TIME

CAN TRUMP HANDLE THE TRUTH?

A President who peddles falsehoods and dabbles in conspiracy confronts the challenge of governing in reality

Generations of American children have learned the apocryphal tale of young George Washington, bravely admitting to his father that he chopped down the cherry tree. The story sprang from a culture that wanted even its fables to serve the ideal of truth. By that standard, the House Intelligence Committee hearing on March 20 should have been a massive humiliation for the President, who followed Washington 228 years later. It is rare for such hearings to be unclassified—and thus televised—but FBI Director James Comey found the largest possible audience for his rebuke of the sitting President.

He had given Donald Trump nearly three weeks to walk back his incendiary tweets accusing President Obama of “wire tapping” Trump Tower during the campaign. If such surveillance had been done through legal channels, the FBI would have known; if done illegally, it was a scandal of historic proportions and the FBI should be digging into it. Either way, Trump’s accusation implicated the integrity of Comey’s bureau, which is why the former prosecutor felt compelled to push back as the cameras rolled. “I have no information that supports those tweets,” Comey said. “We have looked carefully inside the FBI. The Department of Justice has asked me to share with you that the answer is the same.”

The statement was concise, direct and damning. The President of the United States had been marked as a fabulist by one of the top officials in government charged with finding the truth. And yet, for the man being called out, the rebuke was nothing of the sort.

“I’m a very instinctual person, but my instinct turns out to be right,” Trump told TIME two days later, in a 20-minute phone interview from the Oval Office. The testimony, in other words, had not fazed him at all. He was still convinced he would be proved right. “I have articles saying it happened.”

That is not exactly true. The New York Times reported on Jan. 20 that wiretapped data had been used in an investigation of Trump’s advisers, but not that Obama had targeted Trump for wiretapping, as Trump had claimed. But he had new ammunition: House Intelligence Committee

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