James Comey's prepared testimony for the Senate Intelligence Committee corroborates what most reasonable observers (those dedicated to neither the destruction nor the veneration of President Trump) have assumed for months. Trump wasn't caught up in any "collusion" with Russia, but he still doesn't understand what's proper and what's improper behavior for the president.
The former FBI director's notes on his conversations with Trump undermine the incessant Democratic insinuation that Trump fired the FBI director to cover up his own wrongdoing. But if Comey's recollections and understandings of Trump's comments are correct, it's nevertheless clear that Trump failed to appreciate the constraints that come with the presidency.
Democrats have tried to make a grand Russia conspiracy a centerpiece of their effort to weaken Trump. This was always unsubstantiated and unlikely.
Months ago, it had become obvious that Russia tried to confuse and disrupt the election and weaken Hillary Clinton, that Trump had foolishly brought Kremlin-connected Paul Manafort into his campaign, that Mike Flynn had unsavory ties to Russia that he covered up, and that there was no evidence and no probable cause to believe Trump conspired with the Russians during the 2016 election.
This set of facts speaks ill of Trump, but it does not amount to the storyline that Democrats have been peddling and praying for. Since they hooked themselves on the word "collusion," it followed that Comey was fired to conceal that very thing.
Instead, however, Comey's written testimony confirms that the president was not a subject of a counter-intelligence investigation. The testimony also blows up a story that made its way through the media that Comey denied telling Trump as much. Comey also relays Trump's saying he hopes the FBI would find out " if there were some 'satellite' associates of his who did something wrong."
So Trump didn't fire Comey to stop an investigation into Trump, which is what Democrats charged. There's still a problem with the firing, though, and with Trump's conversations with Comey.
Repeatedly Trump asked for Comey's loyalty and invoked the idea of reciprocal loyalty. He either urged Comey to drop an investigation into Flynn or strongly hinted that he should, which, coming from the president, amounts to the same thing. This is inappropriate behavior for the president. It's an abuse of power — maybe not a huge abuse but an abuse nevertheless.
Trump has repeatedly flouted the constraints that traditionally bind the president. He shoots his tweets off and his mouth off. The worst example may have been comparing the U.S. to Russia, saying, "We've got a lot of killers. You think our country's so innocent?" He has also refused to give up his businesses.
None of these actions would be a bad thing or worthy of comment coming from a real estate developer or TV host. But the president has immense power, including, obviously, the power to fire the FBI director, so he needs to watch his words and actions. Trump adamantly refuses to do so, and this still has the potential to undo his presidency.
This critique of Trump, that he is dangerously uncareful, is unsatisfying to Democrats, who want to believe the president is an agent of a foreign power.
Comey's testimony, it turns out, tells us only what voters already knew on Election Day last year. Trump opponents saw him as dangerously unprepared and utterly lacking the demeanor to be president. Trump's supporters saw his political inexperience as an asset, refreshingly new and powerfully unfettered by the norms of the Washington swamp.
Congressional testimony usually reveals little that wasn't already known. Comey's fit this pattern. It gave us many important facts, but he only confirmed that Trump, rather than a secret foreign agent, is the man we thought he was.