Republicans Should Pay Attention to What Trump Does to His Defenders

After Trump fired James Comey, we all watched as his spokespeople went on national television to claim that it was the result of a recommendation by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. A few days later, the president completely undercut that message by telling Lester Holt that he had made the decision to fire Comey before he heard from Rosenstein.

One of the people who was set up in that lie was VP Pence, who has now been caught spreading two lies for his boss, one about Michael Flynn and the other about the reason behind the firing of Comey.

Trump’s latest defender to fall prey to this kind of set-up is Senator Chuck Grassley. The chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee has been one of Trump strongest defenders. His most recent questioning of Sally Yates and James Clapper toed exactly the line the president wants to be front and center in the Russia probe—that it’s all about the leaks to the press.

That is probably why, when the White House wanted to put forward an ally on Trump’s claim that the investigation was nothing more than “fake news,” they chose Grassley. Here is what Sean Spicer said on Friday:

“I think the president’s comments about Russia and collusion have been very clear with respect to some of the charges that have been made,” Spicer said. “He’s been very clear that he believes that the notion there’s collusion is a hoax. It’s been reaffirmed by several people, including Sen. Grassley and others who have spoke to him.”

I’m guessing that’s what this president means when he talks about “loyalty.” If you are loyal to Trump, he gets to use you to back up his lies. But that reference forced the Senator from Iowa to issue a public statement in order to protect himself from any future accusation of involvement in the obstruction of justice.

“Sen. Grassley has not spoken to President Trump about what he has learned in briefings related to investigations into Russian interference in our elections, and he has never referred to the notion of collusion as a ‘hoax,’” Grassley’s spokesman, Taylor Foy, emailed Yahoo News.

Apparently Trump thought he could do the same thing to the ousted FBI director when he claimed that Comey had told him on three separate occasions that he was not under investigation. A few of Comey’s associates disputed part of that claim on his behalf when they described the dinner at which the president asked for loyalty from the FBI director. But now Comey is indicating that he himself is interested in testifying publicly before Congress.

Greg Sargent is right to suggest that this could put his Congressional defenders in a difficult position.

If Comey asserts in public that Trump did demand loyalty from him — which is plausible — consider what could happen then. Trump responded to initial reports of that demand with a threatening tweet that implied Trump may have been taping private conversations. If Comey goes public, the pressure on the White House to release these tapes — or admit they don’t exist — should intensify. Republican lawmakers — who already expressed discomfort with the firing and with Trump’s threat — will now be expected to comment about Comey’s on-the-record assertion that the president demanded a loyalty pledge from him.

Remember, it is the president himself who told Lester Holt that, at that dinner, Comey’s job as FBI director was on the line. It doesn’t matter whether that was true for Comey, it is Trump’s interpretation of events. If, in that context, the president was asking for loyalty from the FBI director he later fired at least partially related to the Russia/Trump probe, that is a fairly strong case for obstruction of justice.

If people like Senator Chuck Grassley aren’t beginning to question the prudence of defending this guy, they probably deserve what is likely to be coming their way. The only kind of loyalty this president recognizes is to himself. Everyone else can get thrown under the bus when it suits his purpose.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.