Former FBI Director James Comey’s prepared statement to Congress makes clear that when it comes to the ever-expanding investigation of alleged Russian involvement in the 2016 election, President Trump is his own worst enemy. Against the advice of allies and adversaries alike, Trump has repeatedly, almost obsessively, attempted to shut down Russia-related inquiries.
The effort, predictably, has backfired.
Instead of tamping down the issue, Trump has revved up public interest. Instead of asserting control of the FBI and other intelligence agencies, he now faces a probe led by a formidable independent counsel, Robert Mueller, the second-longest serving director in FBI history.
And instead of Comey’s statement clearing President Trump in the eyes of the public, he now looks like a man with something to hide.
Comey’s words suggest that Trump, in meeting-after-awkward-meeting with his then-FBI chief, asked for things he had no business demanding. He wanted unspecified “loyalty” from an FBI director whose 10-year term is specifically intended to insulate the bureau from political interference.
And most damaging of all, Trump asked for leniency for Michael Flynn, the fired national security adviser who allegedly lied about his contacts with a top Russian diplomat. “I had understood the President to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December … it was very concerning, given the FBI’s role as an independent investigative agency,” Comey’s statement says.
The heavy-handed intervention will come back to haunt Trump. “Obstruction aside, it’s NEVER ok for a POTUS privately to ask an FBI Director to drop a criminal investigation. Extraordinary, wrong & dumb,” tweeted Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney based in Manhattan who Trump unceremoniously fired back in March.
Bharara’s is a widely-held opinion. A majority of Americans think the President is interfering with investigations, and 61% think he fired Comey to protect himself, not for the good of the country, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Every new tweet, ill-considered interview and attack on the media has dug a deeper hole for Trump. Plans to create a rapid-response “war room” to reject Russia-related stories turned out to be a bust, reportedly because experienced lawyers declined to staff it for the White House.
That leaves an isolated President — a man with a penchant for lying — with the hopeless task of asking the public to believe him and not Comey. If he’s wise, Trump will simply hunker down and try to stoically endure the storm of bad news coming his way, thanks to Comey. Trying to intervene, it should now be obvious, makes the President look like a man bent on a cover-up, not clarity.