The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion As Trump rages at Comey, a new poll shows his lies are failing

Former FBI director James B. Comey details his conversations with President Trump in his new book, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership.” (Video: Patrick Martin, Allie Caren/The Washington Post)


President Trump angrily lashed out at former FBI director James B. Comey on Twitter this morning, but his tweets were less revealing about Comey than they were about the president’s own contempt for the rule of law.

A new Post/ABC News poll finds that Trump enters into this battle with Comey — and into the larger war with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III that forms the backdrop for this skirmish — at a serious disadvantage. But before we get to that, let’s unpack what Trump just said about Comey.

Trump tweeted in two parts that Comey is a “LEAKER & LIAR” and an “untruthful slime ball” who botched his handling of “the Crooked Hillary Clinton case,” and added: “It was my great honor to fire James Comey!” Everyone is remarking on how Trump appears to be emotionally melting down now that news organizations are widely covering Comey’s new book.

But once again, Trump appears to be making an actual argument underneath all the all-caps bluster that should not go unnoticed. He is suggesting that he retrospectively relishes having fired one of the nation’s chief law enforcement officials, at least in part because he did not prosecute his political opponent.

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The original fake pretext that Trump used to fire Comey was enshrined in a memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, which recounted that Comey had mishandled the Clinton email probe in a way that was unfair to her. By contrast, today’s version of events highlights that Clinton is “crooked,” apparently meaning Comey mishandled the Clinton case by not prosecuting her alleged criminality. (This is in keeping with Trump’s calls for Clinton’s prosecution since the election.) Now, we all know Trump fired Comey out of rage over the Russia probe. But still, Trump today casually suggested he’s pleased he fired Comey because he failed to “LOCK HER UP!

James Comey is drawing fire, but he’s not Trump’s real problem

Trump’s efforts to cast Comey and law enforcement as soft on Clinton corruption, of course, are all about creating an alt-narrative to discredit Mueller’s investigation, which grew out of the one that Comey previously oversaw. Comey’s new book recounts Trump’s efforts to hamstring or derail that probe by demanding Comey’s loyalty, leaning on him to go easy on former national security adviser Michael Flynn and, ultimately, firing him. NBC News reports that Mueller may be closing in on findings of obstruction of justice, and so Trump’s nonstop lies designed to delegitimize the probe are intensifying.

But the new Post/ABC poll represents a major public vote of confidence in the investigation — and a major repudiation of Trump’s delegitimization of it as a mere “witch hunt.” It finds that 69 percent of Americans support Mueller’s efforts to investigate possible Russia-Trump campaign collusion, and 64 percent support Mueller’s investigation of Trump’s business activities, which, you may recall, Trump declared as a red line that Mueller mustn’t cross. It even finds that 58 percent support Mueller’s investigation of hush money paid to women who alleged affairs.

What about public attitudes toward Comey? Well, the poll finds that Americans see Comey as more believable than Trump by 48-32 and disapprove of Trump’s firing of Comey by 47-33. Those numbers aren’t that high for Comey, but they are shockingly low for Trump.

Further excerpts from James Comey’s book, if the existing ones are anything to go on

The public is recoiling at Trump’s contempt for the rule of law

It’s tempting to see this polling as little more than a reflection of Trump’s deep unpopularity. But numbers this stark suggest something else may be going on: that the depth of Trump’s contempt for our institutions and the rule of law is becoming clear to the public, and Americans are recoiling at it.

This contempt is everywhere. You see it in Trump’s double standard toward due process, documented by Adam Serwer, in which he rages at the raiding of his lawyer’s office while cheering on law enforcement abuses directed at Muslims, immigrants and African Americans. You see it in his instinct toward firing Rosenstein for the express reason that he is conducting himself by the book, rather than politicizing law enforcement to Trump’s benefit. Trump views law enforcement as primarily an instrument for carrying out his political will. He has told us this in his own words again and again and again.

