If you worked in the White House, Thursday's main goal probably was keeping President Trump from digging himself a deeper hole by sending a tweet in response to James Comey's testimony. At this point in the game, the president's usual aggressive tactics would have to be discarded for a more diplomatic approach. But Trump is, of course, President of the United States, and he can do as he pleases. Friday morning he proved that to be true. Despite waiting a day, Trump responded to Comey's testimony much as you would have expected.
Just after 6 a.m. ET Friday, Trump tweeted, "Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication...and WOW, Comey is a leaker!" The president followed up with another tweet that praised the Fox News morning television show, Fox & Friends, of which Trump is a big fan. It started broadcasting just 10 minutes before Trump's first tweet. "Great reporting by @foxandfriends and so many others. Thank you!" the president wrote.
Trump's takeaway from the testimony must be quite different from what was reported in papers of record like The New York Times and The Washington Post. The Times noted that Comey "accused the president of lying and defaming him and the FBI." The Post wrote, "Comey’s testimony threatened to deepen the legal and political crisis engulfing the White House." But perhaps on Fox News Trump saw a different perspective.
To give you an idea of Fox & Friends' take on the matter, look at what they said before Comey's live testimony Thursday. Co-host Steve Doocy defended Trump's call for Comey's loyalty by saying that it's something a CEO would do. Then on Friday morning, the program focused on Comey's revelation that he had asked a friend to provide The New York Times with the contents of the memos he had written on his meetings with President Trump rather than what had actually happened during those meetings.
As for Trump's tweets, a much quicker response was expected. Washington Post reporter Robert Costa tweeted earlier this week that Trump could be live tweeting the testimony. However, the White House staffers must have won out, as his Twitter stayed silent throughout the rest of the day Thursday. It may have helped that Trump spent part of the day speaking at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference.
Thursday's response was not the first time that Trump has spoken out about Comey's version of events. After the FBI director was fired, Trump went on NBC News and explained to Lester Holt that Comey had requested a dinner meeting to ask to keep his job and assure Trump that he wasn't being investigated.
News reports surfaced the next day with another version of events that came from people close to Comey, explaining that Trump had called the meeting and had asked Comey to pledge his loyalty at the dinner. According to their version, Comey responded that he could only offer honest loyalty. Comey confirmed this account during his testimony.
Trump, though, at the time took to Twitter to call out the recently fired director. "James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!" Trump wrote a series of tweets that attacked the Russia investigation, the media, and threatened to end press briefings once and for all.
As for Comey's actual testimony, it's quite detailed and includes his various one-on-one interactions with President Trump. His prepared testimony for the Senate Intelligence Committee matches the version that was put forward in the media in May. Comey testified that Trump demanded loyalty, he offered honesty in response. The two settled on "honest loyalty," although Comey thinks Trump may have understood the meaning differently. Comey also stated that he told Trump he was not personally under investigation.
The biggest surprise from the testimony may be that Comey had asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to be left alone with Trump:
I took the opportunity to implore the Attorney General to prevent any future direct communication between the President and me. I told the AG that what had just happened – him being asked to leave while the FBI Director, who reports to the AG, remained behind – was inappropriate and should never happen. He did not reply.
How Comey's testimony and Trump's reaction to it will play out over the next few days, weeks, and months remains to be seen. But regardless, this is a big moment in American history.