Last week’s Comey testimony and ensuing Romanian press conference* set up a black-and white confrontation between the former FBI Director and the current President (Mr. Comey, a Republican, was appointed by Mr. Trump’s immediate predecessor – those were the days, eh?). It seems impossible that the conflicting accounts of private meetings between the two could possibly be squared with each other.
So – who’s lying?
It will surprise no one that I believe it’s the Prez, for the following reasons:
o – the syntax: “I hope you will see your way clear” coming from any boss, much less the President, must be taken as a directive, rather than idle musing in a two-person setting. If your boss said that to you, would you dismiss it? **
It is also in character – especially if anyone accepts the ‘toddler theory’ that Trump is simply following his instincts as a private company CEO, who after all had much greater control over the organization in general, and subordinates in particular (and any security function specifically) than does any President. His own son then confirmed that this is how he gives orders. He is also fond of autocrats, and has been compared to different Don stating a threat in thinly-veiled terms (e.g., ‘nice business you got – Hope nothing happens to it’).
o – past history: the incumbent’s flexible relationship with the truth has been amply documented – as has his adversary’s reputation for veracity and rectitude. Each has faced ‘defining moments’ that have confirmed their respective characters.
o – circumstances: the fact that others, including the Attorney General to whom the FBI reports, were ejected from the early White House meeting provides a possible indication of ‘guilty intent.’
o – contemporaneous records: Mr. Comey kept copious notes of his meetings, each made immediately thereafter. Those are generally pretty persuasive evidence. He had not been dismissed, and therefore had no revenge-based reason to record or 'spin' such notes. He had formed an intention not to follow the repeated directive, however, and had the foresight to follow a G-Man’s habit of making a record while memory was fresh.
If Mr. Trump has ‘tapes’ I hope he releases them (he does not, almost certainly). His reference to that possibility could easily be interpreted as an attempt to bully Mr. Comey – also a habit born of years as the autocrat of a company he owns. The empty “Complaint” threatened by attorney Kasowitz also fits here, as an habitual, Roy Cohn-style legal maneuver designed to inflict damage on an adversary. *** It’s a tack he’d threatened more than twenty times during the campaign, and followed through-on twice.
o – repeated directives/eventual firing: when your boss gives you repeated orders that you do not follow … you get canned. As Comey eventually did. If they weren't orders, then ... never mind, the Prez confirmed that the firingwas over dissatisfaction with the continuing Russia probe.
o – possible parsing: when Trump was asked on Friday about Comey’s statements, he said “I did not say those words.” When pressed, he repeated that phrase. It seems possible that the Prez was really saying “that’s not an exact quote.” True or not, such a claim cannot be completely disproven from a private conversation. That it deflects the question away from its obvious intent to ask about the truth of the testimony may have been its intent. That’s why there’s cross-examination in open court, but Trump controlled the news conference forum.
o – the Big Picture: let’s not forget that the underlying issue of ultimate importance here is that the cursed Russians consciously hacked our elections – The Bedrock Institution of US democracy. I have to ask: what has this Prez done to demonstrate that he understands the gravity of this attack, and punish it? If you come up dry – well, me too. More to come on this topic.
So, that’s what I think – howsabout you?
* the poor Romanian leader must’ve questioned his career choice during that Rose Garden presser on Friday.
** Comey did speak of ‘seagulls’ elsewhere in his testimony, and seems to have followed the ‘seagull theory’ of deferring action on orders from a scattered boss (who swoops in, dumps a load on your desk and flies off – you wait ‘til the same load is dropped multiple times before taking action, hoping s/he’ll forget). It often works.
*** Reportedly, such Complaint would be filed with the Inspector General - apparently the same office that Trump aides threatened to fire en masse, and whose budget has been deeply cut by the Administration. I bet they can't wait to go to work on his behalf! Just guessing here, but I'll be surprised if any actual Complaint gets filed.