Less than 24 hours after news of the Comey memo broke thanks to the New York Times, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) dismissed it as “speculation and innuendo” and placed the blame on the people he sees as trying to harm the president, rather than Donald Trump himself.
“The point is this,” the speaker said when asked about the controversy at a press conference on the Hill Wednesday morning. “We can’t deal with speculation and innuendo. There is a lot of politics being played. Our job is to get the facts and be sober about doing that.”
This omits the fact that Trump himself admitted he fired Comey in part because of the Russia investigation. In an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt last Thursday, Trump upended two days’ worth of White House statements by admitting that he was thinking about the Russia investigation when he decided to fire Comey: “When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.”
This admission, combined with Tuesday’s news of possible evidence Trump attempted to stop the investigation before firing Comey, has turned the story on its ear. The Comey memo, first reported by the New York Times on Tuesday evening, details how shortly after becoming president, Trump met with Comey in the Oval Office and asked him to stop investigating ties between Michael Flynn and Russia — to “let this go.”
The speaker, however, kept the focus on Trump’s political opponents.
“It is obvious there are some people out there who want to harm the president,” he said at the Wednesday press conference.
Yet the facts speak for themselves — this is not a smear campaign against the president. And members of Ryan’s party are beginning to acknowledge this.
“I think it’s reaching the point where it’s of Watergate size and scale, and a couple of other scandals we’ve seen,” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said Tuesday night. Rep. Steve McKnight (R-CA) called for a special prosecutor to be assigned to the investigation on Tuesday afternoon. And other pundits who worked in the Nixon administration have started to tell cable news audiences that they believe Trump is now in impeachment territory.
TV networks also cannot seem to find any Republicans willing to defend Trump to book on their shows.
More Americans — 48 percent to 41 percent — according to a PPP poll conducted before the Comey memo news broke, said they would support Trump’s impeachment.
The Speaker of the House, who is third in line for the presidency and also responsible for overseeing all House oversight activity, later spoke about how Congress cannot rush to judgment: “We have an obligation to carry out our oversight regardless of which party is in the White House. That means before rushing to judgment, we get all the pertinent information.”
Ryan then said that the House Oversight Committee had already “appropriately requested this memo.” However, instead of the “sober” examination of the facts as he’d later state was Congress’ role in this affair, Ryan then started to criticize Comey’s apparent decision-making on the matter:
I’m sure we‘re going to go on to hear from Mr. Comey about why, if this happens as he allegedly describes, why he didn’t take action at the time? So there are a lot of unanswered questions. What I told our members is now is the time to gather all the pertinent information. Our job is to be responsible, sober, and focus only on gathering the facts. That is what Congress does in conducting oversight of the executive branch.
Ryan was then asked again about Trump (the House Republican press conference, meant to focus on tax reform, ended with the Speaker getting question after question about Trump, Comey, and Russia until he left the room). He said he would leave things to the investigators in the House, Senate and FBI, and would not “micromanage or armchair quarterback” them.
NEW: @SpeakerRyan just told rank-and-file Rs that Congress needs to stick with ongoing committee process and use it to get facts on Russia
— Scott Wong (@scottwongDC) May 17, 2017
Ryan then pivoted to say that the Republican majorities in Congress were elected to “solve people’s problems.” But House and Senate leadership can point to few legislative accomplishments since Trump took office short of rolling back portions of the Obama administration’s regulatory fixes.
Later he told reporters, “I don’t worry about things that are outside my control.”
As he left his press briefing, the speaker was asked if he still has full confidence in Trump, and he replied, “I do.”
Speaker Ryan says "I DO" as walking out of presser when asked if he still has full confidence in President Trump
— Alex Moe (@AlexNBCNews) May 17, 2017
During the 2016 campaign, Ryan received a lukewarm, policy-free endorsement from Trump, after weeks of Trump’s public refusal to do so. This was in August, months after Ryan had endorsed Trump back in June.