Comey versus Trump continues

One of the most troubling accusations against President Donald Trump has come via an alleged memo written by then FBI directory James Comey. The White House denies the implication.

Fox News: White House disputes explosive report that Trump asked Comey to end Flynn probe

The White House grappled late Tuesday with the political ghost of James Comey, as an explosive new report said a memo written by the ousted FBI chief claimed President Trump once asked him to end the probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

The White House sharply disputed the report, as Democrats seized on it as potential proof of “obstruction” of justice.

According to The New York Times the memo quoted Trump as saying he hoped Comey could “let this go” with regard to Flynn.

The Times said Comey wrote the memo shortly after an Oval Office meeting on Feb. 14, the day after Flynn resigned from the Trump administration. The paper acknowledged it had not seen a copy of the memo, but said a Comey associate read parts of it to a reporter over the phone.

The memo was presented as the clearest evidence yet that Trump tried to influence the Justice Department and FBI probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign and alleged links to Trump’s associates.

But the White House rejected the characterization that the president tried to shut down an investigation.

“[T]he President has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn,” an official said. “The President has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the President and Mr. Comey.”

Washington Post: The guy who predicted Comey’s memos thinks the former FBI director may be trying to take down Trump

News broke Tuesday evening that then-FBI Director James B. Comey had written notes in February indicating that President Trump had asked him to end an investigation of former White House national security adviser Michael T. Flynn.

It was big news to the rest of us. To Matthew Miller, it was as predicted.

Q: You were pretty prescient in noting that the Comey memos would come back to bite Trump — saying “stay tuned.” How widely known are Comey’s note-keeping habits? Is it exceptional in some way?

MILLER: I don’t think it’s exceptional either for an FBI director or for anyone at the FBI or at the Justice Department. If they have a conversation with someone where the other person raises something inappropriate, it’s a pretty standard practice to then write a memo to the file, basically, putting that down.

Q: What kinds of things are usually in these notes? Is it a pretty straight recounting of the conversation, or will they also include things like, ‘Well, I think this may have been illegal?’

MILLER: I think it completely depends on the conversation and the person you’re having it with. It’s a very different thing if someone outside the Justice Department calls you and asks you to find out the status of an investigation, and you tell them no. That’s one thing — versus the president of the United States telling you to quash an investigation. In the orders of magnitude of wrongdoing and impact, they’re two very different things.

Something that’s important here is that it was inappropriate for Trump to have any conversations with Comey about the status of this case — let alone to make the kind of request that we now know he did.

Q: So that would definitely raise a red flag for Comey.

MILLER: Yeah. And Comey — he might have had two motives here. One is, when you’re put in this situation, you want to make a record, so if the other side ever tells their story, you can pretty clearly demonstrate with contemporaneous records that you acted appropriately.

I keep wondering — something in the back of my head keeps saying to me — maybe Comey was actually trying to build an obstruction-of-justice case against the president here.

…but if you’re trying to build an obstruction-of-justice case, you might want the president to keep talking, because everything he does is digging a deeper legal hole for himself.

Q: And that would be, ostensibly, a reason for him not to resign after that first conversation, as some people have suggested he should have.

MILLER: That’s exactly right. You have to remember, the president in that letter firing Comey said, ‘You told me three times I wasn’t under investigation.’ We have no idea if that’s true or not. But I think it’s also a little bit of a red herring, because the president’s campaign is under investigation.

Q: A lot of this could come down to how much Comey wants to fight this battle with the president. Is there anything in his past that leads you to believe he would willingly and proactively want that fight?

MILLER: Yes. Look, there’s one thing I agree with the president on: That Comey is a showboat. You just look at his actions in the [Hillary] Clinton case, where he made himself the central player when there was no reason for him to be the central player. That aside, his entire history shows that he likes to be at the center of attention. You look at the Ashcroft bedside incident where that unfolded in one of the most dramatic congressional hearings in history. And it was pretty clear at the time that that hearing had been pretty well planned by Comey and by Preet Bharara — to uncover real wrongdoing by the Bush administration — but also to present Comey in a very favorable light.

All of this seems to be having affect on Republican support for trump.

Real Clear Politics: GOP Mood on Hill Darkens in Wake of Comey Memo Story

Even before the latest report about President Trump exploded across Washington on Tuesday, congressional Republicans were troubled.

When the president abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey, the timing was “troubling,” multiple Republican lawmakers agreed. So, too, was the president’s tweet threatening to reveal “tapes” of his conversations with Comey. Ditto the president’s reported disclosure of highly classified intelligence to Russian officials during an Oval Office meeting.

