US & Canada

Trump-Comey scandal: US media turns spotlight on Republicans

Donald Trump and James Comey Image copyright AFP
Image caption Commentators are wondering if James Comey (R) could be President Trump's nemesis

As the crisis over the Trump administration's alleged links with Russia deepens, US media are talking about what they see as a moment of reckoning for the Republican Party, for President Donald Trump and indeed for the former FBI chief James Comey.

Many outlets are trying to gauge the mood of Republicans in Congress amid reports that President Trump asked Mr Comey to drop an inquiry into links between his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Russia.

In a sarcastic opinion piece, the New York Times, which first reported on Mr Comey's memo, says the memo's existence is "very bad news for an administration already suffocating itself in scandal". It expresses frustration with Republican lawmakers.

"Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the burden was on The Times to produce the memo," it says. "Perhaps he forgot his own committee's authority to subpoena Mr Comey's memo, and his testimony."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Could the latest twist in the Russia affair lead Republican congressional leaders to break with Mr Trump?

"When will Republicans in Congress decide that enough is enough? Do they need Mr Trump's approval ratings to dip below 30%? Do they need first to ram through their deeply unpopular agenda? Or it is possible they might at last consult their consciences, and recall that they took an oath to uphold the constitution?"

Dan Balz in the Washington Post describes the latest events as a "moment of reckoning" for the party.

"As President Trump has lurched from one crisis to another, Republicans have chosen a strategy of compartmentalisation over confrontation, preferring to look away in hopes that the storm would pass," he says. "Now, after a pair of stunning revelations about the president, that approach may have run aground.

"Calls for a special prosecutor or an independent investigation will intensify, though many Republicans will continue to resist, at least until their own political standing is in real danger.

"But the double revelations of the past two days show that events are forcing a change in everyone's calculations."

Politico says Republicans are in a bind because the crisis could threaten their entire legislative programme: "Health care, tax reform, building up the Pentagon — all of it is potentially threatened by the latest furore.

"And if Republicans are paralysed and can't pass anything despite control of the White House and Congress, how can they justify their majorities when they go before voters next year?"

'Possible smoking gun'

CNN's Stephen Collinson says reputations are at stake because of the latest scandal.

"It promises to have grave implications for the longevity of an administration that appears to slip deeper into utter disarray by the hour," he says.

"There doesn't seem to be a way that both men [Mr Trump and Mr Comey] could survive the contest with their reputations intact."

Collinson adds that testimony by Mr Comey would be "one of the most significant congressional appearances of modern times".

"The practiced, analytical note-taking of a former FBI director who knows how to leave a paper trail would amount to a compelling piece of evidence in the court of public opinion and pit Comey's word against Trump's.

"After all, a Comey memo could approach 'smoking gun' significance if it appears to prove that the president could conceivably be accused of obstructing justice - potentially grounds for impeachment."

'Dull blade'

Unsurprisingly, right-wing media have been dismissive of Mr Comey's apparent revelations, but there were differing opinions about who was to blame.

Tucker Carlson on Fox News urged viewers not to take everything they read at face value. He said "an awful lot of people in Washington" wanted to remove the president.

"What are their motives? In a lot of cases those are completely unknown. A lot of what you hear and accept uncritically you ought to question." he said.

Joel Pollak, writing in the pro-Trump news site Breitbart, however, points the finger at Mr Comey himself, who - it says - is clearly trying to cause maximum political damage to the president.

"But this dagger is a rather dull blade," Pollak says. "It lacks any apparent 'quid pro quo' - a sense that Trump was offering something to Comey in exchange for dropping the investigation.

"Democrats, predictably, are pouncing on the story," he adds. "But so far, is just the latest hysterical episode in their effort to deny the legitimacy of the November election.

"If this is the best that Comey's 'paper trail' can produce, his 'revenge' may backfire, at least in political terms."