He declared, “[Attorney General Jeff] Sessions should never have recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself he should have told me so I could have picked someone else.” In a single run-on sentence, he humiliated Sessions, conveyed that he had intended to use Sessions to insulate himself from the Russia mess and reinforced the perception that he sees the Justice Department as his personal legal firm, not a department whose independence must be respected. (He also whined that he did not like Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein overseeing the investigation because there are very few Republicans from Baltimore. Did he not know whom he had nominated for the deputy attorney general position?) Whether Sessions chooses to remain in a position for which the president now regrets nominating him remains an open question, but without the president’s confidence in the attorney general, the Justice Department becomes a diminished force. Sessions may love playing “cops and robbers,” but so long as he remains, the Justice Department lacks a champion in the Cabinet who has sway with the president.
Trump’s frustration over Sessions’s refusal to violate ethical standards stands out as further evidence that for Trump, loyalty is everything. Ethical and legal boundaries do not register with him; indeed, his loyal underlings are expected to disregard such niceties to protect him. Nothing better underscores his unfitness for office. He did, after all, take an oath to faithfully execute the laws, not to use government lawyers to shield him from inquiry. That concept is foreign to Trump, who sees the FBI and Justice Department as his supplicants. “In an environment in which the President of the United States, in a single interview, expresses no-confidence in the attorney general, the deputy attorney general, the special counsel, the acting FBI director, and the special counsel’s staff, and in which he makes clear that the FBI should be his personal force and that all of law enforcement should be about serving him, the [principal] protection is having people with backbone who are willing to do their jobs and stand up for one another in the elevation of their oaths of office over political survival,” writes Benjamin Wittes.
No wonder Trump felt compelled to go after Comey and then special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Trump warned that Mueller would cross a red line if he strayed into investigation of Trump’s finances apart from Russia. If that is where the investigation leads, would Trump fire Mueller? That seemed to be the implication, although he did not say so directly. (This comes in the context of a Times report that Deutsche Bank will cooperate with Mueller’s requests for information on Trump’s finances; the bank reportedly has lent Trump and his family millions over the years.) Again, Trump openly plays the intimidation game, unaware or untroubled by the potential that this will be seen as part of a scheme of obstruction and interference in an ongoing investigation.
Trump’s gnawing obsession and anger with the Russia investigation, which he has called a witch hunt, certainly were on full display. Trump bemoaned Sessions’s recusal as “unfair,” accused Comey of lying about their conversations (and trying to use the dossier as leverage against Trump!) and attacked Mueller for conflicts of interest. His fury carried the whiff of desperation, if not panic. As he is wont to do, Trump repeatedly contradicted prior statements. After Comey testified, Trump’s team claimed the president was “vindicated”; now he says Comey’s account was full of lies. So which is it? Trump is flailing, throwing mud in every direction in the vain hope that his words will disable his critics. However, his undisguised fury with investigators only gives weight to the accusation that he tried his best to stop — obstruct, that is — an investigation into his team’s web of connections to Russia.
Perhaps most interesting, Trump insisted, contrary to other witnesses’ accounts, that he spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin privately at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg for only 15 minutes. (Surely, others who were at the event can be asked about the length of the conversation). He also noted that the topic of Russian adoptions — the same pretext given for the Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and assorted Russians in June 2016 — came up. One suspects that this might be the approved segue into discussions of Russian demands with Trump family members. (Yesterday, the administration announced that it was cutting off support for Syrian rebels, just the move that Russia has long sought.)
Trump’s presidency is sinking into the quicksand of the Russia investigation. The more he decries his tormentors, the more support he provides for their investigation. Who can doubt that he was determined to stop the Russia investigation? In lashing out at prosecutors, he commits new acts of intimidation, vainly hoping to curtail their inquiry.
The entire fiasco (in addition to Trumpcare’s failure) is devouring the presidency. Trump — not Sessions, Comey, Mueller or Rosenstein — is solely to blame for his predicament. His grave mistake was thinking that he could avoid scrutiny, just as he has done for decades in a privately held, family business.
So, how is “Made in America Week” going?