Writing 2018-09-03

Book Notes – Fire and Fury, Chapter 16

The Russian Thing (Again)

Trump’s rich phone-call friends regularly tried to get him to understand that the more he tried to stop the Russian probe, the more legal peril he was in. The more they emphasized the legal peril, the more he wanted to stop the probe. It was a feedback loop. In the meantime, Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani, both of whom wanted a spot in the administration, assured Trump that the DOJ was out to get him as part of some Obama plot.

Charlie Kushner, father to Jared, was worried about Trump’s effect on the Kushner fortune. A potentially lucrative deal with a Chinese financial group was nixed because of the potential implications connected to Jared’s position in the White House. In addition, Trump was claiming that Jared would bring peace in the Middle East because “the Kushners knew all the crooks in Israel”. This fed into the fear that Jared and Ivanka had that the DOJ would move beyond the Russia probe into family finances. Bannon was pleased by this.

Trump was asking if he should fire Comey, but this was conventionally understood to be just talk. He was always asking if he should fire somebody. Afraid of the implications of the Comey investigation, however, Jared and Ivanka encouraged this idea. Bannon noticed that whenever Trump got upset about something, it was because someone was pushing him in that direction. In this case, it was the Trump family pushing him to fire Comey, despite many insisting what a bad idea it was.

Don McGahn tried to explain that Comey was not running the investigation, and firing him would do nothing. This just made him the target of Trump’s fury for not giving Trump what he wanted on Comey. Bannon had to pull Trump aside and remind Trump that McGahn was White House counsel with access to a lot of knowlege and therefore pissing him off was not a good idea. Bannon also warned Trump that firing Comey would boost the visibility and perceived importance of the investigation.

Jared was insistent. He convinced Tump to give the okay for Jared to give Stephen Miller notes on why Comey should be fired. Miller, who would later be criticized by Bannon for getting involved, recruited Hope Hicks for aid. This would become a mess of talking points on every conceivable reason to fire Comey besides the investigation itself. Kushner’s team vehemently denied he had any part in it, claiming that it was all Trump’s idea and that Kushner was just standing off to the side. McGahn tried to stop the letter of talking points, but Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein managed to get a copy and began drafting their own version to satisfy Kushner and Trump.

On May 8, Trump told Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon that he would fire Comey. Priebus and Bannon immediately tried to get Trump to delay the decision. This was an important tactic. Trump’s attention span was so thin that delaying an undesirable decision often prevented him from enacting it entirely. Unfortunately, Sally Yates appeared later that day before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Crime and Terrorism subcommittee. Trump personalized everything and didn’t understand that he wasn’t up against people, but institutions. He assumed that Yates had some kind of “personal press plan”. He believed that there was no “news” so much as media to be manipulated and planted. The “Fake News” term was a natural term for him because for Donald Trump, all news was fake because he had spent so much time faking it for himself. Thus, Yates’ appearance confirmed to Trump that there was some kind of media plan in place to discredit him. Yates’ professional calm and collected performance angered him all the more.

James Comey Gets Fired

On May 9, Trump was still interested in firing Comey. Priebus moved to delay again, but this time Jared and Ivanka were reinforcing Trump’s instincts. Trump seemed to calm down in front of Priebus, but secretly, he had already decided. Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein, unaware of this, were putting the finishing touches on their anti-Comey report, but Trump didn’t need it and was determined to act unilaterally. Even Jared and Ivanka, who wanted him to do it, didn’t know it was just about to happen. Actually, outside of Trump, no one knew.

It wasn’t until later that Trump told his daughter and son-in-law, at which point they became a family of conspirators who shut out the advice of anyone else. Just before 5pm, Trump let McGahn now and sent his personal security guard to deliver a letter to Comey’s office. Due to an erroneous report on Fox News, the staff briefly thought Comey had resigned. When the truth set in, Priebus was dumbfounded and Spicer was stuck with only minutes to prepare and spin the whole event. Comey himself was on a speaking engagement and only found out via a news report.

Jared’s advice was to say that Trump was working solely off the recommendation of Sessions and Rosenstein, even though their report had nothing to do with the decision. Unfortunately, Trump wanted credit. He wanted it known what he had done to humiliate Comey. The next day he continued indulging in his victory by talking about it in a meeting with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak, followed by bragging with information provided to the United States by an Israeli spy.

Trump thought firing Comey would make in a hero for standing up to the FBI. This was largely because Trump couldn’t imagine someone’s response to his actions if it differed from his own thoughts. Bannon had tried to explain to Trump that he would be creating his own enemies from the Washington bureaucracy if he did this sort of thing, but it just didn’t register. Unfortunately, Bannon was also quite correct. Rod Rosenstein had established himself as a by-the-book professional. Trump had pressured Rosenstein into producing a letter to fire Comey and the revealed that the letter never mattered. Rosenstein looked foolish and a Trump lackey and he wanted to set things right.

Jeff Sessions had already recused himself by this point, so it Rosenstein, as deputy attorney general was the next in charge of the Russian investigation. On May 17, Rosenstein, without consulting anyone in the White House, appointed Robert Mueller as a special prosecutor to oversee the investigation. This was his revenge for being used by Trump; his decision threatened to bring down the presidency.

About the author

Erik Hentell: I started out in theater before moving to graphic design. I eventually moved into web design while trying to expand my knowledge on software development. I currently work for a media company helping with their digital assets such as source code archives and ebooks.