Donald J. Trump: King or Criminal?

Since my last post President Trump has been treated like royalty in Saudi Arabia and  like a criminal at home.  Even more than usual the news makes my head spin in circles like that girl possessed by the devil in The Exorcist.

First, the Comey vs. Trump battle over truth which I wrote about in my last post promises to get real lively as Comey has agreed to speak in an open Senate Intelligence Committee hearing after Memorial day.  He seems to have picked that committee because it appears to be the most bi-partisan in congress when it comes to the Trump/Russia investigation.

However, there might be a complication.   Since my post a “new sheriff” is in town.   Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General handling the Trump campaign Russia connection, has surprised many by appointing a special counsel to investigate this whole matter of the Trump team and Russia, not only as a matter of foreign interference in our election but for possible criminal activities.

He appointed Robert Mueller, former FBI director in both Democratic and Republican administrations, whose apolitical competence is one of the few things agreed upon on both sides of the aisle.  In his new role “sheriff” Mueller might play some kind of role in Comey’s testimony.

Rosenstein’s decision to appoint a special counsel seems tied to how Trump fired Comey.  Trump made the decision impetuously and then asked Rosenstein to write up a rationale (which few bought) which then Trump used as the cause for the firing (1).  Eventually, Trump came clean, but he tarnished Rosenstein’s stellar reputation by first making the firing seem like Rosenstein’s idea.  It is rumored that Rosenstein threatened to resign if Trump didn’t straighten the record.

Trump did admit the truth but apparently that wasn’t enough to satisfy Rosenstein.   Appointing a special counsel seems like Rosenstein’s way of fully grabbing his integrity back.   Take that Mr. President.

So, with his unique ability to make matters worse for himself, Trump now has the immediate threat of Comey to deal with and the threat of Mueller’s investigations down the line.

At least this gives many Republican legislators in swing districts some cover from constituents who want to see this Russian connection fully investigated.  Now the congressmen and women can say Mueller is on the case and we don’t want to interfere.

With all of this turmoil at home Trump must have loved Saudi Arabia where he was welcomed as a king.   Yesterday he gave a speech that seems to have tread tricky territory  quite well.   Sticking with the teleprompter of course.  There are many angles to explore, but I’ll save that for later.  For now let’s just go with TV commentator emeritus Bob Schieffer saying at least the address was “presidential” and not “the rant of some angry guy at the end of the bar.”

I know, I know…….   There is something very odd when our president acting presidential merits praise, but we have fallen down the rabbit hole into Trump world.  His acting presidential may be the most we can ask for while he and we are sorting out what his foreign policy actually is.

For a start I’ll dissect that Saudi Arabia speech in a future post.


(1).  This article shows that Rosenstein stands by that memo.  He thinks Comey should have been fired for abusing his position, but he resented being made the fall guy in Trump’s story (you have noticed, haven’t you, that Trump always has a fall guy, so he can’t be blamed for anything).

As for few people buying the memo, much of it chided Comey for his public treatment of Clinton.  That would be fine were it not for Trump cheering every step Comey took that cast doubt on Clinton, hardly a true reason to now fire him.

Trump vs. Comey: A Showdown Over the Truth

On May 12 Donald Trump tweeted:  “James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”  This in response to fired FBI Director Comey’s indicating that Trump had asked for a pledge of loyalty, two or three times it seems.  Not what a president should request from someone whose position dictates independence, with loyalty only to the constitution and to the truth.

I’m wondering if Trump is simply unraveling…..

This may be the president’s strangest tweet because, unlike those hundreds of others that have garnered attention, it makes no sense.   Of course, he has said plenty of outrageous things, many of which he just made up, but they helped his situation in creating an image of a strong decisive leader, a guy who would shake up Washington, or in providing a distraction from topics he no longer wanted to talk about.   Here it only draws more attention to the lingering sore issue of whether his campaign colluded with the Russians during the election.

It is the same as the firing of Comey, with Trump’s team giving false reasons for doing so and then the president admitting it was largely Comey’s refusal to let go of the “fake Russian story.”   Again prompting more attention on the Russian connection, rather than less.

Many commentators suggest that email above was a threat to Comey.  That would only be true if Comey is lying.  I think Trump is the one who is lying.   If so, talk of tapes is like you threatening someone with a gun pointed at yourself.

And mentioning the tapes (unless they actually exist and prove his point) has only served to prompt calls from congress to see them and left Trump’s surrogates, like national joke spokesman Sean Spicer, to feebly admit the president doesn’t want to talk about it.  Some threat.

Again prompting more attention on the Russian connection, rather than less.

Unlike so much else in Washington that just seems to drift a long, this specific conflict over the truth figures to come to a head.  It will be settled somehow.  It comes down to who you think is fundamentally more honest and, unless you are a Trump Fanatic, there is no question.  Comey has spent decades developing a reputation for integrity.  Trump has spent decades developing real estate deals saying and doing whatever it took to succeed.

The Trumpites like to point to the criticism the Democrats have had of Comey’s handling of the Hillary email mess, some even calling for his resignation.  But for the most part, it was his judgement that was criticized not his integrity.  After all this is a guy who wouldn’t even play basketball with President Obama as it might imply too close of a relationship.   And this is a professional who has been keeping detailed memos in FBI files of all of his exchanges with Trump and his team.