If Republican lawmakers had seemingly settled on a rote response to Trump’s outrage du jour, however, on Tuesday they faced a new shock: a New York Timesreport detailing an alleged exchange in which Trump urged Comey…

“I keep using ‘troubling,’ but troubling is an understatement,” Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters.

More Republicans now seem to agree.

As the news rippled across Capitol Hill on Tuesday, the mood among GOP lawmakers was one of “concern,” said Sen. John McCain. At a dinner later Tuesday where he received an award, McCain said Trump’s scandals are “reaching the point where it’s of Watergate size and scale,” according to reports.

A shift among Republicans was immediately visible. Whereas GOP lawmakers had previously pressed the White House to provide answers and explain fresh scandals, party lawmakers are now beginning to take action themselves.

In a letter Tuesday to Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz requested “all memoranda, notes, summaries, and recordings referring or relating to any communications between Comey and the president.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, meanwhile, told reporters that he is inviting Comey to testify publicly before the Senate judiciary subcommittee that Graham chairs. “I don’t want to read a memo,” Graham said. “I want to hear from him.”

The sharp turn by Republicans suggested “they are increasingly shaken,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat. “How could they not be?”

In recent weeks, regular chaos emanating from the White House has left Republican lawmakers in a permanent defensive crouch. The crush of new developments, often without warning, has felt like “drinking from a fire hydrant at times,” Sen. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican, told CNN this week.

On Tuesday morning, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell attempted to nudge the administration. “I think we could do with a little less drama from the White House on a lot of things so that we can focus on our agenda,” McConnell told Bloomberg News.

“Every day they need to call in political ServPro to vacuum and clean the damage that’s occurring,” lamented one Republican strategist who has worked with the administration.

That was before the Comey memo story broke.

By Tuesday evening, in light of the latest Times report, some House Republicans were no longer merely troubled. Rep. Mark Sanford, a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, said the actions ascribed to the president “would be more than deeply troubling” if true. King, although skeptical of the Times’ reporting, said the president’s actions “would have been a crime, the way it’s being reported.”

The reported contents of Comey’s memo opened a “new chapter of scandal and controversy in this country,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Florida Republican who hails from a swing district.

This story is likely to continue to trouble Trump and Republicans as it seems likely Comey will need to testify.

Public opinion also seems to be darkening, with the RCP average disapproval of Trump reaching a record 55.0%, with 39.9% approval.

RCPTrump2070517

How Trump handles this growing dissatisfaction and concern will be a key to how his presidency progresses.

Trump may be looking forward to getting out of the country for his first trip abroad as president. He may or may not be looking forward to meeting the Israelis.

Trump, McMaster explain intel leak

A story yesterday from the Washington Post (summary of details from Politifact in The shifting explanations of Trump’s Russia disclosures):

The Washington Post on May 15 reported that Trump had betrayed the confidence of a highly secretive intelligence-sharing arrangement and jeopardized an intelligence source by disclosing details of an unfolding ISIS plot to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in a May 10 visit to the White House.

“It was during that meeting, officials said, that Trump went off script and began describing details of an Islamic State terrorist threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft,” the Post report states, adding that Trump also revealed the ISIS-held city where the source gleaned the intelligence, which was considered “code-word information,” one of the highest classification levels.

According to the Post, following Trump’s meeting with the Russian delegation, senior White House officials “took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency.”

That information about the meeting was leaked has not been disputed. This is a serious issue in a very leak prone White House (and agencies).

An early response from national security adviser H.R. McMaster:

“The president and the foreign minister reviewed common threats from terrorist organizations to include threats to aviation. At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed, and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson statement:

“During President Trump’s meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov, a broad range of subjects were discussed among which were common efforts and threats regarding counter-terrorism. During that exchange the nature of specific threats were discussed, but they did not discuss sources, methods or military operations.”

Later Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell said:

“This story is false. The president only discussed the common threats that both countries faced.”

Washington Post has responded:

While the White House calibrated its early messaging, the Washington Post defended its reporting, accusing the White House of “playing word games” to blunt the impact of its reporting, and saying Trump’s disclosures had the potential to be “reverse-engineered” to figure out sources or methods.

It also noted that no member of the administration had denied that Trump had shared classified information with Russia, the crux of the Post report.

A later statement from McMaster:

“The story that came out tonight as reported is false. Two other senior officials who were present, including the secretary of the state, remember the meeting the same way and have said so. Their on-the-record accounts should outweigh those of anonymous sources.

“I was in the room. It didn’t happen.”

Trump has tweeted:

“As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety”.

“Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”

In a press conference later McMaster re-emphasised he thought that Trump’s conduct was “wholly appropriate” but obviously couldn’t divulge any details of intel revealed to the Russians.

