For all the criticism of Donald Trump, there are plenty of things he’s good at: blustering, sidestepping a point, changing sides while pretending he’s been solid all along, and pretending not to know things are just the start of the list.
Over the past week, Trump has used (now former) FBI Directer James Comey to elaborately demonstrate his skill and talent in another area: taking a situation that could make him look bad, and making it much, much worse.
Last Monday, from the simplest and most neutral perspective in the public eye, the situation was pretty cut and dry: Trump had been accused of collaborating with Russia, several people he’s connected to had been shown to have certain problematic ties, and there was, as of yet, no solid proof that the allegations against Trump himself were true. (Or, if there is, it hasn’t been made public).
As for the connections that are proven, Trump has consistently been at least a step or two removed from the actual connection himself — it may be a connection through one of his businesses, or through someone on his campaign or administration, but there’s never proof he had a direct connection or ordered a questionable connection.
Having business ties may be dubious, but at this point, these haven’t been affirmed as illegal. However widespread the consensus that they are, at a minimum, inappropriate, the evidence and consensus on legality just isn’t there yet.
In the letter from Trump to Comey, he writes, ” I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation…” and there’s no specific reason to disbelieve this particular statement.
In fact, according to the Washington Times, when questioned about the FBI probe into possible collusion with Russia, Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein and Republican Senator Chuck Grassley agreed: nothing that James Comey told them in a recent briefing indicates that Trump himself is specifically a target of the investigation.
However, starting on Tuesday, Trump began a thorough campaign to make himself look guilty. First, he fired the man who was running the agency investigating these Russia ties. Though the investigation may not have been targeting Trump himself, it presumably would be cast in a way that would also discover if he is guilty.
Trump firing Comey at that particular moment looks sort of like a young child darting out of the room at the exact second when someone asks who ate all the cookies. It’s not a direct display of guilt, but it certainly carries an air of suspicion. If there was a manual titled How To Look Guilty, ‘Get Rid Of An Investigator’ would probably be the heading of an early chapter.
That was just Tuesday, though, and there were plenty more days in the week for Trump to build up an appearance of a guilt complex. Before the day was over, his staff would jump in to help him do so.
Wednesday morning, the big story was that press secretary Sean Spicer — whose title means exactly what it sounds like, by the way — this is the man who is supposed to speak to the press — was literally hiding in bushes to avoid talking to the press.
According to A.V. Club, Spicer shouted the news at nearby reporters, then locked himself in his office. There is currently no evidence that he stacked furniture against the door or hid under the desk just in case. However, later, when reporters attempted to approach him outside, Spicer tucked himself behind a row of bushes and stayed there until reporters promised not to film him — at which point he answered a few questions from between two bushes.
Trump himself spent Wednesday tweeting about the firing, the general theme being that Democrats had called for Comey’s resignation and that he therefore shouldn’t be criticized for it. This wasn’t a single tweet session, either: POTUS was Twittering morning, afternoon, and evening, in what a certain playwright might have described as ‘protesting too much.’
Recall that Trump previously praised Comey, not only when the FBI Director made a public statement about State Department emails turning up on a laptop belonging to Anthony Weiner right before the election, but less than two months ago, several weeks into his own presidency, when Comey supported the notion that leaks to the press had been unusually active recently.
FBI Director Comey says classified leaks to the media have been “unusually active” recently. pic.twitter.com/WumDJSqaFA
— President Trump 45 Archived (@POTUS45) March 20, 2017
Yet, according to The Hill, when asked why he had fired Comey, Trump merely asserted,
He was not doing a good job. Very simply, he was not doing a good job.
On Thursday, little effort was needed from the Donald to keep the scandal in the air — because that’s when the New York Times reported that only a week after being sworn in as POTUS, he had spoken to Comey and tried to finagle a promise of loyalty. Comey would only promise honesty.
The same day that became public probably wasn’t the best timing for Trump to announce that he had intended to fire Comey well before the memo in which Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein formally recommended the action.
However, according to the Wall Street Journal, Trump did exactly that — despite that it contradicted statements already made by the rest of his administration.
Of course, the contradictions set Trump up for Friday’s first exercise in making himself look guiltier — a series of tweets in which he explained that he’s too busy for his staff to speak accurately, and threatened to cut off statements to the press altogether rather than make a minimal effort to get everyone’s story straight first.
If no other Trump tweet goes down in infamy, one simply declaring we can’t expect accuracy and facts from his administration should.
As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!….
He followed this with what his administration would later insist was not a threat: a declaration that Comey better hope there were no tapes of their conversations.
According to WXYZ, Spicer merely insisted the tweet wasn’t a threat and refused to further clarify. He did not elaborate on whether Trump was insinuating that anything illegal or inappropriate had been discussed between the two, or whether Trump was hinting that he himself or someone else might be openly or secretly recording conversations in the White House.
Trump also punctuated Thursday and Friday with tweeted denials of collusion with Russia, again bringing to mind the Shakespearean ‘doth protest too much.’
In a Fox News interview with Judge Jeanine Pirro Saturday night, Trump reiterated once more the week of rhetoric, pointing fingers at Democrats, saying that they only oppose Comey’s firing because Trump is the one who did it.
He also declared the story of his demand for loyalty ‘fake news,’ maintaining that the only ‘loyalty’ he had asked for had been to America, not himself.
For Donald Trump, it’s been a week of denying, disavowing, and claiming that his administration can’t be expected to keep facts straight — and whatever the Russia investigation (if it’s permitted to continue under the next FBI Director, or the next one we’re allowed to keep) eventually turns up, the constant stream of denials just doesn’t look good.
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Steph Bazzle reports on social issues and religion for Hill Reporter. She focuses on stories that speak to everyone's right to practice what they believe in and receive the support of their communities and government officials. You can reach her at Steph@HillReporter.com