Melinda Henneberger

Melinda Henneberger: Comey over cocktails inside the Beltway

Kenji Logie, of Berkley, Calif., was among at public watch parties for former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony Thursday at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing. Logie watched at the Building on Bond in New York.
Kenji Logie, of Berkley, Calif., was among at public watch parties for former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony Thursday at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing. Logie watched at the Building on Bond in New York. AP

At Duffy’s Irish Pub, the mood at the Comey watch party was less playful than the special on Covfefe cocktails — “only a small group of people know what’s in it” — and free Wi-Fi “so you can pretend you’re working.”

A bunch of D.C. bars opened early for the occasion on Thursday, but at this one, instead of chugging every time a senator said “collusion” or thanked the intelligence committee’s only witness, fired FBI Director James Comey, for being a “straight shooter,” the crowd was mostly somber and intent.

Instead of whooping over presidential tweets that never came, they quietly soaked in every word about President Donald Trump’s potential meddling in the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling in our presidential campaign.

Hopefully, this was not just a party, but a part of history, said Laura Shull, a marketing exec on maternity leave who came with her 3-month-old son and a bunch of other new moms. “Fingers crossed that something comes out” that leads straight to Trump’s impeachment for obstruction of justice in the FBI probe, she said, because “it’s devastating what’s happened to our country with this individual in charge.”

(For those who feel just the opposite, she’s referring as well to “health care, the damage he’s done to our reputation internationally, immigration, that he’s deceitful, his inability to have mature communication or to defend other countries in times of crisis.”)

It might not surprise you to hear that the crowd here came alive when Comey used the word “lie” to describe how the president characterized their interactions and morale at the FBI. Or that they yelled at the TV screen when Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia tried to downgrade the L-word to “a non-truthful statement.”

No one will be agog to hear that they loved when Comey and Sen. Angus King tipped their hats to Thomas à Becket, the “meddlesome priest” who was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170 after refusing to give in to Henry II. (That’s you in this scenario, Mr. President.)

Or to hear that even while nursing a mid-morning Guinness, the coastal cultural “elite” that Trump ran against spoke in CNN-ready soundbites: A grad student in flip-flops stressed the underappreciated need to “differentiate between a criminal investigation and a counter-terrorism investigation” and a suited-up lawyer sighed that “given the current composition of the Senate,” he didn’t expect much to come of Comey’s testimony.

But here’s what you might not know: Even in heavily Democratic D.C., where politics is a religion, the only lines that drew out-and-out applause were patriotic pitches about just how little party matters.

The senators were stuck in their little boxes, yes, with Democrats chiefly interested in what the president may have done wrong and Republicans eager to keep from hearing about that.

Yet whatever comes of investigations into possible collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign, do we have to lose sight of a bunch of hard-core Democrats on an outdoor patio cheering for America?

Or that as maddening and quirky as Comey can be, our government employs not a few public servants like this man, who says “Lordy,” and would fit right into a Frank Capra movie? “The FBI is honest,” he assured us. “The FBI is strong. And the FBI is and always will be independent. … It was the honor of my life to serve beside you, to be part of the FBI family, and I will miss it for the rest of my life. … Thank you for doing so much good for this country. Do that good as long as ever you can.”

Or that in the city sometimes written off in the heartland as the capital of cynicism, a call to what we have in common was still the hit of the day.

There were cheers when Comey said, “This is about America, not about a particular party.”

And this was the best-received riff of all: “We have this big, messy wonderful country where we fight with each other all the time. But nobody tells us what to think, what to fight about, what to vote for except other Americans. … A foreign government … tried to shape the way we think, we vote, we act. That is a big deal. … It’s not about Republicans or Democrats. They’re coming after America, which I hope we all love equally.”

Even now, there’s reason to think that we do.

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