Is It Spectator Sport?
Terry H. Schwadron
The questions continue to pile up, as Washington politicians, legislators, reporters and observers of all stripe apparently sit ringside, glued to the collision course that is the White House. The activities of the White House have become spectator sport.
For me, it has ceased to be amusing. This is pathetic — the players, the process, the evasions all add up to a serious wish to send the President to the corner for a timeout.
Are there tapes or “tapes,” as if that means something different? Does it matter to settling the bigger issue of whether Russians interfered in the election? Don’t ask Sean Spicer, who said yesterday that he has nothing to say on the subject, adding that the President’s tweets speak for themselves. An automated taping system brings up images of Watergate White House life; tapes raise privacy issues, of course, but would not be illegal by themselves, though witness intimidation could be, as would destruction of tapes.
Indeed, any such tapes would tend to show the truth of differing versions of a January dinner between President Trump and FBI Director James Comey. More importantly, it appears that the President does not recognize any limits of the presidency, or the need for legal independence for investigations, or the right of the public to hear true statements about their leaders’ behavior.
Mr. Trump says Comey asked for the dinner meeting, and, among other things, told the President that he personally was not under investigation. Sources described as close to Comey said the FBI head had been summoned to the White House and asked more than once whether he would be “loyal” to the President.
In lieu of facts, whether about ties between Russian operatives and Team Trump, about the dismissal of Comey, about whether any “independent” review will result, all are only drawing countless references to Nixonian obstruction of justice. Cable television is openly inviting lawyers and prosecutors to discuss what constitutes obstruction, the possibility of impeachment, and review of other criminal charges. Democrats are putting on serious faces and talking about the constitutional crisis we face. Conservative broadcasters are moving at similar speed to build a defense of sorts for the President by re-opening Hillary Clinton’s emails as a suitable target, as if this is a partisan tit-for-tat.
Indeed, the only things that seem reliable here are that there is a whole lot of lying going on, and that we have a petulant, isolated, overly sensitive individual as President who can’t stop his impudent outbursts to save an image of himself as a heroic general.
Forget about doing the people’s business. Of course, that is always the way these things go. And this one is a doozy that promises to overwhelm any attempts to talk about the other things that government should be doing.
So, where do we stand?
· A factual question about whether there is any kind of recording system is not being answered. Clearly, some congressional committee is going to find out. It seems nuts that this can’t just be answered straightaway. Meanwhile, it was a Trump tweet that raised the issue of “tapes,” seemingly as a threat to Comey to keep from criticizing the man who just fired him in a most unceremonial manner.
· Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Comey was “uneasy” about having dinner with the President. “He was uneasy with that because of even compromising — even the optics, the appearance of independence not only of him, but of the FBI,” Clapper said, adding that Comey accepted Trump’s invitation out of courtesy and would not say anything about any investigation to Mr. Trump. Clapper, cited by the President for saying there is “no evidence” of Russian collusion, repeated that he has no way to know what evidence there is or isn’t.
· The question of why explanations for the dismissal keep changing each day leads nowhere: It is clear that Spicer and staff, charged with explaining the President’s actions, sometimes speak having absolutely no idea of what the President is doing.
· The question of whether Donald Trump has any Russian financing or holdings is unclear. The President hired a private law firm which issued a letter with no documents, like tax returns, to argue that, with a few exceptions, Mr. Trump personally has no current projects in Russia.
· Whatever else is going on in a chaotic White House, there seems no end to the number of people who must be leaking information to reporters. On the other hand, this is all about details, if not about truthtelling about the wider, more fundamental issues.
· The President is expressing pique over why there is focus on the wandering and contradictory explanations rather than on Comey’s behavior, lack of support from the FBI rank and file (denied by the acting FBI head), and at Comey’s errors. Overall, the President said that no one should expect his White House to give completely accurate information, and threatening to end press briefings.
· The assertion that the vast majority of FBI agents had lost respect for Comey continued to be denied by various officials and former agents about their colleagues.
· Meanwhile, the White House was well into a search for a new FBI director, with a list of various former judges and even politicians, who is “apolitical” but who will be a conservative. Good luck with that.