In the modern media era, there may be no surer sign of presidential dysfunction than an absence of talking points on the leading story of the moment. The White House had warning in the middle of Tuesday afternoon that The New York Times would publish its blockbuster report on James Comey’s memo, and yet by that evening it had formulated no defense whatsoever. Last night’s Fox News lineup was a comical procession of unrelated jibber-jabber. Sean Hannity ranted generally about the left-wing media and other Trump enemies, referring only tangentially to the devastating news — “unprecedented leaks, including to The New York Times tonight” — that he neither rebutted nor even described. Tucker Carlson ran segments lambasting the Clinton Foundation and a New York City Council member’s inattentiveness to restroom conditions in Penn Station. The closest thing to a relevant defense witness he could summon was left-wing professor Stephen F Cohen, who reiterated his long-standing and increasingly absurd theory that questions about Trump’s Russia connections amount to “neo-McCarthyism.” Other party organs were likewise silent. The Wall Street Journal editorial page, which had faithfully repeated the administration’s initial claims that Trump was merely following the urging of the deputy attorney general in firing Comey, went to press without any editorial addressing the news.
But then, this morning, a line of defense had begun to fitfully emerge: maybe President Trump did utter English words that, taken literally, amounted to a request that James Comey stop investigating Michael Flynn. But those words did not convey an actual instruction or any intent to influence Comey’s behavior.
Republicans: Trump Was Just Joking About Obstructing Justice