Bombshell o’clock came early today, as The Washington Post and The New York Times continued their tag team on the administration, and gave the president his two scoops a few hours earlier than these stories usually drop. First, from the Times recounting a story the day after Comey was fired:
President Trump told Russian officials in the Oval Office this month that firing the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, had relieved “great pressure” on him, according to a document summarizing the meeting.
“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
Mr. Trump added, “I’m not under investigation.”
Keep in mind that those quotes were told to the Russians. The White House isn’t pushing back on any of this.
Shortly after this report, WaPo released what looks to be a pretty damaging story.
The law enforcement investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign has identified a current White House official as a significant person of interest, showing that the probe is reaching into the highest levels of government, according to people familiar with the matter.
The senior White House adviser under scrutiny by investigators is someone close to the president, according to these people, who would not further identify the official.
The revelation comes as the investigation also appears to be entering a more overtly active phase, with investigators shifting from work that has remained largely hidden from the public to conducting interviews and using a grand jury to issue subpoenas. The intensity of the probe is expected to accelerate in the coming weeks, the people said.
Before you come to any consensus on what WaPo's scoop means, check out this thread from a lawyer on the subject of legal terminology.
The White House communications office released what can only be described as a bizarre “rebuttal” to both stories.
You have to love that the WaPo article completely rebukes Trump's assessment in the Times piece that the “great pressure” he faced from the Russian investigation has been “taken off.” This is such an epic shitshow. The President of the United States bragged to the Russians about firing the “real nut job” that was the director of the FBI over his investigation into the orbit of the president, AND THEN REVEALED HIGHLY CLASSIFIED ISRAELI INTEL IN THAT SAME MEETING!!! In another scoop from Foreign Policy that came out shortly after these two, it was revealed that the Israelis are righteously pissed off.
This is all so incredibly stupid. When The New York Times contacted the administration for comment on their story, one official said:
Mr. Trump was using a negotiating tactic when he told Mr. Lavrov about the “pressure” he was under. The idea, the official suggested, was to create a sense of obligation with Russian officials and to coax concessions out of Mr. Lavrov—on Syria, Ukraine and other issues—by saying that Russian meddling in last year’s election had created enormous political problems for Mr. Trump.
Even if we assumed that complete honesty stood behind this argument, it still would be laughably naïve. The Russians are not our friends, and could care less whether a president must deal with domestic issues because of foreign meddling. That’s the point behind their actions. They want chaos that chips away at the traditional Western order. Ever since the United States snubbed the Russians for a spot in NATO in the 2000’s and expanded our eastern European missile defense, they have been deeply distrustful of our government—no matter who ran it. Donald Trump is an American the same as Barack Obama or George W. Bush. “Enemies” may be a bit too forceful of a word to describe our relationship, but at best, we are adversaries with the Kremlin.
But the administration should not be afforded the benefit of the doubt when it comes to this case because they have stonewalled this topic every step of the way, and now McClatchy is reporting that:
Investigators into Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential elections are now also probing whether White House officials have engaged in a cover-up, according to members of Congress who were briefed Friday by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
That avenue of investigation was added in recent weeks after assertions by former FBI Director James Comey that President Donald Trump had tried to dissuade him from pressing an investigation into the actions of Trump’s first national security adviser, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, members of Congress said, though it was not clear whom that part of the probe might target.
It should also be noted that these four negative stories for Trump all dropped as soon as he boarded Air Force One for his first foreign trip as president. These leaks seem to be coordinated, and it’s difficult to see how it’s not related to the torrent of leaks in the wake of Comey’s dismissal which painted a picture of a group of employees who hate their boss. Donald Trump has spent his entire life taking advantage of people and tossing them away as soon as they outlive their usefulness, and now it may finally be coming back to bite him.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.