Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest? – Henry II
By quoting Henry during his riveting testimony about Donald Trump attempting to influence the FBI investigation of his friend, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, former FBI Director James Comey made an historical allusion. The analogy is apt. As an exasperated Henry desired to remove the individual he considered an irritant, the source of his woes, so did Trump.
Henry uttered that plea to his barons when he concluded the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, was a man of principle who could not be compromised. In the film “Becket” based on T.S. Eliot’s drama, “Murder in the Cathedral,” Henry demands of Becket, “Whose honor is greater than the king’s?”
“God’s,” Becket replied. The die was cast. Henry’s liege men bludgeoned Becket to death.
After he realized Comey could not be bought, Trump fired him. While getting fired isn’t literally the same as being murdered, it is symbolically.
According to Comey’s sworn testimony, Trump told him he expects loyalty much as Henry demanded. Like Becket however, Comey refused to swear personal fealty. For megalomaniacs like Henry and Trump, it’s all about them, thus they don’t suffer the distinction between personal and higher-calling loyalty. For Becket, it was to the Church; for Comey, to the Constitution he swore to protect and defend, which leads to a crucial difference between Henry and Trump: King versus President. Americans don’t kneel, bow, or genuflect before their president, nor pledge personal loyalty while conducting their public offices.
Trump might never understand that which worked as liege lord of his corporate empire often does not translate to running government. But then, that is a common Republican misconception. They often don’t distinguish between following good business practices in the public realm and running the whole show—government—as a private enterprise.
Henry didn’t specifically tell or ask his barons to murder Becket. They simply interpreted his question essentially as a command. That gave Henry plausible deniability, as we say in modern English jargon. Nor did Trump order Comey to act as Richard Nixon had in Watergate. Nonetheless, words have meaning and take on increased power when spoken by individuals in power and delivered in special circumstances such as alone in the Oval Office.
Said Trump to Comey: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
Hope is complex word with a couple ways to hear it such as “I hope I win the lottery” or “I hope it doesn’t rain today.” Then, there is “I hope we can work this out.” The difference between blithe and earnest. What is inferred? The tone of voice, the firmness of diction provides its meaning.
Defense lawyers, of course, would have a field day with Trump’s language. In fact, they did with Republican senators on the committee playing that role. Rather than investigators, they worked to plant doubt in the minds of the jurors, the American people, and to place the blame on Comey, to blame the victim, for not standing up and telling the President he was out of line, which was ironically cheeky, even laughable, given their obeisance all things Trump,
Finally, there’s the issue of lying. When asked why he took time to scribe the exchanges he had with Trump, something he hadn’t done with Barack Obama, Comey said he concluded after their first meeting Trump was not a man to be trusted.
“I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting,” he said. “It led me to believe that I gotta write it down, and I gotta write it down in a detailed way. … I knew that there might come a day where I might need a record of what happened, not just to defend myself and the FBI and the integrity of our situation, and the independence of our function.”
Lies, plain and simple. Who to believe? Which of the two is credible?
The truth is plain and simple: The man of principle who might bumble and fumble along the way, but unswervingly keeps focused on his moral North Star.