"This reads like the president talks," Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said in response to former FBI Director James Comey's written testimony about his interactions with President Trump. "It sounds like a guy who is not a Washington guy."
Lankford's comments are emblematic of a certain line of defense of Trump's actions, dating back to the Republican primaries, that hold Trump to a lower standard of propriety by virtue of the fact that he has a history of saying bizarre things and behaving in an outrageous manner.
Trump succeeded politically despite (or to some degree because of) statements that would have sunk any normal candidate. His clashes with Megyn Kelly, his promotion of a conspiracy about Sen. Ted Cruz's father being involved in the JFK assassination, his boasts about grabbing women, were all overcome.
This has always reminded me of the Jon Stewart phenomenon. His comedy news show was, at times, touted for cutting through the BS that plagues regular news and praised by many as offering smart, biting, media criticism. Yet whenever he was called out for distorting or misrepresenting news, or for bias, he dismissed criticism because he was, after all, just a comedian.
Likewise, Trump is always joshing around and speaking absurdly, so many of his statements get chalked up to simply Trump being Trump. But Republicans shouldn't apply this Jon Stewart excuse when it comes to the improper behavior described in Comey's testimony.
The Comey hearing provided a lot of news for defenders of Trump to jump on to, no doubt. He reiterated that he had told Trump three times that he was not under personal investigation by the FBI, said a New York Times report about Trump campaign contacts with Russia was mostly wrong, and said that Trump did not directly ask him to stop the broader Russia probe. But one doesn't need to believe that Trump committed criminal obstruction of justice to believe that he acted completely improperly.
In the account provided by Comey, at a private dinner on January 27, Trump told him, "I need loyalty, I expect loyalty." Then, during a Feb. 14 Oval Office meeting, Trump cleared everybody out of the room, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, so that he could speak to Comey one-on-one. It was at this time that Trump infamously brought up former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, saying to Comey, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."
Even if Trump weren't giving an explicit order, he was speaking as the president to somebody he could fire, expressing his desire for lenient treatment for an associate and doing so in a one-on-one setting which provides an added degree of intimidation, and doesn't allow for witnesses to corroborate Comey's account. That should be viewed as completely out of bounds given the need for all investigations to be guided by the law and pursued independently from influence by somebody in the president's position of power.
As we learn more about what Trump said and did, he should be judged based on his words or actions just as any other president would be judged. He shouldn't be held to a different, lower, standard and given a pass just because saying completely inappropriate things is just the way he talks.