GOP Lawmakers Reluctantly Defend Trump After Comey Testimony Is Published

The unveiling Wednesday afternoon of fired FBI Director James Comey’s prepared testimony he’s scheduled to deliver in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday morning cast a spell of avoidance over beleaguered House Republicans.

Most lawmakers said they hadn’t read the document.

Some walked a little faster than usual when reporters approached.

After it had been available for over two hours, many Republican lawmakers who spoke with IJR said they still hadn’t read the seven-page testimony, most refusing to comment.

But a few defended him or made excuses for his behavior, such as suggesting that he isn’t fully trained in the ways of Washington, and he shouldn’t be expected to know all the rules.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) waved off questions, and wasn’t open to listening to a summary of the testimony.

“I’m not familiar with it,” he said.

When IJR noted Comey’s testimony was essentially the same as the reports Bridenstine couldn’t have missed a few weeks prior, Bridenstine answered, “I don’t want to comment on it until I’ve seen the testimony or heard it.”

Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) felt the same way. When asked about the testimony, MacArthur sped up his pace and told IJR he hadn’t seen it yet. When asked to respond to Comey’s account of Trump asking for loyalty, he insisted, “I’m not going to talk about hypotheticals.” He called “the whole subject” off limits before walking away.

Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) initially told IJR he hadn’t read the testimony, but when pressed on it, he conceded that while he’d “seen plenty” of the details about the document.

“What I’ve read so far, I’m not troubled by any of it,” Labrador told IJR.

The written version didn’t include any new bombshells, but it confirmed many of the reports that came out in the weeks after Comey’s firing. Among other interactions, Trump invited Comey to a private dinner in January, where the president allegedly asked for his “loyalty.”

“I need loyalty, I expect loyalty,” Trump told Comey, according to the testimony.

After admitting he had seen some excerpts on Twitter, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said the document was a win for Trump.

“I was pleased to see that the testimony seems to confirm the president’s account of his interactions with Comey,” Gaetz said.

The lawmaker also argued the president’s petitions for loyalty from his FBI director were a good thing.

“I always think that having a strong relationship between the president and the FBI director serves the country well,” Gaetz told IJR.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) was OK with it too, telling reporters he “would strongly doubt that he’s the first president to make that request of an FBI director.” He also said it’s possible to be loyal and hold someone accountable at the same time. “And if you feel you can’t be loyal, you can always resign,” Barton added.

Comey’s planned testimony also laid out his February meeting with Trump, during which the president urged Comey to back off the FBI’s Michael Flynn investigation.

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump allegedly told Comey. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker (R-N.C.) questioned if Trump’s demands for Comey’s loyalty should be taken at face value. Walker argued the president is still on a learning curve as a newbie to D.C. politics.

“[Trump] is a guy that has people around him and working for him. He’s transitioning from, you know, ‘These people work for me,’ to, ‘Uphold the Constitution and work for the American people,'” Walker said. “I’m trying not to give him an overwhelming pass, but this is still new for him.”

Walker continued, responding to Trump’s request for loyalty from Comey:

“Is that a Trumpism? Is that just the way he rolls, even though it would probably be outside the boundaries of something that would be comfortable for many of us? Could be. But I don’t know that you could make the leap that this is some kind of coercive effort that he’s trying to get Flynn or anybody else a pass.”

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), who previously told IJR that obstruction of justice would be grounds for impeachment, said he wanted more information. “We have to see all the evidence,” Curbelo held.

But it’s clear that unlike Democrats, who view the hearing as a potential political win, every Republican on the Hill wants the hearing over in order to move onto legislative agenda items.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), appearing on MSNBC Wednesday evening, agreed that the GOP agenda should be getting more attention amid the ongoing investigations. “We’re still here doing our jobs in Congress,” he said.

That will matter little on Thursday, when Comey will actually deliver his testimony and answer questions live on TV.

And that may make it much harder to avoid.

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