That crisis feeling
The Donald Trump haters started talking impeachment before Day 1. That was far-fetched.
Now? Not as much.
On the heels of the Trump-blabbing-secrets-to-Russians bombshell comes a Mother Of All Bombs. Former FBI Director James Comey said Trump asked him to drop his investigation of dismissed National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia, The New York Times reported and others confirmed.
“I hope you can let this go,” the president told Comey, according to the memo Comey wrote after a meeting with Trump in the Oval Office in February. Three months later, Comey was let go.
It could be the start of a case for obstruction of justice. And that’s impeachable.
A senior White House official who declined to be identified pushed back on the report, calling it “not a truthful or accurate portrayal” of the conversation.
Take their word for it? Didn’t Trump tweet on May 12, after several radical mutations of the White House story on Comey’s firing, that “perfect accuracy” should not be expected from his surrogates? Yes. Yes he did.
See Emily Ngo’s story for Newsday.
How bad is it?
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the Trump scandals have reached a “Watergate size and scale.”
Comey, tell your story
A few weeks ago, Republicans in Congress rode a bus to the White House to celebrate House passage of a health bill. They’re not ready to throw Trump beneath it, but they want answers.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said that if the Comey memo exists, “I need to see it sooner rather than later. I have my subpoena pen ready.” House Speaker Paul Ryan endorsed the move.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) wants Comey to testify before the Judiciary Committee. “I think it would be good for him if he did. It would be good for the country,” he said.
The House Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, said the report paints an “alarming portrait of a president potentially interfering with, or worse, obstructing, the progress of the Russia investigation.”
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor, “The country is being tested in unprecedented ways. I say to all of my colleagues in the Senate: History is watching.”
The take-away: It’s serious
Newsday’s Dan Janison raises some of the skeptical questions that abound: Would Comey have kept this to himself if Trump had not canned him last week? Can it be corroborated? Will anyone produce the notes for congressional or public review? Will there be a criminal case against Flynn?
But if true, Comey’s account casts fresh doubt on the president’s respect for the law and his oath, as well as his behavior. It puts in a potentially sinister light on his tweet that Comey had better hope there are no “tapes” of their conversation -- during which Trump claims Comey told him he wasn’t an FBI target.
Trump’s dishing to the Russians about classified terror intelligence from a foreign ally was “wholly appropriate,” said National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.
So why did another White House counterterror official, Thomas Bossert, reach out to the chiefs of the CIA and the NSA to alert them about what Trump had shared?
“I would say maybe it’s from an overabundance of precaution,” McMaster told reporters.
Caution doesn’t seem to have been abundant otherwise. McMaster said Trump didn’t know the origins of the intelligence on ISIS plotting laptop bomb attacks on aircraft. He also indicated that the revelation was spur of the moment -- there was no prior discussion with national security officials on what Trump would let out.
In a series of morning tweets, Trump said he had an “absolute right” and justification to give Russia what he did -- “Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”
The New York Times reported some of the intel came from Israel. Trump’s disclosure to Russian diplomats last week raises the concern that Moscow could share the information with Iran, its ally and Israel’s enemy.
ABC News reported U.S. officials fear a spy placed by Israel inside ISIS is at risk.
Man from Vlad
This led Rep. Adam Schiff (D-California), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, to say: "Probably the last person the president needs to vouch for him right now is Vladimir Putin."
How that’s playing
McCain said: “Reports that this information was provided by a U.S. ally and shared without its knowledge sends a troubling signal to America’s allies and partners around the world, and may impair their willingness to share intelligence with us in the future.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell accepted McMaster’s defense of Trump’s talk with the Russians, but said, “I think we could do with a little less drama from the White House on a lot of things so we can focus on our agenda.”
Schumer said the White House should show an unedited transcript of Trump’s meeting with the Russians to congressional intelligence committees immediately -- otherwise Americans “will rightly doubt if POTUS can handle our nation’s most closely kept secrets.”
Like a prayer, not a policy
McMaster sidestepped questions about whether Jerusalem’s Western Wall is part of Israel ahead of Trump’s planned visit to the Old City next week.
Trump will say a prayer next week at the wall, which is revered as the holiest site where Jews can pray, McMaster said. Asked if Trump thinks the wall is part of Israel, he replied only: “That sounds like a policy decision.”
According to reports in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked to join Trump at the wall, but the United States declined, with one official telling the Israelis that the site is “not your territory.”
What else is happening
- Trump had another request for Comey in that February meeting, according to the Times story -- consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information.
- If Flynn resists a Senate Intelligence Committee subpoena, a court battle could go on for years, Politico reports.
- Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who gave Trump a rationale (besides the Russia probe) for firing Comey, told a Baltimore business Monday his top concern is defending the Constitution, not “my personal reputation.”
- Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) took himself out of the running as Comey’s replacement. “Now more than ever, the country needs a well-credentialed, independent FBI director,” his statement said.
- Trump’s first foreign trip as president will also take him to Saudi Arabia, where he plans to address 50 leaders from Muslim-majority countries in an “inspiring but direct speech on the need to confront radical ideology,” McMaster said.
- Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle told California’s Bay Area News Group that she is in talks with the Trump administration about replacing Spicer as press secretary. But Fox News said later she is “under long-term contract.”
- A statement from Kellyanne Conway, responding a day after MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” hosts said she confided distaste for Trump last year, said, “I respect him, I believe in him” -- and she didn’t serve his campaign for the money. The statement did not address Mika Brzezinski’s recollection that Conway said she needed a shower after defending him.
- A Vanity Fair piece by William D. Cohan says of the view on Wall Street: "Trump’s mercurial behavior is concerning nearly everyone that I’ve spoken to who is in the business of making money from money."
- All the drama obviously raises further doubts for now about the viability of the Trump-GOP legislative agenda.