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Comey Hearings Can Be A Defining Moment For Republicans

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Former F.B.I. Director James Comey is scheduled to testify before the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, and it promises to be a defining moment for the Trump presidency. It will also be an important moment for the Republican Party.

President Trump did the right thing by not trying to invoke executive privilege to block Comey’s testimony regarding his interactions with the president and the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election. To do so would have convinced many Americans that the president has something to hide. Instead, the president’s actions send a message that he does not fear the testimony, which is a good start.

But there is still a chance for the President and Republicans to get this terribly wrong if they’re not careful. If the Republicans try to turn the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing into pseudo-trial of James Comey, rather than an objective truth-seeking effort, it will have lasting damage for the party and, unfortunately, there are signs that some in the party want to do just that.

In the days leading up to this hearing, there have been not-so-subtle hints in Republican circles that the party needs to use Thursday’s hearing to defend President Trump and that they should do so by attacking Comey’s integrity. If the former FBI director’s credibility can be undermined in advance of the hearing, the idea goes, then anything he says about Trump will be questioned and carry less weight.

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Forget for a moment that James Comey is a Republican. And let’s assume that his firing was completely justified, even if it was clumsily handled. We are not talking about questioning the judgment of a public official who obviously made some mistakes. What Republicans are potentially setting themselves up to do is to attack a good man’s character and destroy his reputation in order to protect the head of our party from honest questions.

Politically, we don’t need to do that. Morally, we must not do it.

A quarter century ago, Republicans had an adjective to describe this kind of politics: Clintonian. The Clintons made the politics of personal destruction into an art form. Anyone perceived to be a threat to the Clinton’s political ambitions was brutally attacked — completely destroyed, if necessary —  to protect Bill and Hillary.

Now some Republicans want to kneecap an honest Republican former FBI director to protect the President. The thinking is that loyalty to the party requires it, but this is wrong.

First, the Republican Party has always contrasted best with the Democrats by being the party of objective truth and moral clarity. When Democrats have advocated moral flexibility, Republicans have opposed it. The truth is objective, it does not depend on “what the meaning of ‘is’ is.”  Being able to articulate this truth with integrity has always been a Republican strength.

The party platform states “that there is a moral law recognized as ‘the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.’” Republicans are called to behave in accordance with those principles as we conduct ourselves in political endeavors.

By that standard alone, this hearing, and all hearings related to the Russian investigation, have to be focused on seeking and identifying the truth, even if the truth is uncomfortable for the party. The GOP platform itself acknowledges that there are higher duties than our duties to the party.

Second, we, as Republicans, spent the past 8 years standing against President Obama’s abuse of executive power. The GOP has consistently criticized Democrats for, as we wrote in our platform, stymying “Republican efforts to restrain executive lawlessness.”  We cannot, within just months of taking over the White House, become hypocrites to our platform.

To be clear: I am not suggesting there has been any executive lawlessness since President Trump took office. In fact, I would suggest that the media too easily tosses aside objectivity in a mad rush to “resist” this president rather than report objectively on both the good and bad of this administration.  So far, there has been no evidence offered of collusion between Donald Trump and Russia, and if the media conducted themselves with the same integrity that I am calling for Republicans to apply here, that fact would be more widely known.

But as both Americans and Republicans, we have a duty to conduct public business according to the highest possible standards, and we have an obligation to pursue the truth, not hide it or protect the President from it.  Launching a personal assault on Comey’s character will serve neither of those purposes, and it would create the impression that the White House has something to hide. Assuming they do not, why even go there?

Politically, Republicans need to remember that Americans were inspired largely by their desire to “drain the swamp on election day.  They rejected Hillary Clinton’s establishment entitlement and dishonesty.  The president and the party would both be served best by having the people see Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee objectively pursue the facts on Thursday, rather than partisan advantage. It would affirm to many that they made the right choice by sending a Republican majority to Congress.

It was Abraham Lincoln who said, “Truth is generally the best vindication against slander.” As the founder of our party and a historic example of political integrity, our party leaders today would be wise to defer to Lincoln’s insights and seek truth, not destruction.

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