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EDITORIAL: Washington, D.C., descends into scandal porn

In an understatement for the ages, House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters last week that Donald Trump is probably not “steeped” in the typical relationship between the FBI and the White House. “He’s new in government,” Mr. Ryan said, “and so, therefore, I think he’s learning as he goes. … It’s just my observation.”

Of course, millions of Americans cast their ballots for the president last November precisely because of his outsider status and his promise to shake up the D.C. establishment. That helps explain why Mr. Trump’s support remains strong among his core constituencies as the beltway elites labor to expel this alien intruder from the body politic, much like the human immune system mobilizes to discharge foreign invaders. That’s its nature.

Last week’s congressional testimony by James Comey was thinly veiled scandal porn, the driving force in today’s Washington. The former FBI director made clear his distrust of Mr. Trump and said the president publicly lied about the resigns for his dismissal. That generated the expected headlines, but to what end? The Trump-Russia collusion brouhaha has now morphed into a feeding frenzy regarding obstruction of justice. But if Mr. Comey believed Mr. Trump had broken the law by pressuring the bureau, why didn’t he raise any concerns with the attorney general? Why didn’t he push back? Why didn’t he resign?

He offered no plausible explanation — and, in fact, told the Senate committee that nothing the president did had impeded the FBI’s probe. He also confirmed Mr. Trump’s assertion that the president was never a target of any investigation. As far as obstruction is concerned, as much as CNN hopes to hang the Watergate tag on the Trump administration, this remains a rallying cry in search of evidence.

As noted attorney Alan Dershowitz, no fan of the president, put it last week, while Mr. Comey’s testimony “may provide political ammunition to Trump opponents, unless they are willing to stretch Comey’s words and take Trump’s out of context, and unless they are prepared to abandon important constitutional principles and civil liberties that protect us all, they should not be searching for ways to expand already elastic criminal statutes and shrink enduring constitutional safeguards in a dangerous and futile effort to criminalize political disagreements.”

Make no mistake: Donald Trump tries the patience of even his most ardent defenders. A dose of discipline and humility would go a long way toward helping him survive the cresting onslaught. Mr. Trump instinctively seems to relish controversy, pouring kerosene on the embers to admire the flames. Instead of letting Democrats wear themselves out as they scurry from rat hole to rat hole in search the next indignation, Mr. Trump takes to social media and stokes the blaze. Following Mr. Comey’s appearance on Capitol Hill, the president unleashed a taunting tweet calling him a liar and a “leaker.”

It’s true that Mr. Trump didn’t beat Hillary Clinton by heeding traditional political advice. He doubtless attributes his rise to the Oval Office in part to his Twitter savvy and his ability to manipulate and frustrate the press, meaning he’s unlikely to change his unconventional behavior in that regard. The problem is, he’s no longer campaigning. The distractions in which he revels severely limit his ability to fulfill the promises that resonated with red state voters.

On Friday, Mr. Trump said he’d be eager to testify under oath regarding the Comey testimony. Fine. No doubt, special counsel Robert Mueller will at some point be in touch with the president’s attorney.

But in the meantime, Mr. Trump should limit his comments on active investigations, let the probe play out and turn his attention to pushing forward vital legislation regarding health care and tax reform. Otherwise, even some of his most fervent backers may eventually tire of his steep learning curve.

 

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