Paul Ryan Invokes The Stupidity Defense of Donald Trump

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As James Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday morning, Speaker Paul Ryan sought to explain President Trump's behavior toward the former FBI director. According to the Associated Press, Ryan made it clear that the agency's leader needs to be independent, but invoked the president's unfamiliarity with the protocol. Trump, he said, was "just new to this."

The speaker of the House told reporters at his weekly press conference that Trump is "learning as he goes" when it comes to the federal government, and that as a result he may not yet understand the protocols requiring the FBI and the executive branch to remain separate. Trump is likely frustrated, Ryan said, because of what he routinely described to Comey as the "cloud" the Russia investigation has created over his administration.

The Senate Intelligence Committee frequently referred to this "cloud" in its questions to Comey during Thursday morning's hearing. The Associated Press reported that Ryan said the president is frustrated because speculation about his campaign's ties to Russia has led the public to believe — wrongly, according to Comey — that Trump himself has been under investigation. How this serves as any sort of explanation or justification for Trump's behavior, however, is unclear.

Trump is arguably the most powerful person in the world, occupying the highest office in the United States. Being "new to this" is no excuse for his appalling behavior toward the head of a traditionally independent intelligence agency. According to Comey's published remarks, Trump not only demanded his loyalty on multiple occasions — a demand that reeks of authoritarian tendencies — but also dangled Comey's job in front of him while doing so.

One reporter present at Ryan's press conference asked the speaker why he thought being "new to government" was an "acceptable excuse" for Trump's actions. After all, the reporter pointed out, the president has a staff and counsel responsible for keeping him informed. Instead of coming up with a substantial answer to the reporter's question, ThinkProgress reported that Ryan simply reiterated his claim that Trump is new to the job.

Ryan is certainly not the only Republican scrambling to Trump's defense, though his argument is perhaps one of the weakest. While other Republicans are honing in on Comey's confirmation that Trump himself was never under investigation, Ryan appears to believe that the president's errors will be more palatable if Americans perceive him as a child, unable to comprehend the consequences of his behavior.