The former FBI director didn't kill the Trump presidency today, but he definitely attempted a character assassination. Whether James Comey did more damage to the President or himself remains to be determined. I don't really dispute his disquieting characterization of a President more concerned with personal loyalty than with principle -- how does that not sound like Donald Trump? -- but I can't help thinking that once Comey determined that he could not trust Trump or his staff not to lie about him when it suited them, it was time for Comey to resign. Before Congress today, Comey accused the Trump administration, if not Donald Trump himself, of lying about various things, but he cautiously refused to say whether he thought that, by firing him, the President had obstructed justice, leaving that instead for an independent counsel to determine. He remains convinced, however, that the President fired him out of annoyance over the investigations of contacts between the Russians and Trump personnel. Whether that amounts to obstruction of justice will depend, for most observers, on whether there were unjust contacts, or contacts for unjust purposes, between Russians and Trumpites. So far it still looks like McCarthyism to me, since the implicit argument, in the continued absence of any proof of Russian interference in the actual voting last November, is for guilt by association, the further implication being that rapprochement with Russia is in some sense criminal unto itself. Whatever anyone thinks of Russia or its current leader, that simply can't be true. Inquiries will continue, of course, on the assumption of some corrupt bargain between Trump and Vladimir Putin, despite evidence indicating that if Trump became President with the idea of reconciling the U.S. with Russia, he is even more incompetent as a statesman than many already believe. Inquiries will continue on the fundamental assumption that the Trump presidency is such an aberration that only criminal prosecutions or conspiracy theory can account for it. In such an environment, it will look to some people like obstruction of justice simply to say, "Enough already!
"Whatever happens, today probably was the climax of James Comey's career as a history-seeking celebrity, as some of his utterances threaten already to become memes. The story of his career should prove as provocative as the lives of the politicians with whom history will link him, the candidates of both parties whom he has vexed. In one sense Comey may look like the fulfillment of all the dangerous potential of an office defined by J. Edgar Hoover, destroying one presidential candidate -- or so that candidate seems to believe, even though I saw one partisan this morning still dismissing Comey as "the Clintons' man," -- and perhaps thinking of taking down the other. In another sense, it seems plausible that Comey could have done such damage to the credibility of American politics entirely by accident, with no thought for anything other than his role in history, or no real thought at all, like a loose cannon rolling across the turbulent deck of the ship of state with its fuse lit and its aim uncertain.