“How does it all end? Not well for Trump. I’m not too good at the tea leaves, I don’t think anybody is. I just can’t believe that there isn’t something there on the Russia matter, with Trump doing all that he’s doing. He’s throwing every signal out that he’s got a problem, and he’s trying to make it go away. So that’s why I say I can’t imagine it ending real well for him.”
— Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean, in an interview with New York Magazine.
John Cassidy: “It is often said that the U.S. Presidency is a relatively weak office—but that is a contingent statement. To prevent the President from gaining too much power, or abusing that power, the Founding Fathers divided authority among the different branches of government, and established some fundamental governing principles. These are the fabled checks and balances, arranged, as James Bryce, the British jurist, noted in his venerable 1888 tome, ‘The American Commonwealth,’ to ‘restrain any one department from tyranny.’”
“But the checks and balances only work if each of Bryce’s departments agrees to play its allotted role. A President enabled by a spineless and supine Congress that fails to exercise its oversight powers isn’t a weak executive at all: he is a potential despot. Using his authority to hire and fire federal officials, he can rapidly remake the government to his own design, appointing loyalists to key positions, eliminating potential threats, and undermining alternative repositories of power.”
“Authoritarian leaders in foreign countries seize and maintain power this way. And, despite his bungling start, this is the project that Donald Trump appears to have embarked upon.”
Josh Marshall says Trump’s defenders are all trapped in his lies: “Trump is like a wild fire hose whipping about violently, driven not by coils and water pressure but his own demons and rage. He will say whatever he wants at any given moment based on emotion, impulse, and his impression of tactical advantage as of that moment. This is not strategy. It’s an out of control person. But there are now large numbers of people and institutions implicated in Trump’s actions. They are on the line and along for the ride with every twist and turn.”
First Read: “This isn’t the first time, of course, that Trump and his team have been caught in contradictions, inaccurate statements, and outright whoppers. (Remember the inaugural’s crowd size? Or Trump’s claim that Barack Obama wiretapped him?) But it’s amazing on a matter that’s so important — and that was executed by the White House on its own timetable — that the Trump White House can’t tell a straight story here.”
“So what happens when there’s a story outside the White House’s control (like war, natural disaster, or another kind of tragedy)? Those are times when a president and White House will need a deep reservoir of credibility with the American public. But what happens when that reservoir is empty? Additionally, what now happens to Vice President Mike Pence’s credibility? He has been the good soldier, but his earlier insistence that the Rosenstein recommendation served as a basis for Comey’s ouster hurts him. And Pence often has been the administration’s best advocate and messenger.”
However, former FBI Director James Comey “will not be appearing before the Senate Intelligence committee next week, despite an invitation to speak with the committee behind closed doors,” Axios reports.
“That’s after a day of intrigue following President Trump taunting Comey over the prospect of ‘tapes’ from their conversations before the firing.”
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has agreed to brief the full Senate next week on the firing of FBI Director James Comey, CNN reports.
Axios: “No word if the briefing will be open or closed, but expect Senate Dems to pounce on Comey’s firing and attempt to gain momentum in their push for a special counsel for the Russia investigation.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer deflected questions about a tweet by President Trump in which Trump said former FBI Director James Comey should hope there are no “tapes” of their conversations, Market Watch reports. Asked if Trump recorded the conversations and if there are recording devices in the Oval Office or residence, Spicer said: “The president has nothing further to add on that.”
Two top Democrats are demanding that the White House turn over any recordings of conversations between President Donald Trump and former FBI Director James Comey. The request comes in response to Trump’s tweet Friday morning in which he stated that Comey “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”
In a letter sent Friday to White House Counsel Donald McGahn, Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking Democrats on the House Judiciary and Oversight committees, respectively, demand that any such tapes be turned over to Congress. Moreover, they note that the president’s tweet may violate federal law prohibiting the intimidation of potential witnesses. “[I]t is a crime to intimidate or threaten any potential witness with the intent to influence, delay, or prevent their official testimony,” they say in the letter. The president’s tweets, they write, “raise the specter of possible intimidation and obstruction of justice.”
In addition to any possible tapes, the two congressmen request “all documents, memoranda, analyses, emails, and other communications relating to the President’s decision to dismiss Director Comey” by May 25.
A source close to James Comey tells CNN the former FBI Director is “not worried about any tapes” of conversations between him and President Trump, adding that “if there is a tape, there’s nothing he is worried about” that could be on it.
“Friday morning, Trump issued a thinly veiled threat to Comey, apparently suggesting there are possibly recorded conversations between the two men that could be leaked to counter the former FBI director if necessary.”
Another source close to James Comey tells CNN that the former FBI Director was “taken aback” by President Trump’s request for a personal assurance or pledge of loyalty at a dinner shortly after he took office.
“Comey refused to do so, saying he could not provide such a pledge — those who work at the FBI pledge their loyalty to the US Constitution, not to any individual person — but he promised to always be honest with the President.”
One new detail: “The late January dinner was arranged at Trump’s request.”
Lawyers for President Trump said that a review of his last 10 years of tax returns do not reflect “any income of any type from Russian sources,” with some exceptions, the AP reports.
“It’s the latest attempt by the president to tamp down concerns about any Russian ties amid an ongoing investigation of his campaign’s associates.”
“The attorneys did not release copies of Trump’s tax returns, so The Associated Press cannot independently verify their conclusions. Their review also notably takes into account only Trump’s returns from the past 10 years, leaving open questions about whether there were financial dealings with Russia in earlier years.”
As Jonathan Chait points out, Trump’s most consistent belief is his worship of power:
He is not merely willing to do business with despots, as most presidents have been. He admires them because of, not despite, their despotism. His repeated refusal during the campaign to accept the legitimacy of the election (“rigged”), his promises to jail his opponent, and his intermingling of state power and personal profit all suggested a threat to the health of the republic. Now that threat has arrived. And if Republicans in Congress continue to cover for his actions, the damage to the health of American government may be longstanding.
“In firing FBI Director James Comey, President Trump may have hoped to bring the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election under control. Instead, as reaction in Washington spread on Wednesday, the move seemed to carry a large risk of making his troubles worse,” the Los Angeles Times reports.
“In an email lament circulated among prominent Republicans, A.B. Culvahouse Jr., former Reagan White House counsel and head of Trump’s vice presidential search effort, said the firing ‘both prolongs the FBI/DOJ investigation and undermines the credibility of the Trump campaign’s denials of no conspiracy with Putin.’”
He added: “We could be talking about Russian hacking in the mid-terms at this rate.”
Washington Post: “Within the Justice Department and the FBI, the firing of Comey has left raw anger, and some fear … Trump had ‘essentially declared war on a lot of people at the FBI’ one official said. ‘I think there will be a concerted effort to respond over time in kind.’”