Michael Crowley explains the story that has dominated Trump's presidency for the past few week; Trump vs Comey.
James Comey is an interesting dichotomy of a character. He is the man who Hillary Clinton credited with her ultimate loss in the 2016 election, but for many, he is their hopes for the defeat of Donald Trump. Comey is a hero to many, and a villain to the rest. Some consider him patriotic for his actions regarding Trump, others see him as part of a conspiracy to undo the President.
Trump is not easy to like, unless you project your own misfortunes onto the world, then I can understand your enjoyment in watching them burn. But for the rest of us, people who can see what the world is becoming right now, Trump is dangerous. He is a laughing stock, he is a dangerous addiction to schadenfreude (as video essayist Nerdwriter put it), he’s a buffoon with a massive military machine at his back. It’s difficult to believe that he could have a massive web of conspiracy behind his rise to power.
But this seems to be the case, or perhaps, it is certainly suggested to be the case.
It is very difficult to not interpret Trump’s actions as the desperate moves of a man who is running out of options. Three weeks into the Trump presidency, his National Security Advisor Michael Flynn resigned. His resignation was due to his contacts with the Russian Ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, during the transition period and him subsequently lying about those contacts to the then Vice President Elect Mike Pence. Apparently, both men discussed the lifting of sanctions on Russia, which the Obama administration had done shortly before the inauguration of Trump. This was illegal, as the transition team is forbidden from discussing policy of any kind with foreign agents during the transition. Flynn was caught out and had to resign.
That was not the end of Flynn’s headache for Trump, however. The Pentagon announced that they would be formally investigating him for receiving payments from Russia on April 27th. This bothered Trump to no end, and his previous betting card of his Attorney General Jeff Sessions being able to intervene was undone, by Sessions recusing himself from all investigations involving Russia. So, Trump called in another card, one that he thought he could play but which dangerously backfired.
This card was James Comey, then FBI director. According to memos written by Comey, Trump expected “loyalty” from him, although the FBI director had conceded “honest loyalty” which according to a CNN source close to Comey, didn’t mean anything to him. But if I may infer on Trump’s actions, it seemed to mean something to him. During an Oval Office meeting on counter terrorism on February 14th, Trump told the group that he wished to speak with Comey alone. When the two men were left alone, Trump began to speak about Michael Flynn. According to Comey’s written testimony made on the 8th of June: “He repeated that Flynn hadn't done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the Vice President. He then said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go." I replied only that "he is a good guy.”” He makes specific mention that he did not say he would let the investigation go.
Trump later fired Director Comey, under the pretence of him not agreeing with the director’s previous announcement of an FBI probe into Clinton’s private email server during the twilight days of the 2016 campaign. Besides this making no sense, Trump later claimed a different story, saying that he had fired Comey over the Russia investigation. Throughout the statement written by Comey before he was to testify before Congress, the director makes it clear that Trump wished the public to know that there was no investigation into Trump personally. In Trump’s last phone call to Comey it is mentioned, and it also appears in Trump’s letter to Comey demanding his resignation: “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation…” Trump seems to care a lot more about himself than the Flynn investigation. While he may have made it clear that he was not under investigation at that time, he certainly managed to change that only a few weeks later.
The incident in the Oval Office is the main crux of the obstruction of justice claims against Trump. Many people believe that such a statement towards Comey, with the setting and previous meetings considered, suggest that Trump intended on stopping a justified investigation into a formerly important official. By saying to Comey, with a bit of mafia-esque malevolence, “I hope you can let this go”, Trump intended on obstructing justice. Certainly, the special counsel created by the Deputy Attorney General believes this, as they are investigating Trump on that charge. The following few months will give us a conclusion to this story, one that has dominated the media since the day it began.
But while Trump and his goons are garnering the media spotlight, the Republicans are pushing ahead with their radical agenda. Already, they have repealed Dodd-Frank, one of very few banking regulations passed in the wake of the 2008 Financial Crisis, and are working to repeal the Affordable Care act and replace it with their own, much, much worse, health care bill. Trump may be the big silly man who can hold our attention for a very long time, but there are malevolent forces working behind him, pushing for a very radical agenda. They will only become more ambitious as the weeks go on, and it seems the internet is their next target.