Comeyghazi: A Primer

As the latest chapter unfolds of the Trump administration’s endless, tedious descent into anarchy, I have thus far resisted writing about it. This is largely because the breathless media coverage afforded to the Comey firing and fallout has left precious little space for any kind of new analysis or fresh angle. I don’t want to rehash what a million other writers have done better. However, it strikes me that for those who don’t refresh twitter a million times a day, the particulars of the story might be difficult to follow. So I’ve decided to create a brief primer to explain what’s going on and why it’s all so, so stupid.

Dramatis Personae

Former FBI Director James Comey was appointed Director of the FBI by Barack Obama in 2013. The FBI Director position is supposed to be nonpartisan and independent. After Hoover ran it as his personal fiefdom and blackmail-gathering operation, later administrations took pains to reduce the omnipotence of the Director and separate him from political activities. One way this was managed was by setting the terms to be 10 years, so that they expire and are reconfirmed off-cycle from Presidents. Comey was a Republican lawyer before being appointed — more of Obama’s vaunted “bipartisanship” biting him in the ass — and most notably interfered in the 2016 elections with a series of bizarre communications to media about the investigation into candidate Hillary Clinton’s email server. Given how close the election is and how the polls turned against Clinton in the wake of each revelation, the argument that Comey cost Clinton the election is compelling.

Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn is a retired Army General. He was appointed Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense’s spy agency, by President Obama (thanks Obama!) in 2012, but was forced out just two years later. He is a notoriously greedy, idiotic and reprehensible man who never met a conspiracy theory he didn’t love and never met a Muslim he didn’t hate. His son is one of the chief pushers of the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, and Flynn himself has flagrantly breached protocol (and the law) by repeatedly meeting and accepting money from foreign actors without disclosure. He was fired by Trump after just 24 days on the job for talking to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and lying about it (or, more accurately, for getting caught) and registered as a foreign agent a couple of weeks later. Flynn is a moronic traitor who sold out his own country for a few thousand bucks and disgraced the uniform that he is somehow still allowed to wear. Just so we’re clear.

President Domald Loch Ness Tromb is the Leader of the Free World. A psychopathic toddler with the attention span of a mayfly, he stumbles from one idiocy to the next in a blind funk of stimulant abuse and early-onset dementia. He fired Flynn and Comey and continues to embarrass his family, his nation and his species on a daily basis.

H. R. McMaster is Flynn’s replacement and current National Security Advisor. He is a serving Brigadier General of the Army and the rumor is that Trump picked him because he couldn’t refuse. He is known as moderately competent and moderately honest, though his reputation has been taking a beating as he has been forced to lie repeatedly and stupidly to cover his boss’s ass.

Rod Rosenstein is Deputy Attorney General for the DOJ. He is a career lawyer who has worked for the government since the Clinton years. He was forced to resign along with 45 other US Attorneys by incoming Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and later appointed Deputy AG by Trump. Prior to Trumpfiringthefbidirectorgate, he was considered a fairly boring, non-controversial careerist.

Robert Mueller is a former director of the FBI, serving from 2001 to 2013. He served in Vietnam and earned a Purple Heart, then worked as a US Attorney before serving a FBI director.

Timeline of Events

July 5 2017: James Comey announces no charges against Hillary Clinton for her email server, but criticizes her judgment. Neither side is pleased with his bizarre, unprecedented press conference.

October 28 2016: Comey writes a letter to Congress indicating that he is investigating more emails discovered on a laptop belonging to Anthony Weiner. This letter is immediately leaked by Congressional Republicans and reignites the email controversy, sending Clinton’s polling numbers into a downward spiral.

November 8 2016: The earth spins off its axis, the magnetic poles reverse, chaos comes to Earth as Donald Trump somehow wins the Presidential election due to horrific incompetence and arrogance on the part of the wretched, miserable Clinton campaign.

December 29, 2016: Michael Flynn meets with Sergey Kislyak to discuss the Obama Administration’s retaliatory measures against Russia, announced that same day. This is extremely illegal. He does not inform his superiors, although since they almost certainly ordered him to do it that’s not surprising.

January 22, 2017: WSJ reports that Flynn is being investigated for his communications with Russians.

January 27, 2017: Comey and Trump dine together at the White House. Trump reportedly asks Comey to pledge his loyalty to the President, which he declines to do.

February 8, 2017: Flynn denies speaking to Kislyak about sanctions.

February 9, 2017: Oops, turns out he did talk about sanctions.

