The s0-called president started his day at 8:26 am by tweeting threats to James Comey, a man he had just fired from his job as director of the FBI.
James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!
â€” Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
Now, it may very well be that Trump was not the first president to threaten someone to keep his mouth shut. But I believe he is the first one to do it so publicly.
The New York Times, backed up byÂ NBC News, reported that Comey was summoned to the White House for dinner a week after the inauguration. And in that dinner conversation, Trump pushed Comey to declare his loyalty to Trump.
The conversation that night in January, Mr. Comey now believes, was a harbinger of his downfall this week as head of the F.B.I., according to two people who have heard his account of the dinner.
As they ate, the president and Mr. Comey made small talk about the election and the crowd sizes at Mr. Trumpâ€™s rallies. The president then turned the conversation to whether Mr. Comey would pledge his loyalty to him.
Mr. Comey declined to make that pledge. Instead, Mr. Comey has recounted to others, he told Mr. Trump that he would always be honest with him, but that he was not â€œreliableâ€ in the conventional political sense.
In this, Comey was correct. FBI directors are supposed to operate independently of the president.
Here is Donald Trump’s version of the dinner, from his interview with Lester Holt:
HOLT: Let me ask you about your termination letter to Mr. Comey. You write, “I greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation.” Why did you put that in there?
TRUMP: Because he told me that. I mean, he told me that.
HOLT: He told you, you weren’t under investigation with…
TRUMP: Yeah, and I…
HOLT: …regard to the Russian investigation.
TRUMP: …I’ve heard that — I’ve heard that from others. I think…
HOLT: Was it in a phone call? Did you meet face to face?
TRUMP: I had a dinner with him. He wanted to have dinner because he wanted to stay on. We had a very nice dinner at the White House…
HOLT: He — he asked…
TRUMP: …very early on. That dinner was arranged. I think he asked for the dinner.
And he wanted to stay on as the FBI head. And I said I’ll, you know, consider. We’ll see what happens.
But we had a very nice dinner. And at that time, he told you are not under investigation…
HOLT: That was…
TRUMP: …which I knew anyway.
HOLT: That was one meeting. When was the — when was the other two?
TRUMP: First of all, when you’re under investigation, you’re giving all sorts of documents and everything. I knew I wasn’t under. And I heard it was stated at the committee — at some committee level that I wasn’t, number one.
HOLT: So, that didn’t come directly from him.
TRUMP: Then, during a phone call, he said it. And then, during another phone call he said it.
So, he said it once at dinner and then he said it twice during phone calls.
HOLT: Did — did you call him?
TRUMP: In one case I called him and one case he called me.
HOLT: And did you ask am I under investigation?
TRUMP: I actually asked him, yes. I said if it’s possible, would you let me know am I under investigation. He said you are not under investigation.
Starting with the part about how Comey “asked” to have dinner at the White House, or somehow arranged for a White House dinner without being invited — I don’t think so. And, anyway, FBI directors are appointed to ten-year terms these days; it’s presumed they will stay in office through changes of administration unless they choose to leave.
I believe the only other FBI director to have been fired was William Sessions, by Bill Clinton. The circumstances were very different from Comey’s firing.
In 1993, Bill Clinton became the first US president to dismiss the head of the bureau. He did so after the Department of Justice produced a 161-page internal report with sworn testimony from more than 100 FBI agents citing the numerous and severe ethical failures of its director, William Sessions.
Clinton called Sessions twice the day he fired him â€” once to inform him he was dismissed and again to remind him his termination was effective immediately. He then held a press conference to explain his decision. He also had Louis Freeh lined up as a replacement.
Clinton’s moves are in dramatic contrast to President Donald Trump’s Tuesday dismissal of FBI Director James Comey, who was overseeing an investigation involving the president’s campaign.
The White House said that Trump relied on two brief letters of recommendation. One came from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a former campaign surrogate who had recused himselfÂ from investigations involving the Trump campaign but waded into the debate about Comey’s dismissal. Sessions’ deputy, Rod Rosenstein, wrote a lengthy memo detailing his concerns about Comey.
BTW, I want to share my Facebook friend Jeffrey F’s version of the Lester Holt interview:
I had beans three times for dinner. Well, actually it was one time for dinner. I open the beans and ate them. Somebody else actually opened the beans. I didn’t eat all the beans, but they were nice beans. You know that, I know that, everybody knows that. I’m not going to even consider eating beans unless they are the best, biggest beans out there. These were the best. The other two times I ate beans for dinner it was not actually dinner. It was breakfast, the one time. I didn’t actually eat the beans, but I was having breakfast and there was somebody else in room eating beans and I said “Those are nice beans.” And that was the second time. The third time I had beans for dinner was on vacation and I had finished lunch and then a waiter was carrying this amazing tray of beans into the room and the waiter says to me he says, “You really need to try these amazing beans.” And I said to him–and this is absolutely true–I said, “I already ate.” Extraordinary guy. Very smart. But there were the beans. So that’s three times. And you can ask anybody.
Brilliant. But Trump implies that he might have tapes of the conversations he had with Comey. And Comey had better keep his mouth shut, or those tapes will be played.
So now Washington is buzzing about tapes again. Reminds me of Nixon. Democrats in Congress are demanding that any tapes or documents related to Comey’s firing be turned over, btw.
Itâ€™s not often that you hear members of the FBI threatening to go to war with the president. But thatâ€™s where we are after Donald Trumpâ€™s firing of FBI Director James Comey.
â€œ[Trump] essentially declared war on a lot of people at the FBI,â€ an anonymous FBI official told the Washington Post. â€œI think there will be a concerted effort to respond over time in kind.â€
Do read the whole thing at Vox; the FBI could do Trump a lot of damage.
It seems to me that in spite of his vast past experience of stiffing underlings, dodging lawsuits and doing business with the New York and Russian mobs, Trump is not very good at keeping his ass covered. Everything he does makes him look more guilty.
For example, this afternoon he had some lawyers trot out and proclaim that
his income tax returns do not show income from Russian sources or debt owed to Russians, with the exception of $95 million paid by a Russian billionaire for a Trump-owned estate in Florida and $12.2 million in payments in connection with holding the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013.
The statements are contained in a letter from two lawyers, Sheri A. Dillon and William F. Nelson, to Mr. Trump, which the White House released on Friday. The president cited the letter in an interview with Lester Holt of NBC News as proof that there were no hidden financial ties between him and Russia.
In addition to the Florida estate and the beauty pageant, the lawyers said Mr. Trump received undisclosed payments over 10 years from Russians for hotel rooms, rounds of golf, or Trump-licensed products, like wine, ties or mattresses.
These last payments wouldn’t have shown up on tax returns as coming from Russians, the lawyers say. So let’s see the tax returns, and let us make up our own minds.
Come to think of it, now that Trump is making claims about what his tax returns do or don’t say, wouldn’t that make it easier for some investigatory group to get a judge to subpoena them?
Finally, do read Charles Pierce, who reminds us that the three truest words in journalism are follow the money.