President Donald Trump is “new at this,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said.
The Wisconsin Republican was responding to ex-FBI Director James Comey’s testimony that the chief executive tried to get him to drop a probe of his former security adviser.
“He’s new to government,” Ryan said, “so he probably wasn’t steeped in the long-running protocols that established the relationships between DOJ, FBI and White Houses. He’s just new to this.”
Many of Trump’s Democratic critics dismissed Ryan’s statements as a weak attempt to provide excuses for a president from his party.
But Ryan’s remarks carried a hint of condescension for those willing to hear it.
Ryan, 47, and his somewhat more-experienced GOP House majority hold much of 70-year-old “newbie” Trump’s agenda in their hands. The speaker could be sending a message that he and his people know more than the president does about how things work.
Playing the game when you don’t know or bother to find out the rules leaves you vulnerable, as Ryan’s statement suggests.
Notice Ryan takes Comey at his word that Trump approached him to talk about ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who’s under investigation.
The Ryan statement accepts that Trump blew off protocols, intentionally or not.
This Comey hearing was in the Senate. Emotionally, the members were out of step with Trump. That is, few of them from either party who sit on the Intelligence Committee seemed to make things particularly hot for Comey. One senator after another acknowledged and hailed the ex-director’s long public service.
There were a few exceptions.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) sought to challenge Comey on Russia and the election, but his questions proved so alarmingly incoherent that it was easy for the disciplined Comey to swat them away without showing McCain disrespect.
Of all the panel members, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), whom Trump targeted for special humiliation as “Little Marco” during the 2016 primaries, seemed especially bent on controlling damage for Trump, or at least showing the limits of Comey’s claims.
Rubio elicited from Comey that Trump bade him to let the Flynn matter go only once, that Comey didn’t confront the president over it and other points cited by the White House later.
Away from Capitol Hill, lame-duck New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — another victim of Trump’s humiliations, who was purged early on as head of Trump’s transition team — offered a variation on Ryan’s “rookie” defense.
Christie said Trump had “never been inside of government and quite frankly didn’t spend a lot of time interacting with government except at the local level.”
“What you’re seeing is a president who is now very publicly learning about the way people react to what he considers to be normal New York City conversation,” Christie said.
It all had a bit of an echo of the election campaign last summer.
Pastor James Dobson, involved in Republican politics, referred to Trump as a “baby Christian” based on the candidate’s purportedly recent embrace of God.
But “he’s new at this” doesn’t help much as a defense in the FBI flap — unless Trump admits that opting for one-on-one meetings and phone conversations with Comey was the wrong way to go. Trump has conceded no such thing.
Then again, maybe Ryan and the others didn’t really want to go the distance helping Trump on this one and settled for the rationale of “beginner mistakes” so as to keep up political appearances. It was a sentimentally correct way of saying the president didn’t know what he was doing.