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Firing FBI director Comey is already backfiring on Trump. It’s only going to get worse.
THE BIG IDEA: After the president fired James Comey, the cloud hanging over the White House just got bigger and darker.
— Donald Trump has surrounded himself with sycophants and amateurs who are either unwilling or unable to tell him no. He lacks a David-Gergen-like figure who is wise to the ways of Washington and has the stature to speak up when the president says he wants to fire an FBI director who is overseeing the counterintelligence investigation into whether his associates coordinated with Moscow. Without such a person, Trump just walked headlong into a political buzz saw.
— Senior officials at the White House were caught off guard by the intense and immediate blowback to the president’s stunning decision to fire James Comey. They reportedly expected Republicans to back him up and thought Democrats wouldn’t complain loudly because they have been critical of Comey for his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. Indeed, that was the dubious excuse given publicly for his ouster.
But as all three cable news channels showed live footage of Comey’s motorcade winding through Los Angeles traffic en route to the private plane that would bring him home to Washington, the West Wing shifted into damage control mode.
The Deep State and their bought-and-sold media have been patiently waiting for Trump to impulsively step into a gopher hole. I think they have found their hole.
Panic in the White House.
And read on.
— Post reporter Jenna Johnson, who was at the White House last night, filed a colorful dispatch that captures the chaotic and dysfunctional rollout: “Sean Spicer wrapped up his brief interview with Fox Business from the White House grounds late Tuesday night and then disappeared into the shadows, huddling with his staff behind a tall hedge. To get back to his office, Spicer would have to pass a swarm of reporters wanting to know why President Trump suddenly decided to fire the FBI director. For more than three hours, Spicer and his staff had been scrambling to answer that question. Spicer had wanted to drop the bombshell news in an emailed statement but it was not transmitting quickly enough, so he ended up standing in the doorway of the press office around 5:40 p.m. and shouting a statement to reporters who happened to be nearby. He then vanished, with his staff locking the door leading to his office. The press staff said that Spicer might do a briefing, then announced that he definitely wouldn’t say anything more that night. But as Democrats and Republicans began to criticize and question the firing … Spicer and two prominent spokeswomen were suddenly speed-walking up the White House drive to defend the president on CNN, Fox News and Fox Business…
“After Spicer spent several minutes hidden in the bushes behind these sets, Janet Montesi, an executive assistant in the press office, emerged and told reporters that Spicer would answer some questions, as long as he was not filmed doing so. Spicer then emerged. `Just turn the lights off. Turn the lights off,’ he ordered. … Spicer got his wish and was soon standing in near darkness between two tall hedges, with more than a dozen reporters closely gathered around him. For 10 minutes, he responded to a flurry of questions, vacillating between light-hearted asides and clear frustration with getting the same questions over and over again.
“As Spicer tells it, (Deputy Attorney General Rod) Rosenstein was confirmed about two weeks ago and independently took on this issue so the president was not aware of the probe until he received a memo from Rosenstein on Tuesday, along with a letter from Attorney General Jeff Sessions recommending that Comey be fired. The president then swiftly decided to follow the recommendation, notifying the FBI via e-mail around 5 p.m. and in a letter delivered to the FBI by the president’s longtime bodyguard. `It was all him,’ Spicer said of Rosenstein.” (No serious person believes this.)
Spicer then ducked a series of obvious follow-up questions: Was Sessions involved? “That’s something you should ask the Department of Justice,” Spicer said. Was Rosenstein’s probe part of a larger review of the FBI? “That’s, again, a question that you should ask the Department of Justice,” he said. Did the president discuss Rosenstein’s findings with Rosenstein? “No, I don’t believe, I don’t know how that sequence went — I don’t know,” he said. What was the president’s role? “Again, I have to get back to you on the tick-tock,” he said. When’s the last time Trump and Comey spoke? “Uh, I don’t know. I don’t know. There’s some — I don’t know. I don’t know,” he said. What were the three occasions on which the president says Comey assured him that he was not under investigation? “I don’t — we can follow — I can try, yeah,” he said.
“As Spicer made his way toward the White House door, the swarm of reporters moved with him, shouting questions along the way,” Johnson concludes. “Spicer walked with his head down. … As he approached the door, aides warned reporters not to get too close.”
