TRUMP’S POLLING NUMBERS COLLAPSE: A new Quinnipiac poll finds President Trump with a near-record negative 36% to 58% job approval rating. Said pollster Tim Malloy: “There is no way to spin or sugarcoat these sagging numbers. The erosion of white men, white voters without college degrees and independent voters, the declaration by voters that President Donald Trump’s first 100 days were mainly a failure and deepening concerns about Trump’s honesty, intelligence and level headedness are red flags that the administration simply can’t brush away.”
THE FBI IS WORRIED ABOUT THE FUTURE OF THE RUSSIA TREASON INQUIRY: From the New York Times: “Agents said they were stunned that Mr. Trump would fire Mr. Comey in the midst of an F.B.I. investigation into whether any of the president’s associates had conspired with Russia to swing the election in favor of Mr. Trump. Some said in interviews that news of the firing felt like a gut punch. Others wondered whether they would be able to continue the inquiry.”
“One senior F.B.I. official said that the president had severely damaged his standing among agents, many of whom are conservative and supported Mr. Trump as a candidate. Agents were angered by the way Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey, who learned of his dismissal from television reports while he was in Los Angeles. They called it disrespectful.”
“And agents flatly rejected the assertion Wednesday by a White House spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee, during a briefing with reporters, that the F.B.I.’s rank-and-file supported the sudden firing of Mr. Comey.”
COMEY INVITED TO TESTIFY: “Ousted FBI Director James Comey has been invited to testify in a closed session next Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee,” Politico reports.
“The session would provide a first chance for Comey to weigh in on the circumstances of his firing and update senators behind closed doors on the status of the FBI’s investigation into allegations of coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.”
THE CHAOS AT THE WHITE HOUSE. From Jonathan Swan: “Sources at the White House described scenes of confusion in the hours following news of Trump firing Comey. Internally, at least at a fairly senior level, people were scrambling to figure out what happened. The firing was done in such haste that his own comms shop couldn’t catch up, and the vast majority of White House staff learned about it on TV when the news broke, per White House sources. There are reports of a meeting in Spicer’s office after they announced the news, which happened Chuck Schumer was on TV giving his response to the news of the firing.”
Said one official: “It’s insane. The whole thing is just insane.”
WHY TRUMP COMMITTED THE CRIME OF OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE: President Donald Trump “weighed firing his FBI director for more than a week. When he finally pulled the trigger Tuesday afternoon, he didn’t call James Comey. He sent his longtime private security guard to deliver the termination letter in a manila folder to FBI headquarters,” Politico reports.
“He had grown enraged by the Russia investigation, two advisers said, frustrated by his inability to control the mushrooming narrative around Russia. He repeatedly asked aides why the Russia investigation wouldn’t disappear and demanded they speak out for him. He would sometimes scream at television clips about the probe, one adviser said.”
David Ignatius: “The Comey putsch heightens the mystery at the center of the Flynn case: Why Trump didn’t react sooner to warnings about Flynn’s involvement with Russia. Why didn’t Trump listen to President Barack Obama’s caution against hiring him? Why did Trump wait 18 days before removing his national security adviser after urgent advice that Flynn could be blackmailed?”
“After Comey’s dismissal, critics are likely to examine more sharp-edged theories of the Flynn case and other Russia matters. One obvious possibility is that Trump didn’t take action earlier because he already knew about Flynn’s Dec. 29 discussion with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about sanctions, and knew that Flynn had misrepresented the Kislyak call to Vice President-elect Mike Pence.”
Mike Allen: “Republicans around town, and even some White House officials, tell me they’re baffled by President Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey in the middle of his Russia investigation — and with the explanation that it’s because of his handling of Hillary’s email, which Trump had praised him for in the past.”
“Even some White House officials believe that the likely result will be a special counsel, which Democrats are now pushing nearly in unison.”
Playbook: “Democrats and many Republicans are furious at Trump for firing the FBI director. Leave aside any lingering concerns with Jim Comey’s performance. The optics of firing Comey the way Trump did is almost too reckless to believe, according to the insiders we’ve spoken to. One senior Republican aide put it this way: It’s almost as if Trump was courting controversy with both parties by handling the situation the way he did.”
The AP reports that Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said last night that he told Trump in a phone conversation “You are making a big mistake.”
The Washington Post notes that White House press secretary Sean Spicer would only answer questions about the firing of FBI Director James Comey in the dark: “After Spicer spent several minutes hidden in the bushes behind these sets, Janet Montesi, an executive assistant in the press office, emerged and told reporters that Spicer would answer some questions, as long as he was not filmed doing so. Spicer then emerged.
