As Trump and Comey Share Conflicting Accounts, Republicans Hesitate to Pick a Side

President Donald Trump outright denied former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee in a press conference Friday afternoon, forcing a question many GOP lawmakers don’t want to answer: do they trust Trump or Comey?

“No, I didn’t say that, and I didn’t say the other,” Trump defiantly told reporters Friday afternoon. When asked if he would dispute Comey’s claims under oath, Trump answered, “100 percent.”

During the hearing, Comey repeated his allegations that Trump asked him for his loyalty and later asked him to let former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn off the hook under oath. Directly contradicting Comey, Trump and his lawyers deny those conversations happened entirely. Also during his testimony, Comey repeatedly called Trump a liar.

It’s one man’s word against another’s — one being the former director of the FBI, whom many GOP lawmakers have worked with and respect, and the other being the sitting president of the United States. The situation has Republican lawmakers pinned against a wall.

Comey’s testimony was met with respect from members of both parties on the Senate Intelligence Committee, for the most part. Republicans and Democrats alike lauded him for his public service, patriotism, and honesty. Ranking Member Mark Warner (D-Va.) observed afterward, “You saw today, the overwhelming majority of the intel members, Democrats and Republicans, feel that Jim Comey is credible.”

Still, both parties involved say the other is lying.

Republicans tended to avoid that aspect of Comey’s testimony afterward. They downplayed the reality of the situation — that the two men’s stories are not compatible — and were quick to add that Comey’s allegations, if true, didn’t mean Trump committed a crime.

“Who said what, I don’t know,” Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) told Independent Journal Review afterward. “I think asking for loyalty is something that would not be unusual, that you would ask anybody serving in these types of positions.”

Others sided with Trump more easily. When asked about Comey saying Trump lied, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) laughed it off. “Everybody accuses the president of lying, like everybody in the primary accused him of lying,“ Graham told reporters. ”That didn’t bother me one bit.”

When asked about Comey’s comments, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) quickly defended Trump. “Well, I can tell you the president has never told me a falsehood,” Meadows said. “Everything he has told me has come to a fruition and has been truthful.”

One GOP congressman speaking on the condition of anonymity told IJR how Republicans really feel about the situation. “Most of my colleagues think Comey made some questionable decisions as FBI director, but few deny — privately, at least — that he’s more honest and credible than President Trump,” the lawmaker said.

And Republicans close to the investigation are similarly pained by the questions raised by the conflicting accounts.

“Our job is to gather information, and we’ll let the American people determine what’s true,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) deflected when asked if he believed Trump or Comey after the hearing.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) responded to the hearing afterward, “I think at this moment there’s no reason to question that what the president said is what happened.”

Reporters asked Blunt if he stood by that assessment, even though Trump’s version of events was incompatible with Comey’s. Blunt denied the two accounts differ. “Well, no… Comey said he felt like this is what was happening,” Blunt said.

Reporters told the senator Trump’s lawyer had denied the basic allegations in Comey’s testimony: that Trump asked for loyalty and requested Comey back off on the Flynn investigation. Blunt ignored the premise of the differing stories and repeated that those conversations would not have been illegal if they took place.

IJR told Blunt the contradicting accounts beg the question: who do you believe? Clearly growing frustrated, Blunt paused for ten seconds before telling the group of reporters, “Obviously we should stop talking about this, because you all just want me to say something that I don’t intend to say.”

Blunt then told reporters, “We will not talk about anything like this ever again,” if they mischaracterized his statements in their stories about the hearing.

“What I’m saying is that even if those conversations occurred — however each man sees them in retrospect — doesn’t mean that the other one is wrong, and it doesn’t mean that there’s any reason in those conversations that you should automatically think that the president somehow can’t do his job.” Blunt said.

When a reporter again tried to explain Trump’s denial of Comey’s claims, Blunt cut her off.

“I think I’m done,” Blunt told reporters before walking off. “I’m done.”