Saturday, June 10, 2017

Comey and Trump, the G-Man vs. the Mob Boss


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James Comey, the former F.B.I. director, in the Hart Senate Office Building after testifying in closed session Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee. CreditDrew Angerer/Getty Images
Lordy, what a fine day to be Donald Trump.
Three hours of earnest James Comey testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee and the president is not in immediate jeopardy of being indicted or impeached.
High crimes can wait. The master of low expectations headed off to his New Jersey golf club to celebrate the fact that he still has plenty of time for further self-incrimination.
If there’s going to be an auto-da-fe on the Potomac, Trump would prefer to light the match. He doesn’t want some shrewd, fired, leaking, taller-than-thou swamp creature to take him out when he can self-immolate.
He can do the job himself on Twitter and in TV interviews.
His talent for theatrical self-destruction and Dickensian cliffhangers was on vivid display Friday at a Rose Garden press conference when, with his best truculent bulldog face, he pronounced himself willing to testify under oath about his conversations with Comey.
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“One hundred percent,” Trump said.
As the Twitterati noted, the president might just be salivating at the thought of scoring higher ratings than Comey.
Trump tantalized, saying that he would reveal “sometime in the very near future” whether their conversations were taped.
Thursday’s hearing underscored how adept Trump is at creating the kind of havoc that could bring down his presidency. We learned from Comey that if Trump hadn’t tantrum-tweeted about a possible surreptitious tape of their Oval Office meeting, then Comey wouldn’t have felt compelled to try to spur the appointment of a special counsel by leaking his memos.
This is, after all, Donald Trump, hailed by Vanity Fair Hive as “the origami-coiffed, Wharton transfer student who talks about hookers with F.B.I. directors and now intends to overlord a putative chain of three-star hotels from the West Wing.”
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President Trump arriving Friday for a press conference in the White House Rose Garden.CreditAl Drago/The New York Times
It was possibly, from his viewpoint, the third best day of the Trump presidency.
Even the press behemoth praised him in February for becoming president when he stuck to a teleprompter addressing a joint session of Congress and in April when his after-dinner entertainment at Mar-a-Lago, over “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen,” was raining Tomahawks on Syria. “Trump Appears Dazzled by Being Able to Bomb Syria Over Dessert,” read The Washington Post’s headline.
We knew Trump was too big to be confined by Infrastructure Week. Infrastructure doesn’t get good ratings. But a nasty gunfight between a starchy, cautious lawman and a louche loose cannon does.
The Senate hearing on Trump’s White House nest of vipers drew nearly 20 million viewers — more than the N.B.A. finals. People started lining up to see the hearing in person at 4 a.m. Even Preet Bharara, another law enforcement officer ousted by Trump, wanted in. Washington bars held special screening parties.
Who is bigger than Trump?
Sure, he got called a liar by the ousted F.B.I. chief, in what was “almost certainly the most damning j’accuse moment by a senior law enforcement official against a president in a generation,” as Peter Baker wrote in The New York Times.
Sure, the president came across in Comey’s testimony like a mob don, demanding fealty and calling on Comey to do him a service by seeing his way clear to letting the nefarious Michael Flynn go.
But on the bright side for Trump — which is a historically low bar — there were these things:
Comey admitted he was a leaker, and Trump is obsessed with catching leakers even though he’s a world-class leaker himself. They are their own Deep Throats.
Comey confirmed that he had told the president three times that he was not under investigation.
He asserted that Loretta Lynch lost her credibility on the Hillary email investigation when she let Bill Clinton on her plane and directed Comey to call it “a matter” rather than “an investigation.”
And Comey seemed like a wimpy careerist for not confronting Trump on the Flynn meddling and looking him in the eye and saying, “What you want is wrong and we will not do it and I will no longer work for you.” Unlike Trump, Comey wasn’t even willing to do the dirty work of leaking himself.
The main takeaway, however, is that with the absurdist Trump administration, we have sunk very low. There’s no way that the Republicans would not be calling for the head of a Democratic president who had done this stuff. They would be going nuts trying to impeach him.
Instead, we have the risible Paul Ryan trying to excuse the president’s sleazy behavior with Comey by painting the most powerful man in the world as Candide.
“He’s just new to this,” Ryan told reporters, explaining that Trump “wasn’t steeped in the long-running protocols” between the Department of Justice and the White House.
The real problem isn’t that Trump is a Washington naïf, though he is. It’s that he brought his own distorted reality and warped values with him.
He has yet to express a scintilla of real concern that the Russians tried to hurt our democracy and alter the will of American voters.
At the press conference Friday, he reiterated his ridiculous contention that the Russia scandal is a red herring, even now that everyone agrees that it is real.
“That was an excuse by the Democrats who lost an election that some people think they shouldn’t have lost, because it’s almost impossible for the Democrats to lose the Electoral College, as you know,” Trump said. “You have to run up the whole East Coast and you have to win everything as a Republican, and that’s just what we did.”
Trump is so self-regarding that he can only process the Russia hack as an insult to him. If the Russians helped him beat Hillary, then he gets less credit.
And with Comey & Co., Trump is so eager for the credit that he would rather bring himself down than allow someone else the honor.

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