James Comey testimony: Will great journalism, that scooped FBI chief's memos, bring down Donald Trump?

Jottings in a notepad – that’s what it's taken to drag Donald Trump's presidency to the edge of a cliff.

Note taking, no spin. Like what good clerks do. Like beat reporters. Like James Comey.

Thursday morning in Washington DC will be like no other in the last few decades. A fired FBI chief will testify before the United States Congress about whether the president of the United States told him to drop an ongoing investigation – an action that many legal scholars interpret as obstruction of justice. The prepared remarks portion of Comey's testimony is already out; it's sensational and is just the beginning of what promises to be a morning of explosive revelations beyond what's already public.

The lowest point in Trump’s still new presidency is already here because of one man, who wrote down every single detail of what transpired between him and the president, and two newspapers, that scooped the contents of those memos; papers which have doubled down on an army of reporters, not to burst melons on livestream video but to go after the political establishment, which brands all criticism as fantasy spun by liberals.

Think about it, when was the last time we heard 'memo' and thought of a president’s doom?

Revenge of the notetaker: Comey versus Trump this Thursday 10 am EST Reuters

Revenge of the notetaker: Comey versus Trump this Thursday 10 am EST. Reuters

From America's coast to coast, in bars and homes, on television screens across the world, people wait to hear what the 6'8'' tall man sitting across a table from the United States president jotted down after meetings and phone calls. Notes he did not lose or misplace; notes he did not take screenshots of and post on social media; conversations that still remain insulated and protected from the slings and arrows of instant judgement, valued because it is rare; minus hashtags, likes, retweets, trends, graphics, GIFs or A/B tests.

Comey’s testimony on Thursday has nothing to do with Trump’s political elan or foreign policy, everything that follows will be a legal danger for the White House until the matter is closed; it will decide the fortunes of Trump and his cronies, and it may change the minds of his defenders.

From the day Trump announced his bid to contest in the Republican primaries, on a cold morning in 2016, till his shock win in the United States Presidential Election in 2016 and beyond, nothing bad has stuck to him – an inexplicable quality that has left in its trail enemies wringing their hands in utter disbelief.

Some even found a way to justify America’s spasms – a random good jobs report, stock market uptick, unemployment numbers at record lows – as disparate data that proved Trump’s rough style a triumph.

The Muslim ban, travel ban, bragging about grabbing and groping women, racist slurs, the unhinged tweeting – no amount of coarse communication or ill temper has shaken Trump from his perch.

Many newspapers now have graveyard shifts just to monitor his online stream; they make for great reads and keep the news desk busy and little else. In Trump’s White House, all major announcements are always "coming in a fortnight", the only goods delivered unfailingly are fired from Trump’s pocket phone.

Until Comey, that is.

So, how come the Comey memos are haunting Trump? What’s different this time that the Dow sank nearly 400 points for the first time since last year?

Trump, while meeting with Russian officials, called Comey "crazy, a real nut job", adding that firing him had relieved a "great pressure". Trump has said similar things about others, insulting men and women and even the disabled.

Trump has fired many White House staffers, but they just evaporated from the scene or at least didn’t make trouble. For that matter, even Comey did not.

Exemplary journalism did. Professionals who carved a niche in their chosen fields did. Beat reporters did – National Security reporters Greg P Miller and Greg Jaffe of The Washington Post, and The New York Times’ Justice Department reporter, Michael Schmidt.

Not spin, not analysis. They did it with the gold standard of newspaper writing – forceful, simple, investigative stories which told Americans what they did not already know, leaving the spin to cable news networks.

The reportage that has delivered the Comey testimony to America is everything that Trump’s twitter timeline is not – the specificity of information and sources in The New York Times and The Washington Post stories after the Comey firing made it impossible for Republicans to brush it aside; even channels like Fox, that regularly flail The New York Times as fake news, went ahead and confirmed the story.

None of this rooted for Trump’s demise, the story was dug out and served, minus flourish or analysis. They reported and they waited, they reported on the political fallout after it happened, they did not bay for it – that was left to television.

Now on to the source side. Comey’s note taking is not a new love, it’s an old habit. When he moved from a law firm to government service, he kept notes of conversations with seniors as a routine safety check. During his time with the Bush Administration, he wrote notes on his views against torture, which set him apart from the conservative gaggle. Trump called him a "showboat", a word that Trump’s side has latched on to with relish ahead of the Thursday hearing.

They couldn't be farther from the precise quality that has brought Comey so far – the doggedness of a clerk.

From the moment Comey was fired on 9 May, politicos have been waiting for his side of the story. Based on The New York Times and The Washington Post scoops, Trump’s own party members called on Comey to testify.

With every word Comey says (in those memos), every man and woman in the Republican Party will gradually attain a certain power over Trump’s fate.

Yet, until they pull the plug, Trump will stay on and rage on.

After Richard Nixon resigned, the newly inaugurated Gerald Ford said to his country: “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over… our Constitution works.”

In reality, it was slightly different though - it was only when the party pulled the plug that Nixon resigned.

It was 7 August, 1974. Three Republican politicians went to the White House to meet Nixon. They had come to tell him they were dumping him. Nixon announced his resignation the following day.

Trump will survive until the Republican Party abandons him. Until now, it’s been mostly muted support, sometimes silence or even full-throated praise.

A scruffy Twitter feed that comes from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC may be a national embarrassment to some, but it is not (yet) a Constitutional crisis.

Also read: Comey, Mueller, Kushner, Kislyak - next week’s primetime star cast

Updated Date: Jun 08, 2017 15:16 PM

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