Aides and allies of President TrumpDonald TrumpYoungkin ad features mother who pushed to have 'Beloved' banned from son's curriculum White House rejects latest Trump claim of executive privilege Democrats say GOP lawmakers implicated in Jan. 6 should be expelled MORE are focused on the upside of former FBI Director James Comey’s momentous testimony to Congress.
Their take is that Comey’s appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee was damaging but not devastating, that the former FBI director threw his best punches without putting Trump in imminent legal peril and that they can now look forward to a period of relative calm as special counsel Robert Mueller gets on with the investigation of Russian meddling in U.S. politics — in the absence, they hope, of leaks.
But the rosy scenario rests on there being “no distractions” going forward, and the capacity of Trump himself to “turn the page,” as veteran Republican strategist Charlie Black said. Many question whether he will be able to do so.
Trump already scrambled the picture with a headline-making performance at a news conference Friday in the White House Rose Garden with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.
Trump said he would “100 percent” be willing to testify under oath about his exchanges with Comey, accused the former FBI director of saying things that “just weren’t true” under oath — a de facto accusation of perjury — and said that he would tell the media within “a very short period of time” whether he had tapes of his Comey encounters, as a now-famous May 12 tweet implied.
With those remarks, he ensured that the storm over Comey would rage again.
One Republican strategist with close ties to the White House had earlier Friday told The Hill that Trump had to show restraint. Asked soon after the Rose Garden event whether Trump’s press conference was what they had in mind, the source replied with just one word: “Nope.”
The same strategist had earlier said that Comey’s testimony was “a public relations disaster” for the administration, but asserted that the White House had “dodged any real bullet from a legal standpoint.”
Others within Trump’s orbit were much more bullish. Their confidence was mostly rooted in the idea that Comey delivered no new bombshells beyond the prepared statement that had been released the day before the hearing.
“He unloaded, and there wasn’t much there,” said Barry Bennett, who was a senior adviser to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. “We’re running out of unknowns. The gas is running out on this story. So to that extent, [Thursday, when Comey testified] was a great day.”
David Bossie, who served as Trump’s deputy campaign manager, blamed political opponents and the media for what he saw as an over-hyping of Comey’s appearance.
“The liberal media and the Democrats raised expectations of what would come out of the Comey hearing to an unrealistic level — like they do on so many issues in trying to damage the president,” Bossie said. But, he added, “I think everyone is glad that the Jim Comey circus has left town.”
The effort to discredit Comey had been vigorous. Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, flat-out denied that the president had told Comey “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty” as the former director alleged. Trump's legal team is also reportedly planning a complaint against Comey for giving a memo about an encounter with Trump to a friend who recounted it to The New York Times.
Meanwhile Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager said during a Friday morning appearance on Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends” that Comey now has “absolutely zero credibility.”
Allies of the president also insisted, contrary to what Democrats and other Trump critics claimed, that nothing Comey had described amounted to obstruction of justice.
Sam Nunberg, another veteran of the Trump presidential campaign, acknowledged that some areas of Comey’s testimony were “problematic” but argued that their negative impact would be mostly limited to those who were already “adversaries” of the president.
“I don’t think the president lost one supporter [on Thursday] and I think he may have gained some,” Nunberg said. “Comey came across to me as an entitled D.C. elite who didn’t like the way he was fired.”
Nunberg argued that Trump should get out on the road to make the case for his agenda. Otherwise, he said, he risked being “drowned out by this Russia stuff, by this Comey nothing-burger.”
The hope that Trump might now get the space to highlight his agenda, particularly pertaining to boosting job growth, was expressed by several of his allies.
Bennett insisted he should speak about “three things: jobs, jobs, jobs.” Bossie, meanwhile, said “the next six or seven weeks will be full speed ahead on the president’s agenda — that’s what the American people want — solutions and reforms, not obstruction.”
Getting the president to drill down on an employment-centric agenda encompassing health care, tax reform and infrastructure is a favored theme of his advisors within and outside the White House.
Key Trump aides argue that the appointment of the outside legal team led by Kasowitz is also a major plus.
But even some supportive figures in Trump’s orbit have grown frustrated with his appetite for controversies that they see as self-defeating. That “just provides a media frenzy that Trump continues to feed,” said the GOP strategist with close White House ties.
If the president would curb himself more — especially on Twitter — that would be “welcomed both by the majority of Washington and by staffers in the White House,” the source said.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.