Like the gunfight at the OK corral, it will come to a head.  And I think Comey is looking forward to it.

Comey’s host of memos may come out like a series of poison darts, or he might reveal a bunch of them at a public hearing.  The initial one yesterday details Trump asking Comey if he “could see fit” to drop the investigation of Mike Flynn.  The White House says “this is not a truthful or accurate portrayal” of that conversation.  One side of the other is lying and the truth will out.

The president is probably happy to be leaving town this weekend for visits to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Vatican.  You have to give it to Trump.  He knows how to put on a show.   Who knows what will actually be accomplished, but those meetings should provide some great optics (handshakes with three great religions) and of course Trump will tell us of the great meetings he had all around.

But whatever happens abroad the Comey problem will still be here on his return and if anything, it will look bigger not smaller.


P. S. – Of course I’m aware of the meeting of Russian diplomats with Trump in the oval office and the controversy that has ensued.  You want to bury the story line of the Russian connection?   So, right after firing Comey you host key Russian diplomats in the Oval Office, allowing jovial photos to come out?  Really?  I mean really?

Besides national security implications, it just seems like another poorly thought out tactical mistake reinforcing questions as to whether Trump really wants this job.

After all he has admitted it is harder than he thought.

Trump’s First 100: Little done and who knows what’s begun?

When thinking of the Trump presidency I alternate between viewing it through one lens looking for what is being done and another that focuses on the show, aimed mostly at grabbing our attention like a good advertisement.  Through the action lens Trump’s presidency looks willy-nilly, featuring much incompetence in his staff and their relations with congress, including the failure to fill many top vacancies.

Add a titanic sized boat load of conflicts of interest by the Trump family and the tendency to flip flop, including often doing exactly the opposite of the populism he campaigned upon.  Oh, and there is that lingering Russian connection under slow-mo investigation.

But as a show it is one display of fireworks after another and while many of us can only gag and shake our heads his followers, according to polls, are holding strong.   They are willing to cut him loads of slack given “the mess” he inherited in Washington and the frenzy of activity he engineers.   They see him tirelessly working for them, an image Mussolini achieved in Italy prior to WWII, by leaving a light on in his office all night.  Simpler times.

Trump is surely a whirlwind of activity though even that gets exaggerated by the bomb dropping impact of his tweets.   It might take him a few minutes to think through and pop off about Obama being “sick and  bad” for wire tapping him, but it sends reporters scurrying around for weeks.

Recently a TV reporter pressed Trump on the “sick and bad” comment and Trump called the interview over rather than explain himself.  Basically he left with “we all have our opinions.”  “But you are the president”  John Dickerson reminded him to no avail.   Dickerson was indicating the obvious, that we should be able to expect our president to explain what he meant by such an outrageous statement.

Turns out that’s not true in Trump world, a fantasy realm propped up by the Republican party in hopes it will get them what they want.  I doubt Trump ever knew exactly what he meant.  What he knew was it would be an attention grabber, just like all of the other personal attacks that have gotten him this far.  Who knew how wrong Jeb Bush could be when he told Trump at a debate:  “You can’t insult your way to the White House.”

Besides the tweets Trump is always signing something or meeting with someone, but judging what he actually accomplishes is tough.  Most of those executive orders either cut back on something Obama backed or proclaim a review of something that will likely be cut back.

Surely the national government can be trimmed, but the Trump team seems eager to cut before a review, such as the case of the State Department.   The goal  there seems to be to cut the staff by 30%  despite warnings by the likes of Secretary of Defense  Mattis, perhaps the most widely respected member of the administration.

Trump’s domestic successes can mostly be grouped under the heading:  Deconstructing the Obama Legacy.   From the confirmation of Judge Gorsuch to his domestic cabinet picks, they share an agenda to reduce government.  Sometimes to the point of absurdity, like the EPA, which now seems to stand for the Environmental Pollution Agency.  How could it be otherwise with a secretary who continuously battled the EPA when a state attorney general?

That reminds me of the novel Fahrenheit 451, a dystopia in which the job of the firemen was not to fight fires but to burn books.   Think of the other cabinet positions and you’ll see reflections of that as well.

You may have noticed I have said almost nothing about the foreign policy aspect of the brief rein of King Don.  That’s because I see no policy, just a lot of showboating.  Bombs dropped here and there to show the world Trump’s willingness to get tough.  But along with this is Trump’s flirtatious ways with strong men rulers, the targets of dire threats one day and praise the next.

Most of us would not say we’d be “honored to meet” with the prominent dictators of our day.   As if oblivious to their collective brutal suppression of others, or more likely, Trump just doesn’t care.

If you are a true blue America Firster, no one else really matters.

That’s a topic for another day.  As far as Trump’s success so far, David Horsey of the L. A. Times  has summed it up well:  “Perhaps Trump’s biggest accomplishment in his first one hundred days has been his ability to capture the constant attention of the country and the world.”

A huge win for our Narcissist-in-Chief.