This Man Has Our Nuclear Codes

It took me several tries to complete the task of reading the president’s interview with the New York Times because the man is so stupid and so morally repellent that I found it necessary to take breaks to protect myself from the psychic pain of absorbing what he had to say. The man is a pathogen and our country has a compromised immune system.

I could pick almost anything to highlight from the interview to make my point, but I am going to go with the part that should have been the easiest for him. In the middle of the president erroneously explaining that the F.B.I. only began reporting to the Department of Justice during the Nixon administration “as a courtesy,” Ivanka showed up unannounced with her daughter Arabella who just turned six on July 17th. The president invited his granddaughter to show off her impressive knowledge of Chinese.

How could this go wrong?

ARABELLA KUSHNER: [enters room] Hi, Grandpa.

TRUMP: My granddaughter Arabella, who speaks — say hello to them in Chinese.

KUSHNER: Ni hao.

[laughter]

TRUMP: This is Ivanka. You know Ivanka.

IVANKA TRUMP: [from doorway] Hi, how are you? See you later, just wanted to come say hi.

TRUMP: She’s great. She speaks fluent Chinese. She’s amazing.

BAKER: That’s very impressive.

TRUMP: She spoke with President Xi [Jinping of China]. Honey? Can you say a few words in Chinese? Say, like, “I love you, Grandpa” —

KUSHNER: Wo ai ni, Grandpa.

BAKER: That’s great.

TRUMP: She’s unbelievable, huh?

[crosstalk]

TRUMP: Good, smart genes.

[laughter]

Trump manages to take a feel-good moment and turn it into an opportunity to assert the genetic superiority of his family. His granddaughter speaks Chinese which is cute and praiseworthy. That’s great, but family protective services should show up to shield her from the racist influence of her grandfather.

Literally everything about the interview is obnoxious and grating. Trump demonstrates an inability to understand historical facts that extends from what happened moments before in a meeting with Republican senators to the causes of Napoleon’s defeat during his invasion of Russia.  Every story he tells is not just wrong but hit-yourself-in-the-head-with-a-hammer wrong.

Let’s look at what he says about the man he nominated to be his Attorney General. He says that the regrets choosing Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III for the job because Sessions recused himself from the investigation into Russian collusion in our past election. That’s an admission that he expected Sessions to help him obstruct justice and that he’s angry that Sessions rendered himself useless in that regard.

But let’s remember what actually happened.

During his confirmation hearing (which happened after Trump nominated him), Sessions testified that he had not had any meetings with members of the Russian government. That turned out to be a lie, and a lie that probably amounted to perjury. When his lie was exposed (which happened after he was confirmed), Sessions came under pressure to recuse himself from the investigation. He had to do this because Department of Justice guidelines compelled him to separate himself since he was now a possible witness and subject of the investigation. If Sessions had refused to recuse himself in those circumstances he would have instantly lost all credibility in the department and probably been rebuked by the DOJ’s Inspector General, too. The fact that he most likely perjured himself during his hearing made this a political necessity, too.

So, Sessions did what he was compelled to do and his deputy Rod Rosenstein was put in charge of the Russia investigation. Let’s look at how Trump remembers this happening.

TRUMP: Look, Sessions gets the job. Right after he gets the job, he recuses himself.

BAKER: Was that a mistake?

TRUMP: Well, Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else.

Do you see the problem? The president nominated Sessions and he was confirmed before he realized that he needed to recuse himself. How could Sessions have told the president he was going to recuse himself before any of that happened?

Now, if you’re a stickler, you might argue that Sessions knew he had met with Ambassador Kislyak on multiple occasions during the campaign and that, as a result, he was a possible person of interest to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigators. He should have told Trump as much, and also told him that if he were asked about it in his confirmation hearings he would have to be candid about his contacts. Trump then could have decided whether he wanted to nominate someone who should, ethically, recuse himself. Obviously, he wouldn’t have done so.

TRUMP: So Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself. I then have — which, frankly, I think is very unfair to the president. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, “Thanks, Jeff, but I can’t, you know, I’m not going to take you.” It’s extremely unfair, and that’s a mild word, to the president. So he recuses himself. I then end up with a second man, who’s a deputy.

But Trump isn’t angry that Sessions failed to tell him about the meetings with Kislyak (assuming he did fail to do so, which is not assured). He doesn’t even seem to understand what happened at the confirmation hearing.

TRUMP: So Jeff Sessions, Jeff Sessions gave some bad answers.

HABERMAN: You mean at the hearing?

TRUMP: Yeah, he gave some answers that were simple questions and should have been simple answers, but they weren’t. He then becomes attorney general, and he then announces he’s going to recuse himself. Why wouldn’t he have told me that before?

