After 70 years spent largely skating free of consequences for his puerile misbehaviors and diarrheal mouth, he likely found it something of a shock. Seven decades is a long time, after all, and if the so-called president has learned nothing else in those years, he has learned this: Accountability is for other people.
Received a bill? Stiff the vendor.
Get caught in a lie? Tell another.
Say something stupid? Blame somebody else.
To watch him over the 21 months of his political career has been to suffer a kind of nauseous awe as he repeatedly brazened and bluffed his way through scandals, lies and acts of bungling incompetence that would have sunk … well, anybody normal. You had to wonder if the chickens had forgotten how to come home to roost. You had to wonder if gravity still works.
But accountability arrived this week in an extraordinary open session of the House Intelligence Committee. There, FBI Director James Comey laid waste to Trump’s contention that he was “wiretapped” by then-President Barack Obama during last year’s campaign.
The bizarre claim has already been roundly shredded in the two and a half weeks since Trump first made it in a series of early morning tweets. But the so-called president has clung to it with a stubborn insistence. He discomfited German Chancellor Angela Merkel when he tried to joke about it during their joint press conference. And he outraged the British when they were forced to refute a – pardon the tautology – baseless Trump claim that they had participated in the alleged bugging.
So it was gratifying to hear the head of federal law enforcement say definitively that there is zero evidence to support Trump’s contention. That, however, was just the hors d'oeuvre. The main course was Comey’s confirmation of media reports about an FBI investigation. Yes, he said, the FBI is looking into whether Trump’s people colluded with Russia as that country was meddling in last year’s election with the express aim of electing Trump. The probe could dog the White House for many months.
Cornered, Trump and his apologists tried familiar dodges. They cried, “Fake news!” They misrepresented Comey’s words. They tried to change the subject. Surrogate Jeffrey Lord even insisted the problem is that Trump has been “misinterpreted.”
It all felt even more threadbare than usual. It was hard not to imagine Trump drenched in the flop sweat of a birthday party magician who just realized he left the rabbit in his other top hat.
Small wonder. The tactics that have always served him will not work here. You can fool some of the people all of the time and you can fool all of the people some of the time. But good luck fooling the feds any of the time.
Heaven only knows where this will end up. Maybe the campaign will be exonerated. Maybe we'll discover the Russian meddling was plotted by Trump and Vladimir Putin over drinks in a hot tub at Mar-a-Lago.
Either way, there is something to be said for the simple fact that the investigation is underway, that Trump and his team will finally be forced to answer serious questions from serious people who will not be impressed by alternative facts and brazen deflections. It’s the kind of knowledge that renews your faith in the system. And in karma.
Turns out the chickens know their home way after all, and gravity still works just fine. Accountability has arrived. She’s seven decades late, so she and Donald Trump have a lot of catching up to do.
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.