17 May 2017

President Trump, you’ve asked for a daily one-page briefing. So here it is, the evaluation by Newsday’s editorial board of your state of play.

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  • You’re in trouble again. This crisis may not pass as quickly as the others. Just as the nation reverberates from the news that you divulged classified information to Russian officials in the Oval Office, another bombshell has hit.

The New York Times reported, and other media outlets confirmed, that in February you asked James Comey, the FBI director you fired a week ago, to stop the federal investigation into Michael Flynn for his dealings with Russia. You are denying that it happened.

If Comey’s memo is accurate, it very well could be one more element of a disturbing scenario of obstructing justice, a pattern that began with the firing of Acting Attorney General Sally Yates just one week into your administration and continued with Comey’s firing.

  • Don’t dismiss this as a partisan attack. Many of your fellow Republicans are dismayed, others distraught. Even before the Comey story hit, Sen. Bob Corker said your White House is in a “downward spiral,” with a “lack of discipline” creating chaos. Now you must seek the advice of some very wise counsel to handle this firestorm — hopefully, someone who would have told you not to meet alone with the FBI director when his agency is investigating people close to you. If nothing else, your top staff is guilty of malpractice.
  • Until the facts around the Comey memo are clarified, don’t name a new FBI director. And if there is an even more detailed paper trail, as Comey’s associates claim, the new FBI director will be the least of your problems. Supporting the appointment of a special prosecutor might be the quickest way to gain some credibility.
  • Regarding the classified information about the Islamic State: You’re right to want to keep people from being blown up on planes, the terrorist plot you apparently discussed with the Russians. But these complex issues must be dealt with in sophisticated ways. Russia isn’t our ally. If you want to tell the Russians, or anyone, something classified, talk to the National Security Agency and the CIA first and get clearance. Saying you can declassify information whenever you want doesn’t mean you should do it.
  • You haven’t grasped the job yet. You want to be a disrupter, and America wanted someone to shake things up. But nothing positive is coming from that. You wouldn’t have tolerated these kinds of results from one of your apprentices; you should expect more of yourself now. Not everything is a P.R. problem. Some things are problems on their merits. Change the decisions and you change your press.
  • You’re getting ready for your first trip. You’re visiting Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican, and talking to NATO officials in Brussels and the leaders of the G-7 nations in Sicily. It’s an important moment. You’ll be away from home for a while, which you don’t like, and your schedule is packed. Be smart. You have wide latitude on foreign affairs. Don’t exploit that freedom just because you have it; freedom entails responsibility.
  • You need more competent people around you. You need to learn what you don’t know. And above all, you have to start telling the truth.