President Trump’s interview with Lester Holt was so politically and legally problematic, one must assume no one with a year of law school under his belt would have recommended Trump do it. As The Post summarizes:
In the interview, Trump made clear it was his idea to fire the FBI director earlier this week. Trump fired Comey on Tuesday, after receiving a memorandum from the deputy attorney general criticizing Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation.
“Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey,’’ said Trump.
The president said Comey told him on three occasions that the FBI was not investigating him, offering more details of an assertion he made in his letter dismissing the FBI director. …
The exchange as described by the president is remarkable in that he said the FBI director was discussing an ongoing investigation with the president — something Justice Department policy generally prohibits — at the same time Comey was seeking assurances he would remain in his job.
In the course of a brief clip released from Holt:
- Trump implausibly claimed James B. Comey told him he was not under investigation while simultaneously acknowledging that the campaign for which he was the candidate is. Not only would it have been highly improper for Comey to talk about the investigation (and smack of obstruction since the question was asked during a dinner discussing Comey staying on), it would have also been untrue. Comey has testified under oath that Trump’s campaign is under investigation so it would be impossible to rule out Trump’s complicity. Trump’s repeatedly quizzing Comey on the investigation can also be seen as an ongoing attempt to interfere with the investigation. Trump’s remarks not only strain credulity, they also effectively waive the executive privilege on conversations with Comey. Conversely, if they are true he effectively has confessed to obstruction.
- He conceded that the memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein did not state the real reason for terminating Comey. (Rosenstein has separately admitted what we suspected from the get-go: He did not write the memo as a reason for terminating Comey.) Both the lie and the misleading of the DAG smack of obstruction of justice (an effort to waylay the ongoing FBI investigation).
- Trump made the utterly unsupportable claim that the FBI was in turmoil. Earlier in the day, the acting FBI director, Andrew McCabe, made clear Comey was very well-liked and the investigation was continuing. (“The vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep and positive connection to Director Comey.”) There is no evidence whatsoever of any disarray at the FBI. So here is another lie from Trump, another pretext for firing the man who was investigating his ties to Russia.
- Trump once again revealed that Vice President Pence had been sent out to lie that the whole firing hinged on Rosenstein’s recommendation. (Pence might want to consider why he allows himself again and again to be made out to be a liar or a fool or both.)
Trump and the White House’s inability to keep a consistent story line is remarkable and suggests both the president and his staff are operating on the fly, emotionally and without sufficient guidance.
Meanwhile, Rosenstein attended a closed-door meeting with Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and ranking committee Democrat Mark R. Warner (Va.), as well as Dana Boente, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s National Security Division. One hopes they asked Rosenstein a whole bunch of questions. Did he think his memo was to be used as grounds for firing Comey? What was the real reason? Did the president tell him he was annoyed with the handling of the Russia investigation? How did Sessions, recused from the investigation, participate in the firing of the lead investigator? How can he justify not appointing a special counsel at this point? Why didn’t Rosenstein quit when it became clear his memo was being misrepresented in order to mislead the American people?
Trump is in deep trouble, primarily because his own staff, enablers and media cohorts cannot keep up with his lies. They might consider not saying anything until they are sure what the permanent cover story is.