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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Did Trump jump the shark?

by digby

I wrote about the big story for Salon this morning:

I had already written about two thirds of a column about the Propublica scoop regarding FBI Director James Comey'smisstatements about Huma Abedin's emails in his testimony before congress last week when the breaking news hit that President Trump had summarily fired him ostensibly because he had mishandled the Clinton email investigation. So much for that column. After everything Comey had done to help Trump, this was unexpected to say the least. You'd think the president would be more grateful.

Nobody saw it coming. Indeed, it turned out that Comey himself found out that he was fired when he was speaking to some FBI employees in Los Angeles when the news appeared on the TV behind him. He thought it was a joke. The letter firing Comey had not even been delivered to the FBI headquarters by Trump's personal bodyguard Keith Schiller yet.

According to Dana Bash on CNN, the White House was completely surprised by the horrified reaction, having expected that they would be applauded by the Democrats because they cleverly used the Clinton case as their rationale. In fact, former Clinton campaign staffer Karen Finney said on All In with Chris Hayes, the Justice Department seems to have used Clinton campaign documents and quotes from newspaper op-eds, as the basis for their argument recommending Comey's dismissal. Everyone who knows how the DOJ works says that slap-dash document is highly unusual.

Needless to say, this was a ludicrously lame tactic. However angry Democrats may have been at Comey's interference during the election, and rightfully so, firing him in the middle of the Russian investigation was certainly not something they would ever applaud. If they thought this move would do anything but ratchet up the inquisition they are even more incompetent than we knew.

No one will ever believe that Donald Trump fired James Comey because he inappropriately discussed the Clinton case publicly during the campaign. Donald Trump made hay of Comey's comments hundreds of times in his rallies. His convention was a slavering witch hunt based largely on the dark implications of Comey's comments.

But when the FBI director dropped his stink bomb about the Huma Abedin emails on October 28th, this is what Trump said on the trail:
“It took guts for Director Comey to make the move that he made in light of the kind of opposition he had where they’re trying to protect her from criminal prosecution. You know that. It took a lot of guts. “What he did, he brought back his reputation. He brought it back.”
After his inauguration he blew kisses at Comey in the White House and assured everyone of his unshakable faith in his integrity.

Recently, however, Trump has been angry with Comey all over again.

Trump himself made it clear that while they pretended to be concerned with Comey's handling of the Clinton case, he was concerned with the Russian investigation as well. In the letter he sent to Comey he spilled the beans:
While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.
Unless there's some other investigation we don't know about, that comment referred to the Russian election.

If it's true that Comey reassured him that he wasn't under investigation, Trump would have been smarter to fire Comey for doing that since such a communication is an egregious violation of Justice Department rules.

It's possible Trump mentioned these reassurances to place a superficial band-aid against charges that he fired someone who was investigating him personally. The public won't buy that any more than they will buy the idea that he's concerned about Comey's "gratuitous" smearing of Clinton last July as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein charged in the memo on which Comey's firing is allegedly based.

We don't know why Trump changed his mind about James Comey and suddenly decided he had to go but it's a fair assumption that he's concerned about the Russia investigation. Yesterday, the Senate Intelligence Committee requested documents from the treasury department about the Trump team's financial ties to Russia. And last night CNN reported that a Grand Jury had issued subpoenas to associates of Michael Flynn. This issue is obviously getting hotter by the minute.

The New York Times reported that "Senior White House and Justice Department officials had been working on building a case against Mr. Comey since at least last week" and that "Mr Sessions had been charged with coming up with reasons to fire him." Sessions recused himself from the Trump-Russia investigations so they only alluded to that in Trump's strange letter. But during his confirmation hearings Sessions also recused himself from the Clinton email case. Therefore, he should have had nothing at all to do with this event. And yet he did. This fact has not received much notice but one assumes he will be questioned about it at some point.

The Trump administration has done everything they could think of to derail this Russia investigation from firing Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and US Attorney Preet Bahraha to employing the hapless congressman Devin Nunes to distract the press with a three ring circus around Trump's fantasy tweet that President Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower. They got Republicans in congress to shriek about leaks and "un-masking" both of which they were perfectly fine with until now. They smeared Susan Rice and President Obama. Now this.

I do wonder if one of the reasons they fell upon the excuse that Comey mishandled the Clinton case was to give them a reason to re-open that case. The condemnation of Comey in the DOJ memo could easily be read as criticism that he failed to indict her if you wanted to see it that way.  Certainly, that's what Trump has always thought. Considering the White House's increasingly frantic efforts to sidetrack and mislead, I wouldn't be surprised to see them try to do it. The one thing his loyal fans would love more than anything else would be if he followed up on his promise to "lock her up."