Former FBI Director James Comey’s memos regarding conversations with President Trump aren’t exactly bombshells. Most of what is written had already been revealed in Comey’s Congressional testimony or in his new book. What I did learn from reading the memos is that the President shows consistently poor judgement and a disturbing grasp of basic governmental norms.
First as President-Elect and then as President, Trump repeatedly asked Comey about Deputy FBI Director McCabe and about leaks. Comey again and again defended both McCabe and the FBI as a whole, saying that leaks likely came from people “two or three steps removed”. The IG’s report on the investigation into McCabe proves that he was, in fact, leaking information to journalists. Comey showed poor judgement in his protection of McCabe—as well as his handling of the Clinton email investigation. These memos show that the President had cause to fire Comey. Unfortunately for Trump, and the rest of us, he didn’t fire Comey for poor judgement or for failing to contain leaks from the FBI. Instead, President Trump went on national television and told the world that he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation.
Another striking fact that is reinforced by the publication of these memos is that the President asked to speak with Director Comey alone. This pattern of isolating himself with a key government official opens the President to a wide range of dangers. There is no reason, for instance, that the President should have dismissed—repeatedly—the Attorney General from a meeting with Comey. Then Chief of Staff Reince Priebus should never have allowed so many one-on-one meetings between a president notorious for his variable relationship with facts and a man whose loyalty was—rightly—to the Constitution, not the President. Now we are left with a he said/he said conundrum in which one of the parties changes his story with every Tweet. The simple presence of Priebus or Sessions in the room could have prevented this. Furthermore, Sessions or Priebus could have steered the President away from talk of “loyalty oaths” and reinforced the proper information channels regarding FBI investigations.
The memo in which President Trump and Comey discuss the investigation into the murder of three Americans by a Jordanian soldier highlights, again, the President’s poor grasp of international affairs. He—according to Comey because no one else was in the room to verify or dispute his account—conflated the murder of Egyptian Coptics with the Jordanian murder. Comey, by his telling, gently corrected the President. Then Trump went ahead and started asking questions about the investigation. The National Security Advisor and Secretary of Defense, or their delegates, should have been present for any such discussion. Did Comey alert either of those gentlemen that the President was unclear on the details of an internationally delicate situation? We don’t know.
Finally, the President’s constant harping on the salacious details in the Steele dossier, in a closed-door one-on-one with the Director of the FBI, raise serious questions about his priorities. His statements, as recorded by Comey, contradict his Tweets and public statements on the matter. This is, of course, hardly surprising since Trump’s Tweets from one day to the next are often contradictory. Now he has opened himself up to nagging questions about when he and Putin discussed the charms of Russian working girls and why he’s so fixated on Melania finding out about the so-called “pee tape”. A few months before a summit with North Korea, having just launched air strikes against a murderous dictator, and with Russia agents attempting to assassinate a man in London using a nerve agent, the President of the United States will now be fielding questions (and Tweeting about) his extra-marital affairs.
Were Trump a Disney villain peering into a portent-dispensing mirror, this would be the climactic moment of the film. He would saunter up to the gilt framed glass and inquire: “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, show me my greatest enemy of all”. Unfortunately for the country, Trump wouldn’t understand when his own reflection stared back at him.