Trump’s rage-tweets about Comey confirm all of this. And the public repudiation of Trump comes after he and his allies have waged an extraordinary public campaign in the right-wing media and in Congress, both of which have been weaponized to create a fictional narrative designed to shield Trump from accountability, by casting the Russia investigation and the institutional processes undergirding it as hopelessly corrupted to their core. Yet the public is siding with the rule of law and our institutions, and against Trump. As the Trump-Comey feud comes to the fore, this is the larger narrative unfolding in the background.

* COMEY SPEAKS OUT ABOUT TRUMP AND RUSSIA: Comey spoke to ABC News about his new book, and he revealed that in his first meeting with Trump, after telling him and his aides about Russian interference, this happened:

“No one, to my recollection, asked, ‘So what’s coming next from the Russians? How might we stop it? What’s the future look like?'”

And of course, since then, Trump has repeatedly refused to acknowledge Russian sabotage happened at all and hasn’t organized a serious response to future sabotage.

* GOP SENATOR PUSHES MUELLER-PROTECTION BILL: Sen. Thom Tillis (N.C.) has an op-ed in today’s Post that makes the case for his bill, which would allow Mueller 10 days to seek judicial review if Trump fires him:

Letting his investigation run its course is in the best interest of the country, and it is the only option to ensure that the American people have trust in the process. … if the president actually removes the special counsel without good cause, it would likely result in swift, bipartisan backlash and shake the country’s faith in the integrity of our legal system. … The result would not be good for the American people, the Republican Party or the president.

If this is true, then surely Republicans in Congress will immediately set about passing this bill, right?

* TRUMP HAS ‘ALREADY HURT’ FARMERS: The New York Times reports on the latest in Trump’s imminent trade war. Trump has vowed to protect farmers with a program that might provide up to $30 billion. But:

Such a program would be time-consuming and costly and would come as the budget deficit continues to increase. Farmers say that Mr. Trump’s threats have already hurt them by causing the price of futures contracts to fall. They maintain that the easiest way to help them is to avoid a trade war with China in the first place.

Trump advisers say a final decision on tariffs could come in several months, meaning a trade war could be in full swing as we head into the midterms.

* TRUMP’S ANNOUNCEMENT ON TPP SURPRISED ADVISERS: Trump now says we should consider rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The Times reports:

Mr. Trump’s reconsideration of an agreement he once denounced as a “rape of our country” caught even his closest advisers by surprise … Larry Kudlow, Mr. Trump’s top economic adviser, said in an interview … that the request to revisit the deal was somewhat spontaneous. “This whole trade thing has exploded,” Mr. Kudlow said. “There’s no deadline. We’ll pull a team together, but we haven’t even done — I mean, it just happened a couple hours ago.”

Even Kudlow plainly had no idea this was coming.

* WHY TRUMP MIGHT TRY TO REJOIN TPP: Trump explains his latest gyrations:

Does anyone think Trump has any actual ideas about how to make TPP better, rather than merely seeing this through the prism of his imaginary ongoing competition with President Barack Obama?

* DEM CHANCES OF WINNING SENATE IMPROVE: FiveThirtyEight’s Perry Bacon takes a look at the evolving map. He highlight new polling that shows Dems have a shot of winning a GOP-held open Senate seat in Tennessee.

There’s this, plus a contested GOP-held seat in Nevada, and possibly two in Arizona (because of John McCain’s poor health). As Bacon notes, Dems may lose one or more of their 10 at-risk seats. But all these new openings mean such losses could be offset and creates a route to a Senate takeover that is at least plausible.

* THE GOP AND ‘MOTIVATED GULLIBILITY’: Paul Krugman explains how House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) got away with his history of fiscal fraudulence and links that to a larger failing on the media’s part:

The answer, all too often, has involved what we might call motivated gullibility. Centrists who couldn’t find real examples of serious, honest conservatives lavished praise on politicians who played that role on TV.  … the same bothsidesism that turned Ryan into a fiscal hero played a crucial role in the election of Donald Trump. … it wouldn’t have been close if much of the news media hadn’t engaged in an orgy of false equivalence.

“Motivated gullibility” could apply well to many in our press corps who still refuse to reckon with what today’s GOP has become, Trump or no Trump.