The Trump administration has been throwing every possible charge it can think of at James Comey, in order to scuff up the image of the fired FBI director. This morning, Kellyanne Conway made an accusation that she and her boss might not have thought through: “This guy swung an election,” Conway told George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America. “He thought the wrong person would win.” That is probably true, but also probably not something Conway should admit.
Remember, the administration’s original justification for firing Comey was that he treated Hillary Clinton unfairly. Trump immediately blew up that line by confessing to Lester Holt that he fired Comey in order to stop the Russia investigation. But the administration’s messaging has returned to the original line anyway, acting as if Trump’s admission-against-interest never occurred. The official Republican site attacking Comey has heavily emphasized Democratic complaints that he publicly announced Hillary Clinton was under investigation in the campaign’s waning days.
The key to this message, though, is to ignore the context of the complaints. Trump wants people to hear that everybody is mad at Comey, but not what they are mad about — his decision to publicize the investigation into one candidate but not the other. That was Conway’s mistake.
In her eagerness to press the attack against Comey, she took the additional step of spelling out the consequences of his action. Not only did he treat Clinton unfairly, but his action was likely decisive in a razor-tight election. Comey believed Clinton had a safe lead and he could protect himself, and her, against postelection complaints that the FBI had protected her without risking her defeat. As Conway said, he actually swung the election to Trump.
And there is no way to read Conway’s comment other than as admitting Comey made the difference. You can’t “swing” an election to the candidate who lost. You can only swing it to the candidate who won.
Update: Conway now says she was being sarcastic. “I rolled my eyes and said ‘Really, this guy swung an election?’ It was sarcastic,” she tells the Daily Beast.
In the comments surrounding her “sarcastic comment, Conway made a series of non-sarcastic remarks supporting the charge that Comey swung the election. She cited a letter calling for Comey to resign over his treatment of Clinton, his confession of leaking details of a meeting with Trump, then mentioned that he swung the election – “This guy swung an election,” without saying “Really.” Immediately after, she noted that Comey “thought the wrong person would win,” which is also supporting evidence for the charge that Comey mistakenly swung the election to Trump because he believed Clinton had it in the bag.
Of course, it’s not possible to prove one way or another whether a person had earnest intent when uttering an admission against interest. “Yes, I stole the money” could be sarcastic, or it could be a confession.