Editorial: Former FBI director James Comey’s loyalty is to his country

With devastating precision, fired FBI Director James Comey methodically built a case against Donald Trump on Thursday, detailing how the president attempted to derail the investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election.

Whether Trump’s actions amount to obstruction of justice or just a profound ethical lapse will fall under the purview of Robert S. Mueller III, the Justice Department’s special counsel.

But Comey’s explosive testimony delivered at a Senate hearing that became must-see TV should remind patriots across the political spectrum of the gravity of this moment. The focus now must be on facts, not on partisan talking points.

Comey stuck to the facts Thursday, and they were stunning:

▪ Mueller is investigating whether the president obstructed justice, Comey said. And the former FBI director’s detailed notes from conversations with Trump have been turned over to the special counsel.

▪ Trump lied “plain and simple” when he insisted that agents had lost faith in the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and that the agency was in disarray, Comey said.

▪ When the president suggested that the then-FBI director back off his investigation into Trump’s former national security adviser, “I took it as a direction,” Comey said. In fact, Trump favored dropping the criminal investigation, Comey added.

Comey’s testimony also underscored the continuing threat of foreign meddling in our democracy, an element that too often has faded from view in this white-hot political moment. He unflinchingly described the danger Russia poses, batting back senators’ efforts to lead him into partisan territory.

Russia’s meddling, he said, was sophisticated and purposeful. Last year’s cyberattack was only the latest chapter in a long Russia saga, efforts that were merely stepped up in 2016.

“There’s no fuzz” on Russian culpability, Comey said. “They’ll be back,” he promised.

He stressed that Russia does not favor Democrats or Republicans but simply aims to undercut the United States using whichever political party plays to its advantage at the time.

Comey’s plain-spoken account of his brief but tumultuous relationship with Trump highlighted both his own credibility and the importance of an independent FBI.

While Trump demanded loyalty from the former FBI director, Comey made clear Thursday that his allegiance was always to the country he served. Others in Washington should follow his lead.

And as the investigation continues, the nation would be well-served to remember Comey’s words: “This is about America.”