The Week on Planet Trump: WTF? He Sacks Comey, and Admits Obstructing Justice
Monday: To supporters, Failure Diesn’t Matter
As Trump compiles a record of failures, feints and half-finished work, his determined opponents anxiously await the moment when his voters will wake up and realize they have been conned.
It’s a moment that never comes.
Preeminent evangelical leader Franklin Graham, who attended the signing of the wispy order, raved on Facebook: “A lot was accomplished today at the White House on the National Day of Prayer. … I’m thankful we have a president who is concerned about religious liberty and isn’t afraid to speak the Name of Jesus Christ.” (Other Christian conservatives gently urged the administration to take more concrete action in the future.)
Trump’s biggest fans at his 100th day rally, in between chants of “build the wall,” were unfazed as the president said in passing, “You know, we've done so well at the border, a lot of people are saying, oh, wow, maybe the president doesn’t need the wall.”
Bill Scher, RealClearPolitics
Tuesday: Sally Yates - American Hero
How could President Donald Trump, knowing what he knew about Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, give him the top national security job in the White House to begin with? He was warned against it by the national security community, including Republicans. At their meeting the day after the election, President Barack Obama warned him against it. Even as everyone’s fears about a rogue National Security Adviser were played out and pictures of Flynn sitting at dinner with Russian president Vladimir Putin circulated, Trump pressed on. Even after the White House was told Flynn lied about his contacts to the vice president, Trump stayed with him.
Now we know how it could happen, thanks to the testimony of Sally Yates, the number one justice official in the country until she was removed in February. When asked what happened at a meeting in which she told White House Counsel Donald McGahn that Flynn had lied about his contacts with Russian officials to the vice president making him susceptible to blackmail, Yates said McGahn asked her, “What does it matter to the Justice Department if one White House official lies to another?”
Margaret Carlson, The Daily Beast
Wednesday: Comey’s Firing
President Trump’s decision on Tuesday to fire James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director who had been leading an investigation into possible ties between his campaign and Russia, came in a bombshell announcement that left Washington reeling.
But it had been a long time coming.
Whatever the stated reasons, Mr. Comey’s ouster was the abrupt culmination of a toxic dynamic between him and Mr. Trump that had unfolded slowly over more than a year.
The relationship began to sour during the presidential campaign over Mr. Comey’s exoneration of Hillary Clinton in the F.B.I.’s investigation of her email practices, which ran counter to Mr. Trump’s “Lock her up!” message to his supporters. It grew still more bitter after Mr. Trump became president and Mr. Comey declined to back up his accusation that President Barack Obama had spied on him. And it reached a nadir when the F.B.I. director confirmed in sworn testimony in Congress that the bureau was investigating ties between Mr. Trump’s campaign team and Russia.
Julie Hirschfield Davis, The New York Times
Thursday: The inevitable Nixon Comparison
Immediately, Tuesday night’s events drew comparisons to Richard Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre, in which he fired the special prosecutor investigating Watergate. But no one knew quite what to expect Wednesday; surely, we didn’t expect Henry Kissinger.
And yet there Nixon’s Secretary of State was around 11:30 a.m., seated next to Trump, whom he’s informally advised, in the Oval Office. The meeting was not on his official schedule. If he had been trying to dissuade people from the notion that he’s behaving like Nixon, he could have done so more effectively by throwing his arms over his head and flashing two peace signs. Members of the press pool, a rotating band of reporters that follows the president everywhere, ran into the briefing room with word of the Kissinger meeting, prompting responses like, “What?!” and “Kissinger?!” (He was there, apparently, to discuss Syria.)
Ironically enough, Trump also spent part of his morning trying to distance himself from another Nixon-era friend of his, Roger Stone. In a tweet, he said that they hadn’t spoken in months — though Stone claims to have spoken to him a few weeks ago. It’s worth noting, also, that in Stone’s most recent book, he claims Nixon was the one who “first recognized Donald Trump’s potential to become leader of the free world” after meeting him at Yankee stadium and befriending him.
Olivia Nuzzi, New York Magazine
Friday: Admits an Impeachable Offence
President Trump went on national television Thursday and openly admitted that he committed an impeachable offense.
In an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, Trump said, “When I decided to [fire Comey], I said to myself, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.”
Let’s put aside the fact that the FBI’s focus on possible collusion by Trump and Russian officials began in the summer of 2016 (well before the election); the real story here is that Trump is acknowledging that the Russia investigation was the key factor in his decision to fire Comey. That’s a clear admission that the president of the United States actively sought to interfere in a criminal inquiry and thus obstruct justice. That this investigation is one that touches directly on Trump’s actions makes it that much worse, but even if it didn’t presidents simply cannot seek to stop the FBI from conducting a criminal inquiry. Even were this not an indictable crime, it is certainly grounds for impeachment.
Michael A. Cohen, The Boston Globe
Saturday: A Week Like No Other
In a dizzying sequence of events, sacked acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned that a ex-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was a ripe blackmail target for Russia while in office. The President suddenly fired FBI Director James Comey, then blindsided his own vice president with his shifting reasoning before sabotaging the White House press operation that was trying to defend him. Amid reports he demanded a loyalty pledge from Comey, critics warned Trump was guilty of a grotesque abuse of power, or even worse. But the President was not done. He suggested that Comey's investigation into links between his presidential campaign and Russia were indeed the reason he was fired.
In a Friday morning tweetstorm he seemed to suggest he had a Nixon-style White House taping operation, and told Comey to stay mum. Next, he proposed ending press briefings because it's impossible for his communications team to keep up with the whiplash of his stream-of-consciousness presidency.
Stephen Collinson, CNN
Sunday: A credibility Gap
Trump's decision to dismiss the FBI director has rattled official Washington, stoked what Democrats already call the "Resistance," and fueled reporting that the president is about to shake up his senior White House staff — though the fiercest controversies have centered on the president's statements, not those of his aides. Questions about whether Trump will stand by his word imperil the administration's efforts to negotiate a health-care compromise and a major tax package with members of Congress. And it casts a cloud over his first international trip, which begins this week.
The firestorm over Comey's ouster comes on the heels of lower-voltage complaints about ways in which the Trump White House has reduced disclosure and transparency. The administration has ended the Obama White House practice of regularly releasing logs of White House visitors. The White House barred the U.S. press pool from taking photos at the beginning of the president's meeting with Russian officials last week. The press shop even refuses to disclose whether Trump is playing golf during his weekend visits to his golf clubs.
"President Trump has sacrificed his credibility (with) his outrageous disregard for the truth and his penchant for outrage," said Ron Klain, a senior White House aide in the Clinton and Obama administrations. "It will be sorely missed when a crisis comes."
Klain called Trump "a polarizing president with a dubious relationship to facts" who has created "an environment where his supporters believe him even when he is lying, and more and more Americans won’t believe him even if he is telling the truth."
Susan Page, USA Today
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