blasted out this contradictory statement:
Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication…and WOW, Comey is a leaker!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 9, 2017
Setting aside how Comey’s testimony could be “false” and still vindicate him, Trump glossed over the key part of the hearing in which the former FBI director explained that he refused to announce publicly that Trump was not under investigation because it would have created a “duty to correct” should that change—a possibility that has apparently since come to pass.
At a press conference following Comey’s hearing in which he took no questions from the press, Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, echoed his boss: “The President feels completely vindicated,” he said. “It is now established that the President was not being investigated for colluding with the Russians or attempting to obstruct that investigation.”
The operative word appears to be “was.”
— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) June 9, 2017
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has been a vocal Trump defender on TV and social media as various scandals have enveloped the White House, and following Comey’s hearing he declared that Trump had been “completely exonerated.” He later added that the special counsel should be fired and that the investigation into whether Trump campaign officials colluded with Russian operatives to influence the election should be dropped entirely.
When Mueller was appointed as special counsel just a few weeks earlier, however, Gingrich sang a different tune, calling him a “superb choice” to lead the investigation.
“His reputation is impeccable for honesty and integrity,” he said at the time.
Most of the Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is conducting its own investigation into Russian election interference and possible Trump campaign collusion, have similarly jumped to the President’s defense, hammering again and again the apparently incorrect claim that he’s not under investigation.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) used his five minutes of questions during Comey’s hearing to re-emphasize Trump’s innocence and slam government employees for selective leaking.
“Do you ever wonder why, of all the things in this investigation, the only thing that’s never been leaked is the fact that the President was not personally under investigation, despite the fact that Democrats and Republicans and the leadership of Congress knew that and have known that for weeks?” he asked.
Following Comey’s testimony, committee member Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) said in an interview that Trump is “obviously…not under investigation,” telling CBS News that Trump’s demand for Comey’s loyalty and later request that Comey scrap an investigation into ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn “looks more like an inappropriate conversation than obstruction.”
Staunch Trump defender and Fox News anchor Sean Hannity took to the airwaves to pick apart Comey’s written testimony later that night.
Despite the many damning revelations in the seven-page account of all of the conversations Comey had with the President leading up to his firing, Hannity announced to millions of viewers that the “Trump-Russia collusion conspiracy” has been summarily “blown out of the water” by Comey’s confirmation that he did in fact tell Trump he wasn’t under investigation.
“It completely shoots down the Democrats and the media and all the hyperventilating and foaming at the mouth about obstruction of justice,” he smirked. “Now we’ve discovered that they’ve been lying to you for months.”
He goes on to list several “key points,” the first and foremost being: “The president never obstructed justice.”
According to the New York Times, Mueller has begun interviewing several current and former officials to determine whether this is indeed the case.
Alice Ollstein is a reporter at Talking Points Memo, covering national politics. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections for TV, radio, print, and online outlets. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered, Channel News Asia, and Telesur, and her writing has been published by The Atlantic, La Opinión, and The Hill Rag. She was elected in 2016 as an at-large board member of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Alice grew up in Santa Monica, California and began working for local newspapers in her early teens.