Alternative Fact of the Week: Comey, Russia, Gowdy

Former FBI Director James Comey speaks about his book "A Higher Loyalty" during a discussion at the Brookings Institution May 11, 2018 in Washington, D.C.

“Who are you going to believe — me or your lying eyes?” Versions of that chestnut can be traced as far back as the Marx Brothers. It used to be funny, a false conundrum. Decades ago, Richard Pryor famously used it in his stand-up routine about getting caught by his wife in bed with another woman. But in the Trump era, it’s more like the recognition of a legitimate dilemma. Take, for example, President Donald Trump’s Thursday morning tweet denying that he fired FBI Director James Comey over the Russia investigation.

“Not that it matters but I never fired James Comey because of Russia! The Corrupt Mainstream Media loves to keep pushing that narrative, but they know it is not true!” the president tweeted shortly after 8 a.m.


There’s only one problem with that assertion. He’s linked the Comey firing to the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 multiple times. Here’s an obvious example: During his interview with NBC News’ Lester Holt in May of last year, President Trump was asked about the firing and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s memo recommending it because of his actions in the Hillary Clinton investigation. President Trump’s on-the-record, on-camera response? It wasn’t to bemoan how Secretary Clinton was treated over private emails. He went straight to the Russia investigation.

President Donald Trump arrives at the White House campus in Washington, D.C. on May 30, 2018.

“I was going to fire Comey knowing, there was no good time to do it. And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.”


Sound familiar? It should. Mr. Trump has been describing the Russia investigation as a “witch hunt” for a long time. Even Rudy Giuliani, one of the president’s attorneys, has said the firing was related to Russia, specifically telling Fox News’ Sean Hannity: “He fired Comey because Comey would not, among other things, say that he wasn’t a target of the investigation." Never mind that Mr. Trump denied a Comey-firing-Russia link in an April tweet. Who can keep these contradictory claims straight?

And, indeed, that seems to be the point. President Trump and his closest allies must have decided that the best way to deal with adverse facts is to offer alternative “facts” without bothering to be consistent. Confusion is their ally. Yet even in this haze of prevarication and gaslighting, truth seems to have a sneaky way of showing up unexpectedly. And this week, the best examples came from two truly unexpected sources: House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy and Mr. Trump himself.

It was Mr. Gowdy, a former prosecutor (and, let’s face it, until this moment mostly known as his party’s leading Benghazi conspiracy theorist), who debunked the president’s claim that the FBI had a “spy” in the Trump campaign. After meeting with top Justice Department officials who briefed him and a select few others on the work of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, here’s what he told Fox News Tuesday: He said there was no spy and that the FBI had acted honorably. “I am even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do.” He later expanded on those thoughts, telling CBS that President Trump could have picked someone other than Jeff Sessions to be his attorney general (had he realized Mr. Sessions would recuse himself from the Russia matter). To which the president soon after responded on Twitter: “And I wish I did!”

That’s a truthful two-fer. Representative Gowdy’s approaching retirement seems to have freed him to speak honestly about the Russia investigation while President Trump’s anger at Attorney General Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation seems too apparent to bother covering up. The way things are headed, such moments of candor deserve to be celebrated. Their like may not be seen — or heard from — again soon.