Matt relayed the latest New York Times scoop earlier -- and at first, I thought that it couldn't possibly be true. Not even Donald Trump would be so arrogant and stupid as to boast to the Russians -- of all people! -- that he'd canned Comey to help take some Russia-related political pressure off of his administration. It's so cartoonishly ridiculous that it reads like bad satire. Plus, if Trump had done any such thing, it would definitely have leaked immediately, right? That'd have been way juicier than the ISIS intelligence nugget that blew up into a controversy that barely lasted a day and now feels like ancient history because of the Comey memo story. Oh, and the Times (again) hasn't actually seen the memo from which this claim arose. But then the White House, um, didn't dispute that Trump had said these things, instead offering an alternate explanation of the sort of "pressure" Trump was talking about:
“By grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia’s actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia. The investigation would have always continued, and obviously, the termination of Comey would not have ended it. Once again, the real story is that our national security has been undermined by the leaking of private and highly classified conversations.”
To recap, the White House (a) essentially confirms that Trump made these statements -- again, directly to the Russians -- and (b) essentially confirms that Comey's firing did have something to do with Russia after all. I'm gobsmacked. Please recall that, like, just a few days ago, the White House was insisting that Comey's dismissal was about his handling of the Clinton email matter. Then Trump claimed that it was because the FBI director was doing a "bad job," or whatever. And now this. It's as if they huddled up and intentionally charted a course forward that would make them look as guilty and incompetent as humanly possible. Allahpundit makes the additional good point that if Trump was really so upset at Comey's "grandstanding," he should have welcomed the special counsel announcement, not groused about it: "If the White House wanted less “grandstanding” and more investigating why did it oppose the appointment of a special counsel? Congressional probes are about to go dark now that Bob Mueller’s on the case, achieving Trump’s alleged goal of less politicization. They could have had a quieter investigation without firing Comey simply by nudging Rod Rosenstein to act sooner." My first-take response to AP's question is that this is a breathtakingly inept White House that careens from minute to minute with no plan, captive to the whims of a capricious and impulsive president. Have a better theory? Let's hear it.
By the way, Trump's mind-bending decision to spout off like this to Lavrov and company still doesn't erase some of the countervailing evidence that argues against alleged political interference in the Russia probe or efforts at obstruction of justice. But hot damn, it sometimes feels like Trump has a political death wish. The "nut job" smear of Comey is also a nice touch. The former FBI chief is many things -- including some less-than-flattering things, perhaps -- but he's not crazy. And his demeanor and professionalism commend him as a paragon of sanity when juxtaposed with...another powerful man in Washington, DC. Consider this: Trump knew that he'd asked Comey to "let go" of the Flynn probe, smack in the middle of the Russia firestorm, then he fired the guy in humiliating fashion, then laughed about it with Russian officials the very next day. It's so incredibly dumb and crazy that it almost feels exculpatory. But I don't even know anymore. I'll leave you with this strong analysis from David French at National Review, who says this latest Times story looks quite bad for the president, whereas another fresh supposed "bombshell" is parsed to high heaven and more dubious. Call it a tale of two bombshells, if you will:
First take -- the WaPo scoop underwhelms. The Times, however, troubles. A disturbing picture is emerging https://t.co/ki4UKJyVsT— David French (@DavidAFrench) May 19, 2017
UPDATE - Here we go. Unless Mueller intervenes to lock down his probe with a round of gag orders, the "nut job" will again testify under oath, and in open session:
JUST IN: Former FBI Director James Comey agrees to testify in open session before Senate Intelligence Committee pic.twitter.com/ZzbHB4CiH6— NBC News (@NBCNews) May 19, 2017