In less than three hours Thursday morning, “it all came apart,” according to Chris Matthews.
The left-leaning MSNBC host was referring to the allegation consuming Capitol Hill that the Trump team colluded with the Russian government to win the 2016 election.
The testimony of James Comey before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence dismantled that charge, Matthews said, with the former FBI director stating under oath that President Trump never tried to impede the FBI’s investigation into Russia and that former national security adviser Mike Flynn was not at the center of the probe.
Matthews noted Trump’s critics have assumed he “had something to do with colluding with the Russians … to affect the election in some way.”
“And yet what came apart this morning was that theory,” Matthews said, noting Comey’s statement that Flynn wasn’t central to the Russian investigation “kills the idea that Flynn might have been in a position to testify against Trump.”
“And if that’s not the case, where’s the there-there?” Matthews asked.
Comey did assert — backing the contemporaneous memos of his meetings with Trump that he leaked to the New York Times through a friend — that Trump sought his “loyalty” and asked if he could drop the FBI investigation into Flynn.
But the former FBI chief also disclosed in his testimony highly significant information he chose not to leak to the media: Trump was not personally under any investigation, and the president encouraged the Russia investigation to continue, even if it implicated any of his associates.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., noting the investigation had been “full of leaks, left and right,” asked Comey, “Did you ever wonder why, of the things in this investigation, the only thing that has never been leaked is the fact that the president was not personally under investigation, despite the fact that both Republicans and Democrats in leadership in Congress knew that and have known that for weeks?”
Comey replied: “I don’t know. I find matters that are briefed to the Gang of Eight are pretty tightly held, in my experience.”
At a news White House news conference Friday, Trump declared he never asked Comey to drop the Flynn investigation and never asked him to swear a loyalty oath.
Asked if he would give his version of events under oath, the president replied, “One-hundred percent.”
Trump said he would be “glad” to repeat his assertions to special prosecutor Robert Mueller, who is leading the independent Russia probe.
Key Times story ‘almost entirely wrong’
Comey also disputed a key New York Times report published Feb. 14 asserting Trump’s campaign and other Trump associates “had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election,” citing “four current and former American officials.”
The anonymously sourced story, published one day after Flynn resigned as national-security adviser, immediately fueled calls from Democrats on Capitol Hill for impeachment.
“Would it be fair to characterize that story as almost entirely wrong?” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., asked Comey.
“Yes,” Comey replied.
And at another point, Comey said of the Times report that “in the main it was not true.”
National Review’s Tiana Lowe noted that until Comey’s testimony, the claims of the Times’ Feb. 14 report had been widely accepted by establishment media as fact.
CNN said it independently verified the report, and the fact-checker PolitiFact deemed it “concrete.” After Trump criticized the report in a speech at CPAC in February, Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet told CNN’s Brian Stelter: “I always know who the sources are for these stories. That’s why I’m so confident pushing back at the Trump administration when they criticize the stories.”
Rep. Maxine Waters, R-Calif., was so confident in the report that she ramped up her call for Trump’s impeachment one day after it was published, telling MSNBC’s Chris Hayes she’s “come to conclude that Trump has the Kremlin clan surrounding him and have been involved with him for a long time.”
National Review also pointed out that CNN’s Sally Kohn tweeted that the Times report meant America should get ready for “President Clinton.”
She said it would be “straightforward from here: 1. Impeach Trump & Pence 2. Constitutional crisis 3. Call special election 4. Ryan v Clinton 5. President Clinton.”
The Guardian of London said “the story of the week is Trump, Russia and the FBI. The rest is a distraction.”
The Times published a statement Friday in response to Comey’s claim about its Feb. 14 story, saying the paper has “published an examination of Mr. Comey’s statements today, which reviews our previous coverage and found no evidence that any prior reporting was inaccurate.”
“In fact, subsequent reporting by The Times and other media outlets has verified our reporting as the story makes clear,” the paper said.
But, as the Daily Caller pointed out, the Times acknowledged that all four of its sources were “not reachable.” The review, the Daily Caller said, amounted to: “We reread the story, other anonymous reports confirmed our reporting, and the former FBI director who has a reputation as a paragon of integrity in Washington is either misinformed or a liar.”
‘I don’t think it’s for me to say’
In its front-page, print-edition story on the hearing, the Times ignored the implosion of the Russia-collusion narrative, focusing on Comey’s claim, which Trump disputed Friday, about his conversation with the president regarding the Flynn investigation.
The Times said Comey, “no longer constrained by the formalities of a government job, offered a blunt, plain-spoken assessment of a president whose conversations unnerved him from the day they met, weeks before Mr. Trump took office.”
The Washington Post’s lead story in its print edition was headlined “Comey says Trump lied about him,” emphasizing the former FBI director “sharply criticized the character of the president, charging Trump and his team “told ‘lies, plain and simple’ about him and the FBI, in an effort to cover up the real reason for his sacking last month.”
On its website Thursday, the Post’s headline was “Comey lays out the case that Trump obstructed justice.”
But when asked by chairman Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., at the hearing about obstruction of justice, Comey replied, “I don’t think it’s for me to say whether the conversation I had with the president was an effort to obstruct,” noted the Media Research Center’s Newsbusters.
Comey said it would be up to Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating the Russia allegations, to make that determination.
Newsbusters noted that even NBC political analyst Chuck Todd acknowledged Comey “did not paint a easy picture, probably, on the obstruction of justice charge.”
“Comey was very careful not to allege that,” Todd said, adding he found “no smoking gun,” though he called Thursday a “horrendous day” for Trump.
The Los Angeles Times’ lead headline for its Friday print edition was “Comey accuses Trump of ‘lies, plain and simple’
In a May 18 press conference, Trump summed up the entire investigation into collusion with Russia as a “witch hunt,” declaring “there is no collusion between, certainly, myself and my campaign – but I can always speak for myself – and the Russians, zero.”
WND reported last month that President Obama’s CIA director, John Brennan, admitted to the House Intelligence Committee he instigated the investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, even though he had seen no evidence of it.