Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday defended President Donald Trump’s communications with ex-FBI director James Comey, saying Trump wasn’t “steeped in the long-running protocols” of how to interact with law enforcement and is “new at this.”
The Wisconsin Republican also expressed sympathy for Trump’s frustration with the Russia investigation, noting that Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday morning that Trump was not the subject of the probe — at least not while he was at the FBI.
“When the FBI director tells him on three different occasions he is not under investigation, yet the speculation swirls around the political system that he is, that’s frustrating,” Ryan said. “I think the American people now know why he was frustrated.”
Ryan’s response is in line with how he’s taken to responding to the growing Russia controversy. While Ryan used to lead the pack of Republicans who pushed back on Trump’s controversial comments and actions, he has had little criticism for the president since the election.
On MSNBC Wednesday night, Ryan conceded for the first time that Trump asking Comey for a pledge of loyalty would be “inappropriate.” But he very quickly dismissed that news, a preview of Comey’s Thursday testimony, as stale, arguing it came out a month or two ago.
When that news first broke, Ryan would not weigh in because he said the investigation was ongoing and he would not prejudge the outcome.
On Thursday, Ryan — who would rather discuss legislation than the Trump-Russia scandal — played down Comey’s ongoing explosive testimony across the Capitol.
Comey told Congress that he took notes about his conversations with Trump because he worried Trump would lie about them. Comey also said he took Trump’s request that he drop a criminal probe of Michael Flynn, his ex-National Security Adviser, as an inappropriate directive.
Ryan, while noting the investigation was ongoing, said there should always be independence between the White House and the FBI or Department of Justice. But he suggested Trump may not have known how to use the proper communications channels.
“The president’s new at this. He’s new at government,” Ryan said. “He’s not steeped in the long running protocols that establish the relationships between DOJ, FBI and White Houses.”