“It was our impression of all of us who were in the meeting that what was shared was wholly appropriate given the purpose of the conversation, and the purpose of what the president was trying to achieve through that meeting.”

Did the president share classified information in the meeting?

“We don’t say what’s classified, what’s not classified.”

The story combined what was leaked with other information, and then insinuated about sources and methods,”.

I want to make clear that the president in no way compromised any sources or methods in the course of this conversation.

The leak was acknowledged.

I think that national security is put at risk by this leak, and by leaks like this, and you know there are a number of instances where this has occurred.

But his final comment has left the issue up in the air:

There are no sensitivities in terms of me or anyone who’s been with the president on any of these engagements. He shares information in a way that is wholly appropriate.

I should make the statement that the president wasn’t even aware of where this information came from, he wasn’t briefed on the source or method of the information either.

So apparently it is wholly appropriate for the president to say whatever he likes, and reveal whatever intelligence he sees fit, without knowing where the information comes from or what the source of the information was.

Countries that supply intelligence to the US may ponder that when considering what information they supply.

Edited interview (thanks Gezza):

Trump – intel chump

Donald Trump has created another crisis for the White House, aided by what appears to be more leaks, claiming that Trump passed on highly confidential information to the Russian ambassador and also the Russian foreign minister when they met in the White House last week.

Fox News reports: Another crisis hits the White House after Post story

Closed-door emergency meetings. Hallways packed with reporters. Statements rushed out, but few questions answered.

It’s become a familiar scenario in the crisis-prone Trump White House, where big news breaks fast and the aides paid to respond seem perpetually caught off-guard.

The Washington Post report Monday led to the latest feeding frenzy. The news that Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian officials in a meeting last week prompted another round of bizarre scenes, just days after Trump’s decision to fire FBI director James Comey sent his communications team into a tizzy.

The WaPo story was quickly corroborated by CNN, Buzzfeed and Reuters, all citing multiple sources.

Denials from the White House followed, but they denied things that hadn’t been claimed and no details were given as to what was supposedly ‘fake’.

White House officials denied the story in several statements, including a 45-second on-camera statement delivered by Trump’s national security adviser. But officials refused to answer specific questions, including what precisely the report had gotten wrong, ensuring it would dominate a week that White House officials hoped would be quiet in advance of the president’s first foreign trip.

“I was in the room, it didn’t happen,” McMaster told reporters after emerging.

“The president and the foreign minister reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries including threats to civil aviation,” McMaster said. “At no time, at no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed and the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known.”

But what, precisely, had been misreported?

The Post cited current and former U.S. officials who said Trump had shared classified details with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak. They said the information, which had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement, was considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government.

The Post story did not claim that Trump revealed any specific information about how the intelligence was gathered, as McMaster’s denial suggested.

Trump, who seems to have an obsession  with how he is reported in media, is likely to have been a very unhappy chap.

There’s still some people who defend Trump but his credibility is diminishing.

The Hill: GOP senator: White House in ‘downward spiral’

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) says President Trump’s White House must reverse the “downward spiral” it finds itself in.

“The White House has got to do something soon to bring itself under control and in order,” he said Monday, according to Bloomberg. “It’s got to happen.”

Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made his remarks following a Washington Post report that Trump revealed highly classified intelligence information in a meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador.

“Obviously they’re in a downward spiral right now and they’ve got to figure out a way to come to grips [with] all that’s happening,” Corker said.

And conservative commentator David Brooks: When the World Is Led by a Child

At certain times Donald Trump has seemed like a budding authoritarian, a corrupt Nixon, a rabble-rousing populist or a big business corporatist.

But as Trump has settled into his White House role, he has given a series of long interviews, and when you study the transcripts it becomes clear that fundamentally he is none of these things.

At base, Trump is an infantalist. There are three tasks that most mature adults have sort of figured out by the time they hit 25. Trump has mastered none of them. Immaturity is becoming the dominant note of his presidency, lack of self-control his leitmotif.

The Russian leak story reveals one other thing, the dangerousness of a hollow man.

Our institutions depend on people who have enough engraved character traits to fulfill their assigned duties. But there is perpetually less to Trump than it appears. When we analyze a president’s utterances we tend to assume that there is some substantive process behind the words, that it’s part of some strategic intent.

But Trump’s statements don’t necessarily come from anywhere, lead anywhere or have a permanent reality beyond his wish to be liked at any given instant.

We’ve got this perverse situation in which the vast analytic powers of the entire world are being spent trying to understand a guy whose thoughts are often just six fireflies beeping randomly in a jar.

‘Trump Derangement Syndrome’ has been used to try to dismiss any critics of Trump, but it looks very much like it is should be applied to the president himself.

