The Trump versus Comey drama

Dhaka,  Sat,  24 June 2017
Published : 11 Jun 2017, 19:29:27
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The Trump versus Comey drama

M Serajul Islam
Washington has been witnessing political events since the assumption of office by President Donald Trump that no one would have imagined possible even in a nightmare. An administration is in office where an American President eulogises Vladimir Putin like a hero. A Special Counsel has been appointed without the President's knowledge and three investigations in Congress are looking into connections between the individuals in this administration with Russia that does not exclude him.

In the latest twist to the bizarre and surreal drama in Washington, the President and the FBI Director he sacked are publicly accusing and abusing each other as liar! An FBI Director is appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The President has the power to fire him anytime but an FBI Director's term was fixed for 10 years following the sad experiences during the Nixon era in order to spread his tenure to two consecutive presidents to underline the message to the White House that the independence of his office was of the essence.

President Obama had appointed James Comey in 2013 and his term was due to end in 2023. Therefore, his position did not need a reconfirmation from the new President and the Senate like all other Trump appointees. James Comey had earned President Trump's admiration during the campaign when he had reopened Hillary Clinton's email case with only 10 days left for the election that had a major impact on his win.

Therefore, when he fired James Comey, it raised a lot of questions about his intentions. The President himself gave rise to these questions by giving different reasons for his dismissal. And as doubts of the President's intentions increased, his smearing of James Comey crossed all limits. He initially suggested that he had sacked him on the recommendation of the Attorney General's office for his poor handling of Hillary Clinton's email investigations. He later stated that he had made up his mind before the recommendation because of his poor leadership of the FBI creating a lack of people's confidence in the powerful institution.

James Comey had remained silent while the President kept on his smearing campaign, angered by steady leak of information from intelligence and other sources that suggested that he had ulterior motives for firing him. These motives suggested first, that the Director had refused to give him unconditional loyalty that he had asked, and second, he was also unwilling to go slow on the FBI investigations into the Russian involvement in 2016 election, particularly to drop those related to FBI's criminal investigations against General Flynn. The second motive raised dangerous questions whether the President had obstructed justice, an impeachable offense.

James Comey finally broke his silence last week when he appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Intelligence. He pretty much confirmed everything that was in the public domain about the President's motives. During one part of the testimony, he likened the President to the 12th century British monarch King Henry II and compared himself to Thomas Beckett, underlining by inference that he was the victim of the President's hopes to make him subservient.

James Comey did not categorically state that the President had obstructed justice but he nevertheless suggested that the Special Counsel would no doubt look into that dangerous aspect in his interchanges with the President. He told the Senators that the Special Counsel was appointed after he had released a copy of the memo of his strange and dangerous one to one meeting with the President in the Oval Office where the latter had asked him to let General Flynn go after he had asked all else to leave the office including the Vice President and the Attorney General to the New York Times through a friend.

James Comey also explained that he had released the memo as a private citizen; that it was not confidential and therefore not illegal; that he had to get it into the "public square" only after he had read the President's tweet that gave a distorted version of his Oval Office meeting. He said that he needed to do so to cover himself legally because he did not trust the President and was wary of his intentions. 

James Comey's testimony rattled the President who checked his temptations to react over it by abstaining from Tweeter for a day. His private lawyer came before the media and claimed that James Comey's testimony had vindicated the President because he had said that the Russian investigations were not against him. He trashed the rest of James Comey's testimony as distortions and lies.

The President's patience lasted less than 24 hours. In his first tweet after the testimony, he blamed James Comey for lying under oath. He then held one of his rare press appearances at the White House Rose Garden that was arranged for the visiting Romanian President. There, he repeated his tweeter accusation that James Comey is a liar and should be charged for perjury. The President nevertheless also said that James Comey had vindicated him by stating that the Russian investigations were not against him.

The President expressed willingness to state all of that under oath even to the Special Counsel, if asked. When asked if the White House had a record of his Oval Office conversation with James Comey, he told journalists that they would soon find that out and would be "disappointed." He nevertheless did not confirm or deny the existence of the tape. At his testimony, James Comey had stated that he wanted the White House to release the record of the conversation if that existed.

The President has pushed the drama into a dangerous corner for his own good. A Special Counsel under Bob Mueller is not something that the President should take lightly as is the habit with him, all the more so because, first Bob Mueller is independent of the President's powers, and second, he has an impeccable reputation for integrity and courage who had a long 12 years (2001-2013) stint of great service as the FBI Director under two Presidents, President GW Bush and President Barak Obama. There is consensus in Washington that if there are smoking guns in, first, President Trump's exchanges with James Comey and second, in the Russian connections where the President's own involvement would not be outside his purview, then he would expose those smoking guns. 

Washington is poised to find out the truth; the so-called smoking guns. The President has contributed in moving the developing drama towards such a possibility by agreeing to speak under oath and to appear before the Special Counsel. He has also have created a dangerous problem for himself by talking of the tapes that had brought the downfall of President Nixon. The Congress has given the White House 2 weeks to hand the tapes. 

The first option could reveal given the public credibility of the President visa-vis the Director, that the latter had given the correct version that could make a strong case of impeachment. The second option would be less dangerous, that the President had once again lied which would not surprise many but would nevertheless establish officially that the President of the United States is a liar. President Donald Trump, to use a cliché, has thus cooked his own. The only thing that may be going up for him at this moment is the traditionally slow pace of the Special Counsel that may take months and perhaps years to complete its investigations.

With the mid-term elections next year, the Republicans whose support would be necessary for any serious move against the President would not go against him till then unless of course, the ongoing investigations come up with the smoking gun that have not happened with the Comey testimony although a large section of Americans believe a smoking gun is already there in James Comey's testimony simply waiting to be established officially by the Special Counsel.

The writer is a former Ambassador. serajul7@gmail.com

 
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