James Comey says he hopes Trump won't be 'impeached and removed from office' — and offers a dire prediction if he is
Former FBI Director James Comey offered his thoughts Thursday in a new op-ed for the New York Times on the ostensibly forthcoming report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller. In the piece, he explained that he doesn't have any hopes about how the investigation will conclude — only that it reaches the truth.
He did, however, share his wishes regarding one final outcome: The former FBI director, who was summarily ousted by Trump because of the probe, hopes that the same fate won't befall the president.
"I hope that Mr. Trump is not impeached and removed from office before the end of his term. I don’t mean that Congress shouldn’t move ahead with the process of impeachment governed by our Constitution, if Congress thinks the provable facts are there," he wrote. "I just hope it doesn’t."
Comey continued: "Because if Mr. Trump were removed from office by Congress, a significant portion of this country would see this as a coup, and it would drive those people farther from the common center of American life, more deeply fracturing our country."
It's an odd claim, given that Comey also argued that he doesn't have any hopes about the way the Mueller probe resolves. If Comey hopes Trump isn't impeached, he must rationally also hope that Mueller doesn't also uncover impeachable acts by the president. Otherwise, he would be saying he doesn't care if Trump committed impeachable acts but doesn't suffer the appropriate consequences.
Critics of Mr. Trump should hope for something much harder to distort, or to nurse as a grievance, than an impeachment. We need a resounding election result in 2020, where Americans of all stripes, divided as they may be about important policy issues — immigration, guns, abortion, climate change, regulation, taxes — take a moment from their busy lives to show that they are united by something even more important: the belief that the president of the United States cannot be a chronic liar who repeatedly attacks the rule of law. Then we can get back to policy disagreements.
I just hope we are up to it.
In addition to my quibble above, there are several other serious problems with Comey's view. He argued that the 2020 election must be a referendum on Trump alone, rather than all the other "important policy issues" — but this will never happen. Some Americans will always decide that these important issues supersede whatever concerns they have about Trump's unfitness for office. Why wouldn't it be appropriate — and something to hope for — that these people get a chance to vote for another, more normal Republican candidate because Trump was removed for crimes?
He also seems to fail to consider that Trump could win again in 2020 the same way he won in 2016 — by losing the popular vote and with a large portion of the American population against him, but securing a slim victory in the electoral college.
And Comey's argument discounts the benefits of impeachment. If Trump loses in 2020, it could be for any number of reasons — the state of the economy at the time, his bigoted views, his failure to make the nation's health care system work any better. But if he were booted out of office by Congress, the reasons would be crystal clear: The articles of impeachment would describe his unacceptable conduct and send a message to future politicians that there are clear lines they mustn't cross. In this way, the process would achieve Comey's hope of a decisive rebuke to Trump's worst qualities more successfully than a failed re-election bid. And impeachment, presumably, would get Trump out of office sooner, limiting the damage he can do.
It's true that much of the country would think of impeachment as illegitimate, even though the evidence required to convince the Senate to support removing Trump would have to be conclusive and damning. But if Trump loses in 2020, there's no reason to think his followers won't cry foul anyway. If the Mueller report hurt his standing, they'll say it was a phony investigation that deceived the American people. If they don't have that to blame, they'll spin more bogus theories about voter fraud swinging the election — a factor Trump has already mendaciously claims explained his popular vote loss in 2016.
Regardless of how he goes down, if Trump is ousted from office, it will be ugly. Comey's fantasy of a decisive 2020 election allowing us to move on is, from my standpoint, far too optimistic.