As fired FBI director James Comey testified on Capitol Hill about “lies” the White House told about the reasons for his abrupt dismissal, President Donald Trump was greeted with a standing ovation by evangelical Christian activists across town.
The president, under pressure from the FBI and congressional investigations into his associates’ contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 election, made no reference at all to Comey’s testimony, which gripped Capitol Hill and much of the nation Thursday morning.
Instead, he focused on themes of family, faith, and religious liberty, topics close to the hearts of many of the 500 or so people gathered in the hotel ballroom – many of whom helped propel Trump to victory in November.
“We know that in America, we don’t worship government, we worship God. Our religious liberty is enshrined in the very First Amendment in the Bill of Rights,” Trump told the crowd at the annual Faith and Freedom Coalition Road to Majority conference. “Don’t worry, we’re not gonna let ‘em change it.”
The gathering, at a hotel northwest of downtown Washington, felt like a world removed from the rest of the city.
The president touted the early successes of his administration: the appointment and confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, a crackdown on violent gangs and undocumented immigrants living in so-called ‘sanctuary cities,’ and his decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.
Senators Ted Cruz and David Perdue, who preceded the president onstage, cheered his performance in office so far. “He’s doing exactly what he said he was going to do,” Perdue said. “We have long needed a president exactly like Donald J. Trump.”
In his testimony, Comey accused the president and his senior aides of defaming him as he scrambled to explain his decision to dismiss the former FBI director. Deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said shortly after Comey’s dismissal that the president intervened because rank-and-file FBI employees were dissatisfied with his performance. “Those were lies, plain and simple,” Comey said.
Trump stayed off Twitter during the two-and-a-half-hour hearing. Sanders told reporters he spent the morning in meetings about North Korea with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.
Ralph Reed, the president of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, who introduced Trump on Thursday, heralded him as a “political earthquake.”
“And some,” Reed added, “are still feeling the tremors.”