— To put it mildly, the optics of firing Comey are terrible. Trump looks like he does not actually want to get to the bottom of Russia’s interference in the U.S. election and the potential wrongdoing of his own staffers.
In one of the hastily-arranged damage-control interviews, deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made an especially revealing statement that underscored why so many people are worried. Asked by Tucker Carlson on Fox News how Comey’s termination will impact the Russia investigation, she replied: “I think the bigger point on that is, `My gosh, Tucker, when are they gonna let that go?’ It’s been going on for nearly a year. Frankly, it’s kinda getting absurd. There’s nothing there.” “It’s time to move on,” she added. “Frankly, it’s time to focus on the things the American people care about.”
As Sanders pretended on Fox that the Russian probes have found nothing, CNN reported that federal prosecutors – as part of the ongoing Russia probe – have now issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. “The subpoenas represent the first sign of a significant escalation of activity in the FBI’s broader investigation that began last July into possible ties between Trump campaign associates and Russia,” Evan Perez, Shimon Prokupecz and Pamela Brown reported. “The subpoenas issued in recent weeks by the US Attorney’s Office in Alexandria, Virginia, were received by associates who worked with Flynn on contracts after he was forced out as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014.”
It emerged yesterday that Senate investigators have asked the Treasury Department’s criminal investigation division for any relevant financial information related to Trump, his top officials, or his campaign aides. “We’ve made a request, to FinCEN in the Treasury Department, to make sure, not just for example vis-a-vis the President, but just overall our effort to try to follow the intel no matter where it leads,” said Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, per CNN. FinCEN is the federal agency that has been investigating allegations of foreign money-laundering through purchases of U.S. real estate. “You get materials that show if there have been, what level of financial ties between, I mean some of the stuff, some of the Trump-related officials, Trump campaign-related officials and other officials and where those dollars flow — not necessarily from Russia.” Until the Treasury Department responds with documents, Warner said, he plans to withhold support for Trump’s nominees.
Trump has also hired a Washington law firm to send a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee denying that he has connections to Russia, Spicer told reporters a few hours before the Comey news broke. He was responding to an announcement by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-.S.C.) that he planned to look into that issue.
— Trump doesn’t grasp it yet, but firing Comey will only lead to more, and louder, questions about Russia, as well as what exactly Trump knew about Flynn and when he knew it. Sometimes it turns out that the simplest explanation is the correct one. Is it possible that the president kept his national security adviser in the White House for 18 days after he’d been warned by the acting attorney general that he had been “compromised” and was vulnerable to “blackmail” by Russia because he had authorized the conversations in question?
“The Comey putsch heightens the mystery at the center of the Flynn case,” David Ignatius, who first broke the news of Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador, writes in a must-read column. “Trump has been digging a hole for himself from the beginning on Russia-related issues. It’s an odd pattern of behavior. Trump may have done nothing improper involving Russia, but why does he act so defensive? In a book called `Spy the Lie,’ a group of former intelligence officers explain the behavioral and linguistic cues that indicate when someone is being deceptive. Interestingly, many of these are evident in Trump’s responses to questions about Russia’s covert involvement in U.S. politics. The authors’ list of tip-offs includes `going into attack mode,’ `inappropriate questions,’ `inconsistent statements,’ `selective memory’ and the use of `qualifiers,’ such as `frankly,’ `honestly’ and `truthfully.’ The authors’ point is that people who are innocent answer questions simply and directly.”
The Deep State RatPubs are turning on the heat, too. It’s going to be a bipartisan (
— A handful of important Senate REPUBLICANS who have been defending the president went public last night with concerns. Here are five examples:
Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the Intelligence Committee: “I am troubled by the timing and reasoning of Director Comey’s termination. I have found Director Comey to be a public servant of the highest order, and his dismissal further confuses an already difficult investigation by the Committee.”
James Lankford (R-Okla.), a member of the Intelligence and Homeland Security committees: “The issues that our law enforcement, intelligence community and congressional committees deal with each day are very sensitive and have life or death implications. Director Comey has been the public face representing thousands of committed law enforcement officers and civil servants within the intelligence community. In the days ahead, the American people need clarity and deserve an explanation for his immediate firing.”
Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), chairman of the Judiciary Oversight Subcommittee: “Regardless of how you think Director Comey handled the unprecedented complexities of the 2016 election cycle, the timing of this firing is very troubling. Jim Comey is an honorable public servant, and in the midst of a crisis of public trust that goes well beyond who you voted for in the presidential election, the loss of an honorable public servant is a loss for the nation. … I have reached out to the Deputy Attorney General for clarity on his rationale for recommending this action.”
Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said Comey’s firing will “raise questions”: “While the case for removal … was thorough, his removal at this particular time will raise questions. It is essential that ongoing investigations are fulsome and free of political interference until their completion, and it is imperative that President Trump nominate a well-respected and qualified individual to lead the bureau at this critical time.”
John McCain (R-Ariz), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he was “disappointed” in Trump’s decision and repeated his call for a special congressional committee to probe the matter.
— Watch for Republicans who could be vulnerable in 2018 to become more inclined to distance themselves from Trump going forward. Arizona’s Jeff Flake is up for reelection next year:
Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), another vulnerable incumbent in the D.C. suburbs, called for an independent investigation: “Both Democrats and Republicans attacked the FBI Director at various times for various reasons and called for his ouster. However, I can’t defend or explain tonight’s actions or timing … The FBI investigation into the Russian impact on the 2016 election must continue. There must be an independent investigation that the American people can trust.” (Another reason this is a big deal: Comstock was in charge of public affairs at the Justice Department when John Ashcroft was attorney general.)
So are the so-called “conservative” Deep State think-tankers.
— Intellectually-honest conservative thought leaders are also alarmed:
Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, was a key policy adviser on the presidential campaigns of McCain, Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio:
Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, was a key policy adviser on the presidential campaigns of McCain, Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio:
“We will find out soon who in Congress believes in the Republican Party and who believes in the Republic.”
Columnist Charles Krauthammer: “To fire him summarily with no warning in the middle of May because of something that happened in July is almost inexplicable.”
Former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum in The Atlantic: “This Is Not a Drill. The firing of Comey poses a question: Will the law answer to the president, or the president to the law?”
And of course the kicker. Trump is Nixon II.
— Is Trump the New Nixon? Will this be remembered as the Tuesday Night Massacre? This episode ensures more comparisons of Trump to Richard Nixon, a politician he deeply admires. From Marc Fisher and Karen DeYoung’s piece exploring the parallels:
John Dean, the White House counsel under Nixon, called Trump’s firing of Comey “a very Nixonian move”: “This could have been a quiet resignation, but instead it was an angry dismissal.”
John A. Farrell, author of “Richard Nixon: The Life,” a new biography, notes that the drip-drip-drip nature of Washington scandals is already a primary theme of the Trump presidency: “Trump is a unique individual who is not bound by the normal strictures of politics, so we don’t know if he’s doing this because he’s unpredictable or because he’s hiding something. But the actions he and his top staff have taken certainly mirror those of their counterparts four decades ago, who were clearly hiding something. … The question now is how many of these moves by Trump have to happen before we see the shift in public support for the president that happened toward the end of Watergate.”
— The media coverage is brutal. Here are takes from five prominent voices:
“It’s a grotesque abuse of power by the president of the United States,” longtime New Yorker staff writer Jeffrey Toobin said on CNN. “This is the kind of thing that goes on in non-democracies, that when there is an investigation that reaches near the president of the United States or the leader of a non-democracy, they fire the people who are in charge of the investigation.” Toobin went on to say that “if anyone thinks that a new FBI director is going to come in and the agency will just take over and continue their investigation as if this had never happened, that’s not how it works. They will put in a stooge who will shut down this investigation.” He specifically mentioned Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani.
Ruth Marcus: “Comey’s firing should make all of us `mildly nauseous.'”
The New Yorker’s John Cassidy writes that Trump’s firing of Comey “AN ATTACK ON AMERICAN DEMOCRACY.”
Lawfare: “The Nightmare Scenario: Trump Fires Comey, the One Man Who Would Stand Up to Him.”
So it goes in The United States of Omertica.
Rejoice as you will, leftinesses, but…be careful what you wish for.
You might get it.