The New York Times just dropped a boatload of juicy tidbits about Donald Trump’s frenzied, brazen, and yet consistently ham-handed efforts to both bury and kill the many investigations into him, his campaign, his administration, and his businesses.
The transgressions range from Trump strategizing with GOP lawmakers to kneecap the Russia probe to his trying to thwart the investigation into his hush-money payments to his advising his staff to peddle lies about the exit of national security adviser Michael Flynn from his administration. Taken together, they amount to a stunning effort of historic proportions to undercut U.S. law enforcement almost from the moment he first set foot in the Oval Office.
The story of Mr. Trump’s attempts to defang the investigations has been voluminously covered in the news media, to such a degree that many Americans have lost track of how unusual his behavior is. But fusing the strands reveals an extraordinary story of a president who has attacked the law enforcement apparatus of his own government like no other president in history, and who has turned the effort into an obsession.
The Times assembled its inside look at Trump’s efforts from dozens of interviews as well as a “review of confidential White House documents.”
For starters, Trump reportedly soured on then-acting Attorney General Whitaker almost immediately after he asked Whitaker to run interference on the investigation by the Southern District of New York (SDNY) into Michael Cohen and the hush-money payments he made to two women at the direction of Trump. A Trump ally and SDNY prosecutor, Geoffrey Berman, had recused himself from that investigation, but Trump wanted Whitaker to put Berman in charge of it. When Whitaker couldn’t make that happen, the bromance was over—just like it was with Jeff Sessions after he failed to stymie the Mueller probe.
Then there was the case of Flynn’s resignation in February of 2017 and how to explain it. After Trump heard about House Speaker Paul Ryan peddling the fantasy to reporters that Trump had asked Flynn to resign (i.e., fired him), Trump liked the sound of it and told his press secretary Sean Spicer to sell it that way.
“Say that,” Mr. Trump ordered.
But was that true, Mr. Spicer pressed.
“Say that I asked for his resignation,” Mr. Trump repeated.
That was exactly the way spineless Spicer sold it, along with some other fibs he made up on the fly. Chief among those lies was the notion that White House lawyers had thoroughly vetted Flynn’s actions and found no legal issues. In fact, White House attorneys found Spicer’s lies throughout the press briefing so concerning, they memorialized them in a memo and made Spicer aware of their concerns, but Spicer never corrected the record.
Are you getting the sense there were a lot of people writing things down—even inside the White House—so they could later insulate themselves from criminal investigations? It wasn’t just the James Comeys and the Andrew McCabes outside the White House; it was lawyers on the inside, or people like Mark Corallo, who took a brief turn as spokesperson for Trump’s legal team and then resigned immediately after Trump fabricated a response to questions about Don Jr.’s Trump Tower meeting.
The Times also reports that “Trump and his lawyers enthusiastically encouraged” a plan hatched by certain GOP lawmakers to begin investigating the investigators in order to discredit the Mueller probe. In particular, Reps. Devin Nunes of California, Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Jim Jordan of Ohio, and Matt Gaetz of Florida sought to turn the tables on investigators, and they ultimately publicly disclosed materials they hoped would undermine the probe, but also undoubtedly jeopardized national security in the process.
Go ahead and read it in full. The account also reveals just how shortsighted Trump and his coterie continued to be as they battered against a tsunami of investigations that would eventually envelop his White House, his administration, and his life. For instance, after Flynn’s resignation, Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, were convinced the threat of the Russia probe was over (similar to that time Trump told Russians in the Oval Office that firing Comey had really “taken off” the pressure). Anyway, that apparently wasn’t the first time Trump completely underestimated both his legal and political jeopardy.
“This Russia thing is all over now because I fired Flynn,” Mr. Trump said over lunch that day, according to a new book by Chris Christie, a former New Jersey governor and a longtime Trump ally.
Mr. Christie was taken aback. “This Russia thing is far from over,” Mr. Christie wrote that he told Mr. Trump, who responded: “What do you mean? Flynn met with the Russians. That was the problem. I fired Flynn. It’s over.”
Mr. Kushner, who was also at the lunch, chimed in, according to Mr. Christie’s book: “That’s right, firing Flynn ends the whole Russia thing.”
These people are both audaciously corrupt and incomparably ignorant and, god help us all, they are still running our country.