I think there’s a high chance this is going to get very messy. How long can Trump survive? Some talk of impeachment but even if justified that process would take a long time.

Trump seems likely to self destruct a lot sooner.

US government “under assault and eroding”

James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence, says that America’s founding fathers created three co-equal branches of government with checks and balances, but with Trump as president, that was now “under assault and is eroding.”

Fox News: Clapper: US govt ‘under assault’ by Trump after Comey firing

…Clapper on Sunday described a U.S. government “under assault” after President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to fire FBI director James Comey, as lawmakers urged the president to select a new FBI director free of any political stigma.

“I think, in many ways, our institutions are under assault, both externally — and that’s the big news here, is the Russian interference in our election system,” Clapper said. “I think as well our institutions are under assault internally.”

Clapper spoke following Trump’s sudden firing of Comey last week, which drew sharp criticism because it came amid the FBI’s probe into Russia meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible ties between Russia and the Trump presidential campaign.

Clapper said America’s founding fathers had created three co-equal branches of government with checks and balances, but with Trump as president, that was now “under assault and is eroding.”

Politicians from both sides also have concerns.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said the new FBI director should certainly be someone “not of partisan background” with “great experience” and “courage.” He left open the possibility that Democrats might try and withdraw support for a new FBI director unless the Justice Department names a special prosecutor.

Under rules of the Senate, Republicans could still confirm an FBI director with 51 votes. Republicans hold 52 seats in the chamber to Democrats’ 48.

A new FBI director without wide support from both parties would add to the current problems and concerns.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said promoting an FBI agent to lead the agency would allow the nation to “reset.”

“It’s now time to pick somebody who comes from within the ranks, or is of such a reputation who has no political background at all who can go into the job from Day 1,” the South Carolina Republican said.

“The president has a chance to clean up the mess he mostly created,” Graham said, adding, “I have no evidence the president colluded with the Russians at all, but we don’t know all the evidence yet.”

Only the FBI know all the evidence they have at this stage.

It is certainly very messy, but what are the chances that Trump will tidy up the mess rather than make it worse?

Trump is even blaming his own press team now.

Wall Street Journal: Trump Weighs Shake-Up of Press Team

President blames team for failing to contain Comey controversy and hasn’t ruled out replacing Spicer

President Donald Trump is considering broad changes to his communications team and strategy, which he blames for failing to contain the controversy surrounding his firing of former FBI Director James Comey, according to multiple administration officials.

Among other moves, Mr Trump is again weighing replacing Press Secretary Shaun Spicer.

I’m not sure there will be many people willing to volunteer to take over from Spicer.

Trump has also suggested he may scrap the daily press briefings and hand out a two weekly printed statement instead. The press briefings have been done for about a century and it will raise eyebrows if they are scrapped, but currently they are of little use given how uninformed Spicer and his deputy have been, and/or how quickly the White House story keeps changing.

North Korean missile test

North Korea has successfully launched a test ballistic missile that could have a range of at least 4,000 km – two thirds of the distance to the US.

BBC: North Korea carries out new ballistic missile test

Japanese officials say the missile, which launched from north-western Kusong, reached an altitude of 2,000km.

The nature of the launch is still being determined, but analysts have said the test could suggest a longer range than previously tested devices.

The Japanese defence minister said it flew for about 30 minutes before falling in the Sea of Japan and could be a new type of missile.

Tomomi Inada said it covered a distance of about 700km (435 miles), reaching an altitude of more than 2,000km (1,245 miles) – higher than that reached by an intermediate-range missile North Korea fired in February.

If the Japanese analysis of the trajectory is right (that the missile reached an altitude of 2,000km), North Korea appears to have advanced its technology markedly.

Experts quoted by Reuters say the altitude meant the missile was launched at a high trajectory, limiting the lateral distance it travelled. They say if it had been fired at a standard trajectory, it would have had a range of at least 4,000km.

The US Pacific Command said in a statement the type was being assessed but that its flight was not consistent with that of an ICBM, which would have the range to reach the US mainland (more than 6,000km).

This will raise concerns and tensions.

South Korea’s newly elected President Moon Jae-in, who is seeking deeper engagement with the North, said it was a “reckless provocation”.

The White House said President Donald Trump “cannot imagine Russia is pleased” because the missile did not land far from Russian territory.

A Kremlin spokesperson later said Russian President Vladimir Putin was concerned by the test.

China, North Korea’s only major ally, called for restraint by “all relevant parties” in the wake of the latest test.

I’m not sure that either Kim Jong-un or Donald Trump are able or willing to exercise restraint, at least with their rhetoric.

