Opinion from The Washington Post — Written by Greg Sargent —
Now that James B. Comey’s testimony to Congress has painted a picture of President Trump’s contempt for the rule of law that’s far more forceful and persuasive in its dramatic details than Republicans ever bargained for, the new and emerging GOP defense is that Trump is a political and procedural naif. He merely needs to learn the rules. This line of obfuscation requires pretending that many of the events of the past six months never happened.
But this spin from Republicans has a significance that runs deeper than merely revealing the absurd lengths to which they’ll go to protect Trump from political and legal harm. More urgently, their new line unwittingly reveals the degree to which Trump’s abuses of power and assault on our democracy have depended all along upon their tacit and willful complicity — and, perhaps worse, it leaves little doubt that this enabling will continue, with unforeseen consequences.
This strategy takes various forms. Paul Ryan casts Trump’s interactions with Comey as a mere matter of inexperience. “The president’s new at this,” Ryan says, adding that Trump “probably wasn’t steeped in the long-running protocols” that under our system establish law enforcement’s independence from the White House. Others ground the argument in Trump’s business past or affection for the theatrics of disruption. “He’s used to being the CEO,” insists one House Republican. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) adds that Trump is merely being “crude, rude and a bull in a china shop.”
But Republicans making this argument are dishonestly feigning naivete about much of what we’ve seen from Trump since the beginning of his presidency. The problem with the idea that Trump merely needs to learn the rules is that we have a large pile of evidence showing that Trump is deeply convinced that the rules should not apply to him.
President Trump’s declaration that the Thursday testimony of former FBI director James B. Comey was a “total and complete vindication” despite “so many false statements and lies” was the sort of brashly triumphant and loosely-grounded-in-reality statement we’ve come to expect from the commander in chief. It was news that came out a bit later, news about plans to file a complaint against Comey for a revelation he made during that Senate Intelligence Committee hearing meeting, that may end up being more damaging to the president.
CNN and Fox first reported that Trump’s outside counsel, Marc Kasowitz, plans to file complaints with the inspector general of the Justice Department and the Senate Judiciary Committee about Comey’s testimony. At issue was Comey’s revelation that he provided a memo documenting a conversation with Trump to a friend to be shared with the New York Times.
The nation’s top intelligence official told associates in March that President Trump asked him if he could intervene with then-FBI Director James B. Comey to get the bureau to back off its focus on former national security adviser Michael Flynn in its Russia probe, according to officials.
On March 22, less than a week after being confirmed by the Senate, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats attended a briefing at the White House together with officials from several government agencies. As the briefing was wrapping up, Trump asked everyone to leave the room except for Coats and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
The president then started complaining about the FBI investigation and Comey’s handling of it, said officials familiar with the account Coats gave to associates. Two days earlier, Comey had confirmed in a congressional hearing that the bureau was probing whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russia during the 2016 race.
After the encounter, Coats discussed the conversation with other officials and decided that intervening with Comey as Trump had suggested would be inappropriate, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal matters.
From ABC News — Written by Mark Levine
In the dead of winter several months ago — before either one officially joined the Justice Department — Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein met to discuss replacing James Comey as FBI director. Then in a February meeting at the White House, Rosenstein and President Donald Trump further “discussed” Comey’s “deeply troubling” and “serious mistakes,” Rosenstein wrote in his now-infamous letter recommending that Comey be fired.
But it turns out Rosenstein and Sessions never discussed such concerns with one key person: Comey himself.
Specifically, according to sources familiar with the matter, at no point in the weeks and months before Comey’s termination did Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein or Attorney General Sessions tell Comey they were uneasy about his leadership or upset over what Rosenstein later called Comey’s “mistaken” decision to announce the results of the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server last year.
The failure to flag any such concerns to Comey before terminating him is part of what makes the former FBI director feel so blindsided. It’s also part of the story he’s planning to tell lawmakers next week when — barring a last-minute schedule change — he testifies publicly for the first time about his axing, and about alleged collusion between Trump associates and elements of the Russian government to influence last year’s presidential election.
As one source put it: He’s “angry,” and he wants the public to understand why.
From The New York Times — Written by Barry Meier and Jesse Drucker — Image courtesy of Simon Dawson/Bloomberg
Oleg V. Deripaska, a Russian oligarch once close to President Trump’s former campaign manager, has offered to cooperate with congressional committees investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election, but lawmakers are unwilling to accept his conditions, according to congressional officials.
Mr. Deripaska’s offer comes amid increased attention to his ties to Paul Manafort, who is one of several Trump associates under F.B.I. scrutiny for possible collusion with Russia during the presidential campaign. The two men did business together in the mid-2000s, when Mr. Manafort, a Republican operative, was also providing campaign advice to Kremlin-backed politicians in Ukraine. Their relationship subsequently soured and devolved into a lawsuit.
From The Washington Post — Written by Ellen Nakashima, Adam Entous, and Greg Miller — Image courtesy of Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post
Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.
Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, son-in-law and confidant to then-President-elect Trump, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.
The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.
The White House disclosed the meeting only in March, playing down its significance. But people familiar with the matter say the FBI now considers the encounter, as well as another meeting Kushner had with a Russian banker, to be of investigative interest.
Kislyak reportedly was taken aback by the suggestion of allowing an American to use Russian communications gear at its embassy or consulate — a proposal that would have carried security risks for Moscow as well as the Trump team.
From The Washington Post — Written by Amber Phillips — Image courtesy of Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post
The Washington Post’s national security team just reported that during the transition, Jared Kushner proposed to the Russians that they set up a secret channel of communication using secure Russian facilities. That’s what the Russian ambassador to the United States told Moscow about a December conversation he had with Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser.
This is a damning piece of news for the White House caught under an avalanche of revelations about its dealings with Russia.
If it’s true, it’s the most difficult for them to explain in the context of an FBI investigation into Russia meddling in the U.S. election and whether Trump’s campaign helped. Why would Trump’s transition team need to secretly talk to the Russians, using their Russian channels?
The White House declined to comment.
Everything we’ve learned these past few weeks as it relates to the FBI’s investigation into Russia is noteworthy, but it can be caveated with a reasonable explanation from the Trump White House. This news is much more difficult to caveat.