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Trump's Credibility Gap Hinders His Defense After Comey Hearing

First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: President Donald Trump, at the White House
President Donald Trump, at the White House on May 31, 2017.Cheriss May / NurPhoto via Getty Images

First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

Trump’s credibility gap

After former FBI Director James Comey accused President Trump, under oath, of lying and possibly obstructing justice, Trump and his lawyer fired back, trying to turn it all into a he said-he-said dispute. “Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication...and WOW, Comey is a leaker!” Trump tweeted this morning (after a two-day hiatus). The problem here for Trump: The president has used up so much of his credibility after:

  • Misstating the size of his inaugural crowd.
  • Claiming that 3-5 million “illegals” voted in the 2016 election.
  • Accusing Barack Obama of wiretapping him.
  • Boasting, incorrectly, of achieving “the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan.”

And that’s just the tip of the fact-checking iceberg. “In a credibility battle between Trump and Comey, everybody knows Comey is going to win that war,” Adam W. Goldberg, a former associate special White House counsel under Bill Clinton, tells the New York Times. Now Comey has some blemishes, too — his comment about Huma Abedin’s emails was inaccurate and the FBI had to correct the record, and the New York Times is standing behind the story that Comey said was incorrect.

But this is important: In a battle over credibility, one person (Comey) has testified under oath; the other one (Trump) hasn’t. And one person (Trump) has raised the possibility of having “tapes” of their conversation but has not produced them; the other (Comey) is begging for any tapes to be released. "Lordy, I hope there are tapes," Comey told Congress. And that’s a question Trump should get at his 2:45 pm ET news conference with Romania’s president: Is he willing to go under oath and produce any tapes?

The seven headlines from Comey’s testimony

Twenty-four hours after his testimony yesterday, these were the headlines we saw:

  1. Special Counsel Bob Mueller could very well be looking at whether Trump engaged in obstruction of justice in the Michael Flynn case. Comey said he couldn’t answer the question if there was obstruction of justice, but added: “I took it as a very disturbing thing, very concerning but that’s a conclusion I’m sure the special counsel will work towards to try to understand what the intention was there and whether that’s an offense.”
  2. Comey interpreted Trump’s Let-Flynn-Go comment as a direction. RISCH: Did Trump *direct* you to let to let go of the Flynn matter? COMEY: “Not in his words, no… I took it as a direction.”
  3. Team Trump didn’t tell the truth about Comey’s firing. “The explanations, the shifting explanations confused me and concerned me.” More: “Those were lies, plain and simple.”
  4. Comey couldn’t discuss in an open setting facts regarding Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Russians. "We were also aware of facts that I can't discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic."
  5. Comey leaked the Let-Flynn-Go conversation to the New York Times, knowing it would probably trigger a special counsel.
  6. Comey dinged Loretta Lynch and said her instructions in the Hillary email probe forced him to intervene in his July 5 announcement
  7. “Release the tapes!” “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.”

Liar vs. leaker

Team Trump has seized on Comey giving the news of his Trump memos to the New York Times (via a friend of his at Columbia). “Mr. Comey admitted that he unilaterally and surreptitiously made unauthorized disclosures to the press of privileged communications with the President,” said Trump attorney Marc Kasowitz. (But is someone’s unclassified conservation with a president “privileged” communication?)

Is it time for Congress to have Coats and Rogers testify again?

In his statement yesterday, Trump attorney Kasowitz also said this: “[NSA head] Rogers testified that the President never ‘directed [him] to do anything . . . illegal, immoral, unethical or inappropriate’ and never ‘pressured [him] to do so.’ [DNI Director] Coates [sic] said the same thing.” So now that Trump’s team is using Coats and Rogers here -- when both men refused to answer OTHER questions about their conversations with the president -- shouldn’t the Senate call for them to testify again?

The GOP reaction

“They largely accepted [Comey’s] version of events”: Notably, Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee didn’t go out of their way to defend Trump. Instead, they tried to buy him more time. Here's the smart take from the New York Times' Peter Baker: “Tellingly, the Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee paid no heed to the talking points distributed in advance by the Republican National Committee at the behest of the White House. Instead of attacking Mr. Comey’s credibility, as the R.N.C. and Donald Trump Jr. did, the Republican senators praised him as a patriot and dedicated public servant. They largely accepted his version of events, while trying to elicit testimony that would cast Mr. Trump’s actions in the most innocent light possible.”

Where’s Trump’s outrage at Russia’s interference in the 2016 election?

Given all of the news above, maybe the biggest news -- at least in the long run -- was Comey’s declaration how the United States came under attack by a foreign government in the 2016 election, and that Trump didn’t care much about that conversation. Trump’s continued lack of outrage is one of the more striking parts of his presidency to date.

Snap election backfires on May

Meanwhile, in Britain last night… “British Prime Minister Theresa May vowed Friday remain in power and push ahead with critical talks on Britain’s E.U. exit despite a stunning election blow that left her Conservative Party weakened and the country in a political tailspin,” the Washington Post writes. “‘I will now form a government — a government that can provide certainty and lead Britain forward at this critical time for our country,’ May said in front of 10 Downing Street.” By the way, all hail Lord Buckethead!

Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll: Ossoff leads Handel, 51%-44%

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll released Friday shows Democrat Jon Ossoff has a 7-point edge over Republican Karen Handel in the nationally-watched race to represent Georgia’s 6th District. The poll of likely voters has Ossoff leading Handel by a 51-44 margin ahead of the June 20 runoff. About 5 percent of voters are undecided. The margin of error is 4 percentage points. It’s one of a several recent polls that show Ossoff with an advantage in the contest, although most other surveys show a tighter race.”