(White) House of Fog
Terry H. Schwadron
Time for a deep breath.
It turns out that exactly as we had believed, rather than what we heard from the White House spokesmen, that President Trump himself fired James Comey as FBI Director, and had intended to do so all along. The source: The President himself.
In his televised interview with NBC, Mr. Trump also said he had asked Comey, a “showboat,” whether the FBI was investigating him, and heard “No,” an answer he said was repeated by phone twice more. NBC said afterwards that It would be highly unusual for someone who might be the focus of an FBI probe to ask whether he was under investigation and to be directly told by the FBI director that he was not.
Let me correct that: It would be outrageous for Mr. Trump to ask and worse for Comey to reply. In any event, by last night, that too, had become Mr. Trump asking Comey for his “loyalty.”
So, it turns out, all the would-be explanations were lies, however poorly construction, that no one in the White House communications team is to be trusted as source of honest information. Including the President. By last night, another news break, this by The New York Times, disputed key assertions in the President’s own correction of everyone else. The paper said that Comey had been summoned to the White House, not asked for a meeting with the President, and that he never told the President that he was not a possible target of Russia-ties investigation.
The bizarre events of the day followed after Asst. Atty. Gen. Rob Rosenstein indicated that he resents having been used as a tool by the President; Rosenstein told White House counsel Don McGahn to correct what he felt was an inaccurate White House depiction of the events around the Comey firing, according to The Wall Street Journal. Rosenstein hinted that he could not work with a White House that could so twist fact. There was no answer from the White House or the Justice Department, but the President did agree to sit down to an interview with NBC which blew every other excuse for the Comey firing out of the water.
The President said he never tried to pressure Comey into dropping the FBI probe of the Trump campaign and insisted, “I want to find out if there was a problem in the election having to do with Russia,” adding, “there was no “collusion between me and my campaign and the Russians.”
Official word aside, the important thing here is that explanations have changed repeatedly. With the world looking on from its various viewpoints, this White House has proved that it cannot tell truth from political fiction. The White House sent its top communicators, including the Vice President, out to tell stories that are at total odds with the President’s own words.
Along the way in the last elongated news reporting day, Andrew McCabe, the deputy FBI director taking over for Comey, disputed the White House assessment that there is widespread FBI agent upset with Comey (McCabe said there isn’t), The New York Times learned that the President was telling his advisers that Comey’s Senate testimony about being slighted nauseated by taking an action that might affect the outcome of the 2016 election for Mr. Trump was perceived as a personal slight, and The Washington Post said 30 people told them that Mr. Trump wanted to fire Comey because Comey would not back his claim of having been “wiretapped” during the campaign.
McCabe also rebutted White House officials’ attempts to minimize the Russia probe — declaring it a “highly significant investigation” that had not and would not be deterred.
Take your pick, or rather, pick your favorite pique. We have a government running on the thin-skinned response to perceived personal insult.
There is not a hint of presidential concern that what he committed in this dismissal was a blatant attempt to stop the individual heading the investigation into ties between Team Trump and Russians.
Meanwhile, keep your eye on the working congressional committees, and in particular, the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is marching ahead with subpoenas to former Lt. Ge. Michael T. Flynn that will hike the investigation to a new level. No doubt, that group and others in Congress will get Comey to testify anew as a private citizen, further jeopardizing whether what we have heard from Mr. Trump is repeated.
As with so many scandals, issues that start with seemingly small-scale events can swirl out of control. The President bet the house, the White House in this case, on the notion that Democrats upset with Comey’s role in the Hillary e-mail matters last year would join with Republicans to back his firing play.
Needless to say, lack of that kind of judgment is the least of the problems we now face.