 

 

The defences of Trump

There are some staunch defenders of Donald Trump – they think he is doing great things or will do great things, and they do the old ‘attack as defence’ thing when Trump’s behaviour or actions are criticised, a common tactic of Trump himself.

Hillary Clinton has been pretty much written off as a failure, I don’t see anyone trying to defend her poor presidential campaign regardless of the influence of things like media misadventure, possible Russian interference, the Wikileaks campaign and Comey’s intervention.

Any of those things could have worked for or against Clinton. There was a good example of that in New Zealand’s 2014 election where Nicky Hager and Kim Dotcom probably enhanced more than damaged the incumbent National government’s chances.

But there are very mixed views of Trump, from strong criticism and attacks against him to strong support and defence. Defending some of what he does is understandable but seeing no wrong in him and seeing everything wrong with any criticism seems odd.

Maybe I’m just different, I’ve never staunchly or wholly supported or defended any politician, nor wholly or bitterly attacked any.

Christ Stirewalt at Fox News: Defenders or enablers?

Let’s start at the beginning: The president of the United States said that part of his reason for firing the top federal investigator was his handling of a criminal probe into the president’s election campaign.

In the same interview with NBC News, President Trump even said that he had asked former FBI Director James Comey whether the investigation was targeted at the president himself.

No matter what, these are serious and significant developments. If you find yourself dismissing them or focusing on misplaced partisan reactions to them, you are doing no service to Trump or the country.

Full stop.

Does anyone disagree with that?

In life and in politics there is a line between defending someone and enabling them. What is happening these days with Trump and his core supporters is getting way past defense.

In the end, if Trump is proven right, and there was no information sharing or collusion between his campaign and Kremlin-allied entities, the president’s intemperate comments will not add up to much.

All this will have been is a sorry incident in which a frustrated commander in chief lashed out against his critics, making his reputation and his staff collateral damage in the process. Also harmed will have been Trump’s agenda and the already weak bonds of trust between him and his fellow Republicans in Congress.

And that’s the best case scenario.

The darker side of the street looks like this: Democrats retake the House in 2018, investigators find that one of Trump’s underlings had been in cahoots with Putinists and Trump’s remark to Lester Holt “when I decided to [fire Comey], I said to myself, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story,” would surely make it into the articles of impeachment.

This is deadly serious stuff.

Shouldn’t we, or at least the US public, at least know whether things really do not add up to much or if there are darker things at play?

Whether Trump was frustrated by not getting adequate credit for toppling Comey, a man he clearly had come to despise, or if Trump did not understand the legal and communications necessities of the moment doesn’t matter. Whatever the reason, Trump harmed himself, his party and his agenda.

The undisciplined, erratic approach to a scandal that represents mortal peril for this presidency is not primarily the fault of bad staff work, the “lying press” or Democrats. It is primarily the fault of a president who steadfastly refuses to empower his staff, show respect for the separation of powers or exhibit patience.

Not everyone will see it that way.

I think that there is no doubt that Trump has been far from perfect as president, and potentially less perfect than most presidents. I think it’s odd that some seem to see no wrong in what he has done, but that seems to be how the view it.

No one in New Zealand is in a position to enable Donald Trump, but there are some fairly staunch defenders. Some of what he has done and is achieving is defend-able, but refusing to consider any fault or misstep and attacking and labelling any critics of some fairly contentious behaviour and actions seems odd.

Perhaps it’s just an example of ow people perceive and react in politics.

Trump tapes?

Donald Trump has at best made a threat to James Comey about tapes that don’t exist – a trumped up threat. But if as he implied he taped a conversation between himself and the then FBI director then Trump has created a bigger problem for himself.

It was resistance to hand over tapes that got Richard Nixon into a lot of trouble – for a recap of Watergate see Five Reasons the Comey Affair Is Worse Than Watergate. That points out “It’s always the cover-up, never the crime”.

Trump isn’t at that stage yet but is digging a hole furiously (intended double meaning).

RealClear Politics: Trump Creates Tempest With Tweet About ‘Tapes’

Has President Trump secretly taped conversations in the White House?

Few in Washington would have thought to raise that question at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on Friday, but the president raised the possibility in a tweet aimed at former FBI Director James Comey.

Adding to the intrigue, especially among Democratic lawmakers who asked the White House for explanations, were a string of non-denial, “No comment” answers offered by Trump and his spokesman.

During a week in which some observers likened Trump’s behavior to Richard Nixon, whose abuses of power were captured by a secret taping system that eventually led to his resignation, the president’s mention of “tapes” and then his refusal to deny taping people in the White House was stunning.

“Well, that I can’t talk about. I won’t talk about that,” the president told interviewer Jeanine Pirro of Fox News, known as Judge Jeanine. “All I want is for Comey to be honest. And I hope he will be. I’m sure he will be. I hope.”