February 13, 2017: Trump fires Flynn, reportedly through Bannon, as he is a huge bitch baby who hates firing people in person (foreshadowing!)

February 14, 2017: Trump and Comey have a meeting in which Trump asks Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn, saying “he’s a good guy” and “I hope you can let this go.” This is alleged in a memo Comey wrote, supposedly as part of a paper trail documenting what he saw as inappropriate attempts by the President of the United States to influence a criminal investigation.

March 4 2017: Comey asks the Department of Justice to substantiate Trump’s claim that his wires were “tapped” in Trump Tower by then-President Obama, which they decline to do.

March 8 2017: Flynn registers as a foreign agent, possibly for Turkey.

March 20, 2017: Comey testifies before the House Intelligence Committee that the FBI has been investigating possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. During the hearing, Trump tweets that Comey has exonerated his campaign; reacting in real-time, Comey denies that, and also denies that there is any sign that Obama wiretapped Trump.

May 3 2017: Comey claims that Russia is the “greatest threat of any nation on Earth.”

May 8 2017: Trump asks Sessions and Rosenstein to write up a case against Comey to justify his firing.

May 9 2017: Comey is fired. He is on the other side of the country when this occurs and finds out via a news broadcast, which he initially thinks is a joke. It transpires that Rosenstein wrote a memo dated to this day excoriating Comey for his behavior during the 2016 Presidential election.

May 10 2017: Mike Pence indicates that, as initially reported, Trump fired Comey only because of the Rosenstein memo. Trump meets with Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in the Oval Office, allowing in Russian state media but denying access to American media. The potential security problems caused by allowing Russian media access to the Oval Office are immediately commented upon.

May 11 2017: Trump is interviewed by Lester Holt and claims that he would have fired Comey regardless of the recommendation, and that he did so because the Trump/Russia story is “made-up.” Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claims that “countless” FBI agents support Trump’s decision to fire Comey, a claim that is immediately contradicted by Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, who testifies that the “vast majority” of Bureau personnel supported Comey.

May 12 2017: Trump tweets that “James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” which immediately sets off a firestorm of controversy and Nixon comparisons. People start to ask if Trump tapes everything that happens in the White House, and it is noted that he is known for secretly taping meetings at Trump Tower and Mar-a-lago and listening in on people’s phone conversations via a personal switchboard.

May 15 2017: It is reported by the New York Times that Trump revealed classified information to the Russians while they were meeting in the Oval Office — top-secret codeword-level information obtained from an ally from sources within ISIS. This kind of disclosure would put those sources at immediate risk. This is an appalling breach of protocol and other White House officials present at the meeting, including H. R. McMaster, immediately deny that it took place — though McMaster’s denial is carefully worded.

May 16 2017: Trump wakes up and immediately tweets that he did in fact release information, he was allowed to do it, and he wants the intelligence community to find leakers. This completely contradicts everything his staff was saying the previous day, effectively throwing them under the bus.

The existence of a “Comey Memo” is revealed, which Comey supposedly wrote after each meeting with Trump, detailing the various illegal things Trump asked him to do and his responses. The memo’s contents are reported in the New York Times but the memo itself is not posted. The White House strenuously denies the allegations in the memo.

Israel is suspected to be the source of the leaked information, which in combination with recent actions by US diplomatic personnel in Israel preparing for Trump’s visit, throws the relationship into turmoil.

May 17 2017: The House and Senate Intelligence Committees asks Comey to testify. Trump gives a speech to a graduating class of Coast Guard students where he claims that no President has been as badly treated as he has by the media.

Rod Rosenstein appoints Robert Mueller as a special counsel to investigate the Russia/Comey case. They give the White House about half an hour of notice, which angers Trump.

Audio emerges of Congressional Republicans speculating in 2016 that Trump is being paid by Russia. At first they deny it, but when it becomes clear that the tape is out, they claim it was a joke.

May 18 2017: Trump wakes up and immediately tweets that “With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special councel appointed!” Despite the spelling quibble, this is technically accurate: Kenneth Starr was a special prosecutor, a position with considerably more power and independence than Mueller as special “councel.”

It emerges that Flynn has had as many as 18 contacts with Russian officials during and after the election that he did not disclose. It also emerges that he cancelled an ISIS attack plan that Turkey didn’t like while acting as a foreign agent for them without disclosing it. Despite all this, and despite the advice of his lawyers, Trump reportedly sent Flynn a message urging him to “stay strong” after firing him. Flynn is reportedly not cooperating with the Intelligence Committee’s probe, despite being subpoena’d.

