His Own Big Mouth

There’s a moment in the film Patton where America’s World War II general has been sidelined from command and stationed in a French château after criticizing U.S. allies, slapping an enlisted soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress and calling him a coward.

General Bedell Smith explains Eisenhower’s decision.

“Frankly, George, you’re on probation. “Remember,” Smith cautions, “your worst enemy is your own big mouth.”

If there were any remaining doubts as to who the most destructive force is in the Trump administration, they all but disappeared during NBC journalist Lester Holt’s interview with the president.

Before the interview, Trump surrogates stepped all over themselves to explain the reasons why Trump abruptly fired F.B.I. Director James Comey.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders: “…having a letter like the one that he (Trump) received, and having that conversation (with Rosenstein) that outlines the basic atrocities in circumventing the chain of command in the Department of Justice”; adding, “…look, the F.B.I.’s doing a whole lot more than the Russia investigation… that’s probably one of the smallest things that they’ve got going on their plate.”

Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway: “… [Trump] acted decisively today. He took the recommendation of his deputy attorney general”; adding, “This has nothing to with Russia.”

Vice-President Mike Pence: “…President Trump provided strong and decisive leadership… to accept the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and the attorney general to remove Director Comey as the head of the FBI…”

In less than 24 hours, all of that reasoning went out the window. The real reason for Comey’s sudden departure comes from Trump himself.

“Regardless of recommendation,” Trump tells Lester Holt, “I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it.

“…when I decided to just do it, I said to myself — I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.”

Sorry, Mr. President, but the F.B.I. does not investigate “a made-up story,” as Acting Director Andrew McCabe made clear to the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to NPR (May 11).

“You cannot stop the men and women of the F.B.I. from doing the right thing, protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution,” McCabe told Senators.

“McCabe directly contradicted White House assertions that one of the reasons Comey was fired by President Trump on Tuesday was because he had lost the respect and support of the FBI rank and file.

“ ‘Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day,’ McCabe said, saying he holds Comey in the ‘absolute highest regard.’

NPR added that “McCabe also said the FBI’s ongoing probe into Russian involvement in the 2016 elections and possible collusion with the Trump campaign was ‘highly significant,’ disputing a White House characterization that the investigation ‘was one of the smallest things that they’ve got going on their plate.’

“ ‘It is my opinion and belief that the FBI will continue to pursue this investigation vigorously and completely,’ McCabe said.”

In his interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, President Trump said of Comey, “I had a dinner with him. He wanted to have dinner because he wanted to stay on. We had a very nice dinner at the White House…”

“He [Comey] asked?” Holt said.

“I think he asked for the dinner,” Trump said. “And he wanted to stay on as the FBI head. And I said I’ll, you know, consider. We’ll see what happens. But we had a very nice dinner. And at that time, he told you are not under investigation…”

However, according to a report in The New York Times (May 11), “James B. Comey has told associates the F.B.I. director was summoned to the White House for a one-on-one dinner with the new commander in chief.

“As they ate, the president and Mr. Comey made small talk… The president then turned the conversation to whether Mr. Comey would pledge his loyalty to him.

“Mr. Comey declined to make that pledge. Instead, Mr. Comey has recounted to others, he told Mr. Trump that he would always be honest with him, but that he was not ‘reliable’ in the conventional political sense. …

“But Mr. Trump pressed him on whether it would be ‘honest loyalty.’

“ ‘You will have that,’ Mr. Comey told his associates he responded.

“Throughout his career,” The Times points out, “Mr. Trump has made loyalty from the people who work for him a key priority, often discharging employees he considers insufficiently reliable.”

In my conversations with a former director of the Secret Service, I know that high-ranking law enforcement individuals like Comey usually record notes and calendars that reflect dates, times and details of important meetings. Given that the Trump campaign was under an ongoing investigation into possible collusion with Russia, it is not surprising that Comey discussed the dinner conversation with colleagues afterward.

However, it’s important to repeat the obvious.

If President Trump was troubled by Director Comey’s job performance, he could have fired him on day one or the first week, first month! The fact that he went through the machinations of Deputy AG Rosenstein’s evaluation of how Comey mishandled the Clinton investigation is nothing but smoke and mirrors.

How do we know? Trump’s own mouth.

“…when I decided to just do it, I said to myself — I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.”

With that statement, Trump is not only telling the American public that Comey’s firing is directly due to the “Russia thing,” but he’s completely cut the credibility out from under his own communications people not to mention Vice-President Pence.

My question for Pence: “How is the president’s lie any different than the lie former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn told you when he said he had not had any contact with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Kislyak?

Nonetheless, Trump, in that same interview with Holt, is on the hook for another potential pledge to the American people.

“…I said to myself I might even lengthen out the investigation,” Trump said. “But I have to do the right thing for the American people.”

And what about James Comey?

We have lost one of the true champions of integrity in Washington. In a replay of a 2014 interview – more than a year before Donald Trump decided to run for president – Comey is clear about the importance of checks and balances with 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley.

“I believe that Americans should be deeply skeptical of government power. You cannot trust people in power. The founders knew that. That’s why they divided power among three branches, to set interest against interest.”

And his final words in that interview reflect where his first loyalty lays.

“…the importance of never becoming untethered to oversight and accountability.”

In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, “…asked if they prefer Congress or an independent commission or special prosecutor to investigate Russia’s involvement, just 15 percent pick Congress, while 78 percent support an independent commission or special prosecutor.”

Can the American public trust Trump’s words? Can they rely on him “to do the right thing for the American people”? And when does presidential chaos turn to unrestrained crisis?

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1 comment… add one

  • Gary Lange, Ph.D. May 15, 2017, 9:18 am

    Thanks Jim for keeping us on top of all of this. Still can’t believe this is happening in our wonderful country’s highest office and in 2017!

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