Politico reported that Wednesday night, the RNC sent around an email with talking points on how to respond to the Comey testimony. In an attempt to scrape together some sort of coordinated message, the Wall Street Journal also reported that 60 RNC aides are being mobilized to push back against Democrats and Comey.
In a continual soul-selling effort, the Republican Party has committed to defending Trump. But there is no question that Comey’s testimony will be damning for Trump, his gremlins in the White House, and the party that defends him. As Benjamin Wittes wrote in Lawfare, the sworn statement that Comey released yesterday afternoon “is the most shocking single document compiled about the official conduct of the public duties of any President since the release of the Watergate tapes.”
The RNC might be better equipped to deliver coordinated pushback than, say, the president’s sad communications team itself, but their talking points still don’t hold any water. Let’s go over the top three: The first—which Trump defenders have already begun to hammer home—is that Comey’s statement confirms that he told Trump three times he was not under investigation. But this isn’t the exoneration that Trump and Republicans think it is. It’s true that for once, Trump was not telling an all-out lie, but that is an extraordinarily low bar. From Comey’s statement, it’s clear that Trump pressured Comey to publicize the fact that he wasn’t personally under investigation. (Plus, Comey added the huge caveat that he didn’t want to publicly state that Trump was not under investigation in case he would have to correct the record later.) And, as Wittes pointed out, “Ironically, the document makes perfectly clear that Trump was aware that the investigation was touching people close to him in the campaign and his company, and that he was perfectly willing throw these people under bus if need be.”
The second RNC talking point is that “President Trump knew firing Director Comey would be detrimental to his presidency, but he knew it was the right thing to do for the country so he did it anyways.” But reporting directly after the firing contradicts this narrative. At the time, Trump thought that Democrats would actually cheer his decision. As Politico reported, Trump was apparently “taken aback” when Senator Chuck Schumer told him he was making a big mistake. In fact the White House was so taken aback that Sean Spicer to hide in the bushes (sorry, “among the bushes”).
This undermines the RNC’s third talking point, that “Director Comey lost confidence of both sides of the aisle, and the president was justified in firing him.” We all know this is not why Trump fired Comey—and the idea that the hypocrisy argument will suddenly work now when it didn’t before is pure fantasy. The issue at hand is that Trump was obstructing justice—Comey’s behavior before the inauguration is irrelevant.