“The president has no further comment,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicertold reporters. “The tweet speaks for itself.”

Was the president trying to threaten the man he fired on Tuesday to keep silent? “That’s not a threat,” Spicer said.

But people who may matter don’t see it that way.

Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which is investigating the Russia connections to last year’s election, called Trump’s tweet “extraordinary.”

“If the president has `tapes’ of his conversations with Director Comey, it is because the president himself made them. For a president who baselessly accused his predecessor of illegally wiretapping him, that Mr. Trump would suggest that he, himself, may have engaged in such conduct is staggering,” he said in a statement.

“The president should immediately provide any such recordings to Congress or admit, once again, to have made a deliberately misleading – and in this case threatening – statement,” he added.

Democratic Reps. John Conyers of the House Judiciary Committee and Elijah Cummings of the House Oversight panel said Trump’s rhetoric, tweets and reported actions “raise the specter of possible intimidation and obstruction of justice.” They asked the White House to respond by May 25 to describe the existence of any secret tapes, a taping system and copies of audio recordings.

But they are Democrats and may be thwarted by Republicans.

Trump is well known to have taped conversations as a businessman, but there is concern he has continued those practices as president.

As a New York businessman, Trump was accustomed to safeguarding his public relations and legal interests by taping interchanges with the consent of other parties, including some who taped him simultaneously. Whether Trump imported that practice to his presidency was left unclear on Friday.

Litigious himself, and familiar with being the target of litigation, Trump did not want his words mischaracterized or invented. Taping conversations became a showy form of insurance.

Biographer Gwenda Blair, speaking with RealClearPolitics, recalled that Trump “routinely pulled out his own tape recorder when being interviewed by reporters, including me.”

“I had a tape recorder, but the implication was this was a precaution to make double sure I quoted him accurately,” said Blair, author of “The Trumps: Three Generations of Builders and a President.”

“And clearly it was meant as a pre-emptive and intimidating move,” she added, “as were the boilerplate letters I got from his lawyers threatening me with legal consequences if I wrote anything libelous or inaccurate.”

But threatening someone he has just fired with the implication of having recordings, or have taken recordings of conversations with Comey when he headed the FBI, is seen as dirty business if done by the president.

What is clear is that Trump broached the protection of taped conversations in the context of his firing of Comey. And he has been obsessed with U.S. government surveillance aimed at Russian targets last year that swept some of his associates, including Michael Flynn, into the intelligence net.

In the modern presidency, even the preservation of delicate diplomatic telephone conversations with foreign heads of state involves the use of trained note takers, not audio recordings.

Trump’s campaign team may or may not have colluded with Russians. We may or may not find out definitively whether they did or not.

But Trumps actions in response to ongoing FBI investigations are increasingly raising suspicions about whether he is trying to hide something – or whether he is competent enough to be president.

Whatever may have been done during the campaign, the campaign itself, and the ongoing fallout, is further degrading credibility in US democracy.

And Trump is doing nothing to turn poor perceptions around. He is greasing the slippery slope.

Trump warns Comey and attacks media

The Donald Trump sacking of FBI Director James Comey is escalating after the reasons for the termination have kept changing, and Trump appears to be unhappy with the bad press.

The sacking is said to be because he was getting increasingly irate with Comey and with media coverage of investigations into Russian collusion with Trumps presidential campaign.

Now Trump seems to be getting even more irate with the media for covering the debacle.

  • Then the President came for the media.
  • Then the President came for the FBI.
  • Then the President came for the media again.

CBS News: Sean Spicer faces first White House briefing since Comey’s firing

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Friday is giving his first briefing since President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, as questions about the timing and reasoning behind Mr. Trump’s shocking decision mount.

Mr. Trump suggested Friday morning over Twitter that maybe “it would be best to cancel” the White House press briefings, after Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders gave an account of the decision to fire Comey that was in direct conflict with what Mr. Trump said later.

Spicer has been at the Pentagon fulfilling his Naval Reserve duty, and was supposed to continue work at the Pentagon Friday, but was called back to the White House. The president suggested, again over Twitter, that because he’s such “a very active President,” that his surrogates can’t speak for him “with perfect accuracy.”

The White House has claimed Mr. Trump fired Comey because he lost the confidence of rank-and-file FBI employees and because of a Tuesday recommendation from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to fire Comey over his handling of the Clinton email investigation.

But Mr. Trump himself has contradicted initial statements (as well as his own termination letter of Comey), claiming he was going to fire Comey regardless of any DOJ recommendation and that when he decided to fire Comey, he thought of the “made-up” story about his connections to Russia.

