The President of the United States has a habit of broadcasting his inner thoughts and anxieties to the world through his Twitter account. Most of you on Twitter have seen Trump’s madness whether you follow him or not, and it’s easy to just push it out of your brain as the unimportant ravings of a madman. You’re not wrong on the latter phrase, but they’re not all unimportant.
Last night’s New York Times bombshell that Trump issued an order to fire special counsel Robert Mueller provides us an opportunity to travel back in time in order to get a first-hand look at what was going through the president’s brain when he issued the order to the White House counsel in June. Let’s begin at an arbitrary, but seemingly fitting beginning for this saga: James Comey’s open testimony on June 8th.
The former FBI Director’s testimony was billed as something of a political Super Bowl, as viewing parties gathered across the country to watch a Congressional testimony in the middle of the day. Much of it was wonkish and lawerly, but Comey did drop some bombshells—like calling Donald Trump a liar.
“I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting so I thought it important to document. That combination of things I had never experienced before, but had led me to believe I got to write it down and write it down in a very detailed way.”
Comey also said that he felt the need to protect the FBI from the president.
”As I said, a combination of things. A gut feeling is an important overlay, but the circumstances, that I was alone, the subject matter and the nature of the person I was interacting with and my read of that person. Yeah, and really just gut feel, laying on top of all of that, that this is going to be important to protect this organization, that I make records of this.”
Comey said that Mike Pence knew of Mike Flynn’s myriad issues while Pence chaired Trump’s transition team.
Senator Ron Wyden: Vice president Pence was the head of the transition. To your knowledge, was he aware of the concerns about Michael Flynn prior to or during general Flynn’s tenure as national security adviser?
Comey: I don’t — you’re asking including up to the time when Flynn was —
Comey: Forced to resign? My understanding is that he was. I’m trying to remember where I get that understanding from. I think from acting attorney general Yates.
James Comey also alluded to “problematic” facts about Jeff Sessions as it pertains to the Russia investigation. Keep in mind that he was under oath for all of this.
President Trump started this ordeal out on the right foot. Everyone assumed that he would live-tweet Comey's testimony and further shove his foot in his mouth, but he was on his best behavior, and we didn't hear from President Doofus until the next day.
The “vindication” that Trump alludes to here is Comey saying that Trump was not under a counterintelligence investigation, however, he also said that senior members of the FBI disagreed with his decision to tell Trump he was not under investigation.
”One of the members of the leadership team had a view that although it was technically true we did not have a counter-intelligence file case open on then President-elect Trump. His concern was because we're looking at the potential, again, that's the subject of the investigation, coordination between the campaign and Russia, because it was President Trump, President-elect Trump's campaign, this person's view was inevitably his behavior, his conduct will fall within the scope of that work. And so he was reluctant to make the statement. I disagreed.”
Saturday morning is typically a big tweeting time for the president, as Ivanka and Jared are gone thanks to the Jewish sabbath, and he is largely left to his own devices—which means that he's live-tweeting everything he sees on Fox News. Trump was quite reserved this weekend, firing off several tweets on Sunday morning that seemingly were in response to whatever cable news he was watching, but only one was related to the Russia investigation.
Last night's NYT bombshell was corroborated by a multitude of news outlets, including Fox News. The Washington Post reported that Trump's move to fire Mueller was egged on by his friends. Per WaPo:
Trump was initially calm when Mueller was appointed, surprising White House aides, according to a senior administration official.
But in the weeks that followed, the president spoke with a number of friends and advisers who convinced him that Mueller would dig through his private finances and look beyond questions of collusion with Russians. They warned that the probe could last years and would ruin his first term in office.
At the time, Trump's legal team was urging him to take an aggressive posture toward the special counsel and was compiling arguments about why Mueller could not be impartial.
Given Trump's relative silence after James Comey's testimony, this seems like a prime candidate for one of the “weeks that followed” where Trump's friends tried to talk him into firing Mueller. In fact, his friend Christopher Ruddy—the CEO of Newsmax—went on TV on June 12th and said that the president was thinking of doing just that. White House correspondent for the American Urban Radio Networks, April Ryan, confirmed that her sources were buzzing with this possibility that same day.
This doubled as Trump's escalation in this saga, and the day that Jeff Sessions began to seriously implicate himself in this mess with his testimony in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee. As I wrote about Sessions the following day:
If you drank every time Sessions said “I don't recall,” you would be dead by now. The entire crux behind his stonewalling came down to executive privilege, which is a legal declaration that allows the president to withhold information in the public interest. This is not some amorphous term, but one that the president must formally invoke. Jeff Sessions testified under oath that President Trump did not invoke executive privilege, yet he refused to answer an avalanche of questions surrounding his communications with Donald Trump, de facto invoking executive privilege despite not formally doing it de jure. In short, Sessions tried to have his cake and eat it too.
Trump was en route to a campaign event in Wisconsin, but he still took time to yell at the TV on the internet, as he began to ratchet up his attacks on the Russia investigation once again.
This was the day that Representative Steve Scalise and others were shot at a Congressional baseball field. Trump may be a complete and utter moron, but he was smart enough to know not to tweet about the Russia investigation and make that tragic day about himself.
However, it was like it never happened the following day, as Trump escalated his attacks on the investigation, and the Justice Department in general.
Now we're really cooking with gasoline.
Trump was on his best behavior for most of this week. The most expensive House race in history took place two days prior in Georgia—as well as another special election in South Carolina—and Trump spent most of his Twitter time imploring his supporters to vote for Republicans. However, something got under his skin this day, and he completely let loose. The only Russian investigation-related news to come out that day was a TIME report that hackers altered voter rolls and stole private data on U.S. citizens, but that did not make much of an impact on the public consciousness at the time, so it's unlikely that Trump's madness was directly related to that bombshell.
There was big news on the Russia front this day, but it was good for Trump, because it wasn't about him. He made sure to let us all know over the next few days.
You could tell that Trump was emboldened by both the news that President Obama did not seriously deal with the Russian threat during the election, and the CNN retraction which led to the dismissal of three employees. Trump's tone turned from aggrievement towards vindication.
Trump was offended by the NYT over their report that he did not help the failed health care bill get through Congress. He took this time to spray generic attacks across the entire media landscape.
It’s crazy to think that anyone with a general idea of how to use Twitter’s advanced search can glean a window into our current president’s mindset in a more in-depth manner than some intelligence agencies who have spied on past presidents. If Fox News is confirming that Trump tried to fire Robert Mueller, we can pretty much take that report as gospel. On June 12th, both Trump’s friend and a plugged-in White House source said that he wanted to get rid of the special counsel, and his tweets the following week depict a president bursting at the seams. Robert Mueller was appointed on May 17th, and judging by the timeline laid out by the president, he gave him at most, a month before damning him to the same fate of the last man digging into his potential connections to Russia. If we can get this kind of a window into Trump’s psyche solely through his tweets, just imagine what Robert Mueller and the largest spying apparatus in the history of mankind has on our doddering president.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.