Jason Chaffetz, who sits on the powerful Judiciary Committee and chairs the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, announces his early retirement as of June 30. He may appear on Fox News.

Rod Rosenstein briefs the Senate on the ongoing investigation. Lindsey Graham says that he believes the Trump/Russia investigation is now a “criminal investigation.” Rosenstein also revealed that he knew Comey would be fired before writing his infamous memo, further undermining the administration’s claim that they acted on his recommendation. Taken together it is hard not to see Rosenstein’s actions as attempts to protect himself from an administration that seemed intent on throwing him under the bus.

Reports indicate that Trump wants to bring Mike Flynn back in to the White House, which would be a truly shocking act and a very uncharacteristic display of loyalty for a man known to stab his partners in the back at every opportunity.

Benjamin Wittes, a personal friend of Comey, publishes a blog post where he relates the contents of conversations he had with Comey in which the Director discussed Trump’s inappropriate behavior towards him. It is generally believed that Wittes would not have posted this without Comey’s express permission.

May 19 2017

Trump leaves for a 9-day trip to the Middle East. As soon as he takes off two bombshells drop. First, the NYT reports that he told the Russians he met in the Oval Office that “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” and that “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” This is yet more proof, if any was needed, of his intent to obstruct justice by firing the lead investigator. The White House does not dispute these statements.

Second, the Washington Post reports that a “current White House official” has become a “person of interest” in the Russia probe. The wording of the statement inclines me to believe this is Sebastian Gorka or Jared Kushner.

Analysis

Is the Comey Memo accurate?

Almost certainly. Comey is known for obsessively documenting his actions to cover his ass, especially when asked to do something questionable. He is kind of an idiot but he does seem to sincerely want to avoid political interference with his job. Plus, the allegations are very consistent with Trump’s observed personality and behavior, and, frankly, I wouldn’t believe the White House these days if they said the sky was blue. Their credibility has been so thoroughly eviscerated that their denials have absolutely no relevance whatsoever.

So did Trump commit a crime?

Yes. This is textbook obstruction of justice. There is no better example.

Will Trump be impeached?

No. Republicans still control the House and Senate. Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan care about exactly one thing: cutting taxes for rich people as much as humanly possible. That is literally their only goal. They do not want to govern the large mass of American citizens, they just want to transfer as much wealth as possible into the pockets of the 1% as efficiently as they can. Impeaching Trump would be a distraction from this, and it would turn their rabid base against them. If the Republican Party had a shred of integrity, they would impeach Trump, so they will not do it. Do not wait for them to do it. If we want Trump impeached, we need a Democratic House and Senate in 2018.

What about the independent investigation?
Trump can fire Mueller whenever he wants. The investigation will only be allowed to proceed as long as it poses no threat to Trump. Sessions would not have allowed it if he thought it was going to go anywhere. Remember that the White House has strategically leaked things in the past; reports of dismay or disarray at the progress of the investigation should be treated with caution.

What about Justin Amash?

What about him? He’s a weirdo. He wrote in Rand Paul for President. Amash is a blood-drinking death cultist who wants to boil the fat off the poor to make soap. The fact that he opposes Trump in a way that costs him nothing and involves no risk is meaningless. It’s a calculated ploy to bolster his own standing, knowing that his own leadership will never allow anything to happen.

What about Nixon?

Nixon was impeached by a Democratic House, which we don’t have. He also enjoyed majority support among Republicans right up until the end. The comparisons are apt — this is very much like the Saturday Night Massacre — but if Nixon had had a Republican Congress, he would have served out his term.

Flynn’s gonna land in jail, right?

He should, if only for refusing to cooperate with a subpoena. The Senate won’t indict him, though. If they do, Jeff Sessions won’t prosecute him. If he does, Trump will pardon him. Any plan for removing this administration through criminal proceedings immediately hits the snag that every single person in a position of authority to prosecute any of this wrongdoing is guilty as hell and up to their necks in it.

Why are Republicans so evil?

They are the party of capital, the party that seeks to stripmine the remaining scraps of wealth that the powerful have not already gobbled up. None of them, not even the best Republican, disagree on that central goal. None of them is worth their weight in piss and the lot of them are cowardly, writhing imbeciles who would eat a plate of hot dog shit for a dollar. Never forget that there is no such thing as a good Congressional Republican.