On the 60th day of his presidency came the hardest truth for Donald Trump.
He was wrong.
James B. Comey — the FBI director whom Trump celebrated on the campaign trail as a gutsy and honorable “Crooked Hillary” truth-teller — testified under oath Monday what many Americans had already assumed: Trump had falsely accused his predecessor of wiretapping his headquarters during last year’s campaign.
Trump did not merely allege that former president Barack Obama ordered surveillance on Trump Tower, of course. He asserted it as fact, and then reasserted it, and then insisted that forthcoming evidence would prove him right.
But in Monday’s remarkable, marathon hearing of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Comey said there was no such evidence. Trump’s claim, first made in a series of tweets on March 4 at a moment when associates said he was feeling under siege and stewing over the struggles of his young presidency, remains unfounded.
Comey did not stop there. He confirmed publicly that the FBI was investigating possible collusion between Trump campaign officials and associates with Russia, part of an extraordinary effort by an adversary to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. election in Trump’s favor.
Questions about Russia have hung over Trump for months, but the president always has dismissed them as “fake news.” That became much harder Monday after the FBI director proclaimed the Russia probe to be anything but fake.
“There’s a smell of treason in the air,” presidential historian Douglas Brinkley said. “Imagine if J. Edgar Hoover or any other FBI director would have testified against a sitting president? It would have been a mind-
For Trump, Comey’s testimony punctuates what has been a troubling first two months as president. His approval ratings, which were historically low at his inauguration, have fallen even further. Gallup’s tracking poll as of Sunday showed that just 39 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s job performance, with 55 percent disapproving.
The Comey episode threatens to damage Trump’s credibility not only with voters, but also with lawmakers of his own party whose support he needs to pass the health-care bill this week in the House, the first legislative project of his presidency.
Furthermore, the FBI’s far-reaching Russia investigation shows no sign of concluding soon and is all but certain to remain a distraction for the White House, spurring moments of presidential fury and rash tweets and possibly inhibiting the administration’s ability to govern.[...]
Spicer’s defense strategy was in part to distance Trump from the figures under investigation by the FBI for their ties to Russia. In Spicer’s telling, Paul Manafort was a virtual nobody, someone who “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.”
Manafort was actually Trump’s campaign chairman and de facto manager for five months last year, from the end of the primaries through the summer convention and the start of the general election season.
Watching Sean Spicer twist himself into a pretzel yet again to try to pretend that Paul Manafort isn’t an influential figure is ludicrous,” Wehner said. “It’s like saying Aaron Rodgers isn’t a central figure for the Green Bay Packers.”
Brinkley, who has published biographies of such presidents as Gerald Ford, Franklin Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt, said of Trump’s start, “This is the most failed first 100 days of any president.”
“To be as low as he is in the polls, in the 30s, while the FBI director is on television saying they launched an investigation into your ties with Russia, I don’t know how it can get much worse,” Brinkley said.[...]