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.