“Just turn the lights off. Turn the lights off,” he ordered. “We’ll take care of this… Can you just turn that light off?”
Spicer got his wish and was soon standing in near darkness between two tall hedges, with more than a dozen reporters closely gathered around him. For 10 minutes, he responded to a flurry of questions, vacillating between light-hearted asides and clear frustration with getting the same questions over and over again.
Meanwhile, Deadline Hollywood reports that Melissa McCarthy is hosting Saturday Night Live this weekend.
Rick Klein: “In a presidency defined by the unprecedented, this is a big deal, bigger even than politics itself. These are republic-defining, Constitution-preserving stakes, courtesy of a president who has defied convention and tradition and pushed the boundaries of appropriate conduct so consistently that he has caused his motivations to be questioned even when circumstances don’t look anything like this.”
“In this case, though, President Trump would have us believe that he decided to dismiss FBI Director James Comey organically and innocently, based on sincere outrage about the way he handled the investigation that may have handed him the presidency. Trump fired Comey in the middle of an active, sprawling investigation into his campaign’s contacts and connections with Russia, an investigation that the president himself declared to be a ‘total hoax’ and a ‘taxpayer funded charade’ less than 24 hours earlier. Trump and his attorney general, who was supposed to have recused himself from all matters regarding Russia and Hillary Clinton, of course celebrated Comey’s actions back when they benefited their political cause, and are now throwing Democrats’ words blasting Comey back at him.”
“These are moments for truth and of truth for public servants, inside the Department of Justice, the Congress and even the White House, and regardless of political persuasion. Perhaps it all ends as it’s supposed to end, with a real investigation by an unimpeachable professional replacement at the FBI. Plus, Trump can’t fire Congress, at least not this easily. Trump distills almost everything to politics, the for-us-or-against-us combat in which he relishes. This now transcends that. At stake is the credibility of the federal government, period, end of story. The president doesn’t get to write the next chapter by himself.”
THIS MAY BE THE BEGINNING OF THE END OF THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION: From Frank Rich: Let’s assume the worst immediate scenario for the moment. That the Vichy Republicans in D.C. — whether Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, or the big-bark-no-bite John McCain and Lindsey Graham — either block or pocket veto the Democrats’ calls for an independent prosecutor. And that somehow Trump and Jeff Sessions (who claims to have recused himself from all matters Russian, but clearly has not) ram one of their personal toadies through the Senate as the next FBI director: Rudy Giuliani perhaps, or Michael Mukasey, or, heaven knows, Jeanine Pirro. Nonetheless, the new director’s attempts to further derail the ongoing investigation will be met with revolt by the career professionals within the organization — an unwinding that may already be happening. There will be chaos. There will be leaks. There will be resignations. There will be synergy, clandestine or otherwise, with the Senate and House investigations into Trump and Russia. There will be blood. After the news of the firing broke last night, McCain called the scandal “a centipede” and made an unassailable prediction: “I guarantee you there will be more shoes to drop, I can just guarantee it. There’s just too much information that we don’t have that will be coming out.”
Anyone in criminal jeopardy will be out to save his or her own butt, not to protect Donald J. Trump. This includes Michael Flynn — whom Trump is trying to hush up by continuing to sing his praises in public, presumably because Flynn knows enough to blackmail Trump (just as Russia knew enough to blackmail Flynn). My guess is that Flynn, who took such delight in calling for Hillary Clinton to be locked up, does not want to go to prison. Nor, I imagine, do the other White House hands who may be implicated in the 18-day gap that separated Sally Yates’s informing the White House counsel Don McGahn that Flynn was lying about his dealings with the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Flynn’s exit.
The White House will be outwitted and outmaneuvered at nearly every turn by the events to come. Let’s not forget the good news that came out of the Comey firing: It turns out that Trump, who has no idea of what is required to be a competent president sitting on top of the vast federal government, also turns out to have no idea of how to be a competent gangster sitting on top of what increasingly seems to be a somewhat-less-vast Trump-Kushner family criminal enterprise. Trump actually thought that Americans could be duped into believing that the abrupt Comey firing was triggered by Comey’s handling of the Clinton investigation. He actually thought that Democrats, some of whom blame Comey above all others for Clinton’s defeat, would go along with the firing at a time when the FBI is investigating the Trump campaign’s collusion with a foreign foe to sabotage the election in the Republicans’ favor. And, as we saw from all the frantic White House scurrying last night, Trump and those around him were shocked — shocked! — to discover that the firing precipitated an uproar in Washington and beyond.