Earlier this year, the president also asked Comey to pledge his loyalty. Comey responded that he could promise that he’d be honest with him.

Mr. Trump’s account of the dinner differs from Comey’s, and earlier Friday, he tweeted that Comey had “better hope that there are no ‘tapes.‘”

Comey was leading the investigation into Russian election meddling.

Fox News: It was all Trump’s decision: POTUS changes White House narrative on Comey firing

When President Trump sat down with Lester Holt yesterday, he essentially altered the version of James Comey’s firing that his top aides have been pressing in public.

“I was going to fire regardless of recommendation,” he told the NBC anchor. The recommendation in question was a two-page memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who had been on the job for two weeks.

Rosenstein is “highly respected,” Trump said, “he made a recommendation, but regardless of recommendation I was going to fire Comey” (who he called a “showboat” and a “grandstander”).

At Wednesday’s press briefing, Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked: “So it’s the White House’s assertion that Rod Rosenstein decided on his own, after being confirmed, to review Comey’s performance?”

“Absolutely,” she replied. “And I think most of America had decided on their own that Director Comey was not the person that should be leading the FBI.”

But if the president asked for a review to buttress a move he planned to take anyway, then Rosenstein’s letter isn’t the crucial document that was being advertised.

Sanders told ABC’s Jon Karl yesterday she hadn’t had the chance to ask the president that question about whether he had already made up his mind. “Nobody was in the dark…You’re trying to create this false narrative,” she said.

None of this affects the core question of whether the president acted properly in canning his FBI director. But it does underscore that the administration’s rollout of this controversial decision has been shaky.

The media narrative has moved on to whether the White House is engaging in some kind of coverup, with newspaper accounts challenging some of the administration’s key points.

And that is upsetting Trump, further raising suspicions that he is trying to hide something.

NY Times: Trump Warns Comey and Says He May Cancel Press Briefings

President Trump on Friday warned James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director he fired this week, against leaking anything negative about the president and put the news media on notice that he may cancel future White House briefings.

In a series of early-morning posts on Twitter, Mr. Trump even seemed to suggest that there may be secret tapes of his conversations with Mr. Comey that could be used to counter the former F.B.I. director if necessary. It was not immediately clear whether he meant that literally, or simply hoped to intimidate Mr. Comey into silence.

“James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter.

Mr. Trump appeared agitated over news reports on Friday that focused on contradictory accounts of his decision to fire Mr. Comey at the same time the F.B.I. is investigating ties between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia.

A self inflicted train wreck by Trump. It was only a matter of time before his reactive behaviour and ego would escalate – at least this is happening on internal matters and not in the Far East or the Middle East.

The presidency could be in a state of failure, but Foreign Policy goes further and asks Is America a Failing State?

We have the tin-pot leader whose vanity knows no bounds. We have the rapacious family feathering their nests without regard for the law or common decency.

We have utter disregard for values at home and abroad, the disdain for democracy, the hunger for constraining a free press, the admiration for thugs and strongmen worldwide.

We have all the makings of a banana republic. But worse, we are showing the telltale signs of a failing state. Our government has ceased to function. Party politics and gross self-interest has rendered the majority party oblivious to its responsibilities to its constituents and the Constitution of the United States.

On a daily basis, Republicans watch their leader violate not only the traditions and standards of the high office he occupies, but through inaction they enable him to personally profit from the presidency, promote policies that benefit his cronies and his class to the detriment of the majority of the American people, and serially attack the principles on which the country was founded — from freedom of religion to the separation of powers.

Is it that bad? It is looking increasingly like that.

Trump has had staunch supporters but some of those must be starting to wonder whether he is unfit for purpose.

 

The sense of chaos in US politics

If President Trump thought that firing FBI director James Comey would bury his Russian problem he seems to have been mistaken.

Washington Post: Why Trump’s efforts to shake his Russia problem only make it worse

New questions are arising in the wake of his sudden decision to can FBI Director James B. Comey, along with revived calls for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the question of Russian influence in last year’s election and the Kremlin’s connections to Trump’s presidential campaign.

“The only thing that is guaranteed right now is that the sense of chaos will continue, not only in law enforcement but also in Congress,” said GOP strategist Kevin Madden, a veteran of Capitol Hill and the Justice Department. “Every single lawmaker in the House and Senate is going to be pressured to take a stance.”

Of course, the surest way to end the controversy would be through a credible investigation that comes to a definite conclusion about the methods and extent of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether it involved improper dealings with people close to Trump.

White House officials maintain that Comey’s firing had nothing to do with his agency’s Russia investigation but, rather, with his handling of the probe into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Yet Trump’s letter terminating Comey alluded to the questions surrounding his own administration (“While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation …”) and made no mention of the FBI director’s much-criticized decisions involving Clinton.