Nowhere in here does Trump acknowledge that if Sessions had told the truth at his confirmation hearing he would have been quite justifiably informed that he would not be confirmed unless he agreed to recuse himself. There’s no way Sessions could oversee an investigation that is going to need to investigate him. If Trump said that Sessions should have told him he was compromised, we could all agree with that. Maybe he did tell Trump and Trump didn’t care. Maybe Trump didn’t need to be told at all because he already knew. Regardless, this isn’t the focus of the president’s complaint.

His complaint is that he hired Sessions to put an end to the investigation and Sessions screwed up his answers at the confirmation hearing and lost the ability to shield him. But it’s more confused than that, because Sessions could not have known in advance that he’d get caught in a lie at his hearing, so he could not have told Trump ahead of time that he’d recuse himself.

His retelling of history just gets worse from here as he goes on to describe how Rod Rosenstein got to the point where he felt compelled to appoint a special counsel to investigate. Trump suggests that Rosenstein isn’t impartial because he’s from the heavily Democratic city of Baltimore, but he doesn’t acknowledge that he was the one who compromised Rosenstein’s ability to oversee the investigation.

Trump asked Rosenstein to craft a memo critical of FBI Director James Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation, which Rosenstein did. Then Trump blamed Rosenstein’s memo when he announced that he was firing Comey. Then he acknowledged that his decision to blatantly obstruct the investigation by firing Comey was made before Rosenstein crafted the memo and had nothing to do with the memo.

At that point, the circumstances of Comey’s firing became a criminal investigation and Rosenstein became a prime witness. He couldn’t head the investigation anymore, so he made the decision to appoint Bob Mueller to investigate.

Here’s how Trump tells his story:

TRUMP: Look, there are so many conflicts that everybody has. Then Rosenstein becomes extremely angry because of Comey’s Wednesday press conference, where he said that he would do the same thing he did a year ago with Hillary Clinton, and Rosenstein became extremely angry at that because, as a prosecutor, he knows that Comey did the wrong thing. Totally wrong thing. And he gives me a letter, O.K., he gives me a letter about Comey. And by the way, that was a tough letter, O.K. Now, perhaps I would have fired Comey anyway, and it certainly didn’t hurt to have the letter, O.K. But he gives me a very strong letter, and now he’s involved in the case. Well, that’s a conflict of interest.

Here is how Rod Rosenstein characterized what happened in his written statement for the record when he testified before the House and Senate:

On May 8, I learned that President Trump intended to remove Director Comey and sought my advice and input. Notwithstanding my personal affection for Director Comey, I thought it was appropriate to seek a new leader.

Rosenstein was told that Trump was going to fire Comey and was asked for input to help him justify it. He was pleased to do this, despite his affection for Comey. But when Trump suggested that his memo was the cause of Comey’s firing, Rosenstein got very irritated:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was so upset with the White House for pinning the firing of FBI Director James Comey on him Wednesday that he was on the verge of resigning, an administration source told ABC News.

After Comey’s firing Tuesday night, White House officials said President Donald Trump acted on the recommendation of Rosenstein.

Basically, everything Trump said about Rosenstein is a lie or such a distortion that it amounts to a lie. Even when Trump says that “perhaps I would have fired Comey anyway, and it certainly didn’t hurt to have the letter,” that’s a lie. The letter was not written because Rosenstein was self-motivated to write it. It was not written in an effort to get Comey fired. It was not the cause of Comey being fired. Trump had already made the decision to fire Comey, which is what Rosenstein testified to under oath.

So, Trump totally mischaracterized this and created a conflict for Rosenstein which almost caused him to resign. This is what led to the appointment of Mueller, not the fact Rosenstein comes from Baltimore.

Everything in the interview is like this. It’s all funhouse mirrors and mostly false assertions that are as incriminating as they are intended to be exculpatory.  If the New York Times were to interview Trump tomorrow and ask all the same questions, all the details would be different but the overall impression would be the same. The president lies so much and has such a distorted idea of what’s happening around him that he literally doesn’t know or care what is true and what is not.

What shines through it all, though, is his unapologetic intention to obstruct justice. He didn’t want Sessions to bow out of his appointment because he was compromised. He didn’t want Sessions to testify truthfully. He wanted Sessions to kill the investigation and he recused himself instead. For that, he cannot be forgiven.

This is all more evidence that Trump is providing against himself in the obstruction case. And he seems blissfully unaware of it, which is maybe the most disturbing thing of all.

The man has the nuclear codes and is responsible for handling our foreign affairs, including North Korea’s efforts to put nuclear weapons on ICBM’s that can reach the American shore.

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