USA POLITICS: Comey to Take Stand Against Trump

By Politicoscope May 15, 2017 00:00


USA POLITICS: Comey to Take Stand Against Trump

James Comey, the FBI director sacked, then vilified and threatened by Donald Trump last week, is poised to exact his revenge on the US President by testifying against him publicly before congress. Although Mr Comey has declined to appear before the Senate intelligence committee at a closed hearing this Wednesday, he has made clear via friends that he wants to strike back against Mr Trump in an open session that could be one of the most-watched events in US political history.

The President said yesterday he hoped to name a successor by the end of this week.

Mr Trump, living in a White House bubble in which few aides are willing to contradict him, was apparently surprised by the furore his brutal ejection of Mr Comey triggered.

He blamed his press staff for failing to make a convincing case that Mr Comey had to go and then turned on the former FBI director himself, threatening via Twitter on Friday: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

Mr Trump’s “tape” comment was a reference to conflicting ­accounts of a one-on-one dinner he had with the FBI chief on January 27, a week after inauguration.

Mr Comey, a Republican who cherishes his image as an independent, measured and lawyerly figure, was nervous about the ­encounter with the blustering property billionaire.

The Trump campaign was the subject of an FBI investigation into whether aides had colluded with Russia to undermine Hillary Clinton, his Democratic rival for the presidency. The new commander-in-chief is said to have asked Mr Comey, whose public criticism of Mrs Clinton’s use of a secret email server badly damaged her campaign, whether he would pledge his loyalty.

Mr Comey demurred. When Mr Trump made the same request later in the dinner, the FBI director said he could promise to be honest, but Mr Trump could not “rely” on him politically. Would “honest loyalty” be possible, Mr Trump asked. That, Mr Comey said, he could do.

Holed up in his mansion in McLean, Virginia, last week, with photographers camped outside, Mr Comey told friends he ­believed his fate had been sealed at the dinner, though it was three months later that Mr Trump finally dispensed with him.

According to Mr Trump, Mr Comey’s account of the dinner is fabrication. The President has claimed it was Mr Comey who asked for the meeting, and during the meal he begged to be kept in his job, which he began in July 2013 and which traditionally carries a 10-year term.

Mr Trump insists there was no demand for loyalty and that Mr Comey assured him he was not the subject of any FBI inquiry.

In recent weeks, Mr Trump had grown furious that Mr Comey had repeatedly declined to state that the FBI was not investigating him, and the President was incensed when the FBI chief told senators he was “mildly nauseous” his Clinton intervention had altered the election outcome.

Rather than accept that the FBI’s actions may have cost Mrs Clinton the presidency, Mr Trump fulminated, Mr Comey should have lauded his victory.

Justifying his decision to sack Mr Comey, Mr Trump said the 200cm-tall FBI chief was a “showboat” and “a grandstander” who was carrying out a “witch hunt” over “this Russia thing”.

Mr Trump did not mention the affair during a graduation speech at Liberty University devoted to his tax and economic reforms, but the fallout from Mr Comey’s sacking looked set to continue after one of the most extraordinary weeks of this presidency.

If Mr Trump had wanted to ­invite comparisons to Richard Nixon and Watergate, he could not have done better than sack the man leading an investigation of his election campaign and to suggest the existence of secret White House tapes.

To complete the picture, throw in an Oval Office meeting with Nixon’s consigliere, Henry Kissinger, and a proposal to cancel press briefings because journalists were irredeemably biased.

As light relief after the Comey dismissal, a Russian state photo­grapher was somehow allowed into the Oval Office, for a meeting with Moscow’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, where he photographed the US leader shaking hands with Sergey Kislyak, the ambassador US intelligence consider a Moscow spy.

All this and more happened in the Trump White House last week as beleaguered staff were wrong-footed and maligned by their boss and an administration that had seemed to be regaining its footing slid into discord.

At the heart of the dark comedy and chaos lay a question of ­utmost seriousness: had Mr Trump tried to hinder those digging into his alleged ties to Russia, an act amounting to a criminal cover-up?

Whether the President has a political death wish is something that can be mulled over by psychologists, but there is little doubt the crisis he faces is down to his inability to control his own fingers, mouth and vengefulness. The cascade of events that has left Mr Trump’s allies dismayed and his enemies sensing impeachment might not be a flight of fantasy began in Los Angeles on Tuesday, where Mr Comey was talking to FBI agents.

When news of his sacking flashed up on television screens, Mr Comey laughed, apparently thinking it was a prank.

Facing a barrage of questions about Mr Trump’s reference to a secret tape, his hapless spokesman Sean Spicer could only stonewall: “The President has nothing further to add on that.”

Mr Trump is believed to be considering sacking Mr Spicer as part of a shake-up that could also bring down Reince Priebus, his chief of staff. Although Mr Trump has praised Mr Spicer’s “ratings”, he is frustrated by the way his press chief is lampooned. Last week, Mr Spicer was ridiculed for contacting The Washington Post to demand a correction to a report he had hidden “in the bushes” to avoid questions. The paper issued a clarification saying he had been “among the bushes”.

In a stunt that could seal Mr Spicer’s fate, the comedian Melissa McCarthy, who has played him to devastating effect on the Saturday Night Live TV show, took to the streets of Manhattan in character, screaming at passers-by as she trundled past on a mock podium. Mr Trump is said to have derided Mr Spicer for being portrayed by a woman.

CNN claimed Vice-President Mike Pence was “rattled” last week and White House morale was at rock bottom. By talking publicly about the dinner, Mr Trump appears to have waived executive privilege, and Mr Comey is said to be “relaxed” about the existence of any tape.

Whatever the outcome of the FBI’s Russia investigation or the congressional inquiries into ­related matters, it is clear Mr Trump’s presidency is being consumed by the drama surrounding his impetuous actions.

“He ­demands loyalty but trusts no one. He decries ‘fake news’ but shows such a casual disregard for the truth that no one can believe anything that the White House says any more,’’ a ­Capitol Hill ­Republican said. “I never thought I’d ever say this, because I’ve spent much of my life opposing the Clintons, but I’m beginning to wonder whether it might have been better for all of us if Hillary had won.”

– Australian

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By Politicoscope May 15, 2017 00:00

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