Fox News: McCabe says FBI call not to prosecute Clinton angered some agents, defends Comey

New Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe acknowledged for the first time in public testimony Thursday that some agents were angry with the 2016 decision not to prosecute Hillary Clinton – while also defending ousted Director James Comey’s overall standing at the bureau.

“I think morale’s always been good, but there were folks within our agency that were frustrated with the outcome of the Hillary Clinton case and some of those folks were very vocal about those concerns,” McCabe testified.

While he noted the anger over that decision, he also pushed back on White House claims that Comey had lost confidence from rank-and-file staff in the agency.

“I can tell you also that Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day,” he testified, adding that many staff held a “deep, positive connection” with him.

That won’t help Trump or the White House. Neither will Trump by the sounds of his reaction.

Fox News: Trump: Comey a ‘grandstander,’ ‘showboat’

That’s rather ironic coming from Trump.

President Trump on Thursday called fired FBI Director James Comey a “showboat” and “grandstander” who Trump intended to fire regardless of any recommendation from the Justice Department.

Trump, speaking to NBC News, gave his first in-depth remarks since the stunning ousting of Comey on Tuesday evening.

“Look he’s a showboat, he’s a grandstander,” Trump said. “The FBI has been in turmoil. You know that, I know that. Everybody knows that. You take a look at the FBI a year ago, it was in virtual turmoil – less than a year ago. It hasn’t recovered from that.”

Trump said he had planned to fire Comey for some time, but “there’s no good time to do it by the way.”

So Trump has taken responsibility for the firing, after initially implying he was acting on the advice of the Justice Department.

And Trump isn’t helped by his media staff. It’s hard to know how long the hapless Sean Spicer will keep trying to defend the mess without having any idea what trump will himself come out with.

And this lame diversion won’t help either: Kellyanne Conway Implies Anderson Cooper’s Eye Roll Was Sexist

On Tuesday, Kellyanne Conway made a triumphant return to the airwaves to discuss the circumstances around President Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey. When Anderson Cooper showed her several clips of then-candidate Trump praising Comey, Conway responded with, “You’re conflating two things that don’t belong together.” She went on to discuss Trump’s strategy in Michigan…

…conflating two things that don’t belong together…

— at which point Cooper rolled his eyes dramatically:

Conway responded to the eye roll on Thursday during an appearance on Fox & Friends. And naturally, she linked it to sexism.

“Hillary Clinton is in search of sexism as a lame excuse for why her disastrous candidacy and campaign lost six months ago,” she said. “[But] I face sexism a lot of times when I show up for interviews like that.”

She went on, “Could you imagine … having a male anchor on the network roll eyes at Hillary Clinton [or at] a female spokesperson for President Obama or President Bill Clinton? I think not.”

It wasn’t her gender that he rolled his eyes at.

 

One word describing Trump

What word first comes to mind when you think about Donald Trump?

More about that later.

The latest RCP average approval for Trump is swinging against him again after the Syrian missile attack, North Korean tough talk and Afghanistan big bomb bump subsides.

It is now 42.1% approve to 52.9% disapprove.

Quinnipiac is worse than that, with their latest poll showing Trump on 36% approve and 58% disapprove. See Quinnipiac University Poll

May 10, 2017 – U.S. Voters Send Trump Approval To Near Record Low; Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds; No Winner In Media War, But Voters Trust Media More

American voters disapprove 58 – 37 percent of the way the news media covers Trump.

Voters disapprove 65 – 31 percent of the way Trump talks about the media.

And voters trust the media more than Trump 57 – 31 percent to tell the truth about important issues.

Trump’s first 100 days in office have been “mainly a failure,” 58 percent of voters say, while 38 percent say they have been “mainly a success.”

By a 54 – 38 percent margin, American voters want the Democratic Party to win control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

They also asked:

9. What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of Donald Trump? (Numbers are not percentages. Figures show the number of times each response was given. This table reports only words that were mentioned at least five times.)

idiot         39
incompetent   31
liar          30
leader        25
unqualified   25
president     22
strong        21
businessman   18
ignorant      16
egotistical   15
asshole       13
stupid        13
arrogant      12
trying        12
bully         11
business      11
narcissist    11
successful    11
disgusting    10
great         10
clown          9
dishonest      9
racist         9
American       8
bigot          8
good           8
money          8
smart          8
buffoon        7
con-man        7
crazy          7
different      7
disaster       7
rich           7
despicable     6
dictator       6
aggressive     5
blowhard       5
decisive       5
embarrassment  5
evil           5
greedy         5
inexperienced  5
mental         5
negotiator     5
patriotism     5