Sunday, May 14, 2017

Hi, it's Stupid. Update

Donald Trump and Roy Cohn at the Trump Tower opening in 1983. Via Politico.

Picking up on a long comment from Jordan:
These are deep waters (as Sherlock Holmes would say). I am forced to agree point by point with the analysis — the “insecurity quotes” is particularly good — but I’m still not sure.
Because you just never know what he’s heard; what actual information he’s garbling and blurting out from that cement-mixer mind of his. I agree that the goons who generally supply his surveillance needs haven’t gotten anywhere near the White House, and I agree that the VoIP system isn’t something he remotely understands (we’ve seen him use “digital” to mean “electrical” just this week). But I wouldn’t rule out the existence of recordings of Trump’s conversations. He may have heard about this and assumed it’s all the conversations rather than just the Oval Office, or just the phone calls, or just some of the phone calls.
But the more interesting part, as you say, is this strange belief that any such recording would give him leverage. It’s a particularly clear view into his thinking process, because his position seems to be that he asked Comey to provide a loyalty oath and Comey refused (The swine! Who could blame anyone for firing someone like that?) and then asked if he was under investigation and Comey said no, three times (never mind what was actually said by either of them — I think this “tapes” business demonstrates conclusively that Trump genuinely believes that his selective memory of conversations represents what was actually said; he thinks recordings will vindicate his claims) and that anyone defending Comey, or complaining about Comey’s firing, must be people who don’t grasp that these exchanges occurred the way Trump is recounting them. So, Trump will produce the “tapes” and the world will hear Trump asking for a loyalty oath and Comey refusing and Trump asking if he’s under investigation and Comey saying he isn’t, and that will be the end of Comey and any Comey related problems. Right?
Because one thing that’s been clear throughout is that Trump has never had the slightest idea that there’s anything wrong with firing the FBI director because he’s investigating him. He still doesn’t get it: it’s in all the leaked reports where he’s blaming the staff for not explaining it all properly. Don’t we understand that the Russia story is fake and Comey kept pursuing it anyway, which is the opposite of how an employee should act? Don’t we get that Comey said Trump made him nauseous (cf. Josh Marshall, who, with help of a reader, deduced that Trump must have misunderstood Comey’s testimony about affecting the election)? Those “tapes” will show us that Comey was and is against Trump — so firing him was perfectly reasonable.
What’s more Trump than “You’re fired”? Isn’t this what we elected him for? Why is everyone getting so upset? It must be Spicer not presenting the idea clearly enough — Trump may have to fire him, too.
I want to clarify some details where I may not have been explicit enough, and expand on the whole thing:

Certainly he doesn't think there's anything wrong with firing Comey for investigating him, but it's not something he wants to say, because that would mean acknowledging that the investigation, involving him, exists. I'll get back to this.

He denies asking Comey to make the loyalty pledge (that story comes from anonymous Comey friends). Trump's claim is only about asking Comey whether or not he was under investigation. Which is of course improper enough.

I think the obvious source of the tape idea is from all those mean folks who have been comparing the Comey firing to Nixon's firing of Cox, which has gotten a lot of right-wing attention because they think it shows how hysterical Democrats are. Because as even Trump knows, it wasn't the Saturday Night Massacre that doomed Nixon in the first place, it was the discovery of the taping system.

Of course the other side to that is that he's been thinking obsessively about being taped ever since he got the (false) story of the Trump Tower bugging from Breitbart at the beginning of March and went on the famous "wiretapp" tweetstorm rant. That's when he was formally and publicly told (well, the sources were mostly anonymous, but still) that nobody was taping him. I can't help thinking he must have been told privately as well. It's why he largely dropped the subject for two months, running away from questions about it. It's the closest he can come to admitting he was wrong. Another reason for supposing there is no tape.

My hypothesis is that he doesn't think a real tape would benefit him at all; he knows what he said to Comey. But pointing at a tape he knows to be imaginary is perfect: "If ever I find that tape you'll know Comey promised me there was no investigation"—because of course nobody would ever threaten the story by finding it. Not to fool Comey but the Washington Post, which has indeed taken the bait.

He's OK with an investigation of who hacked the DNC, but that's about it. He's never acknowledged that Flynn's contacts with Sergey Kislyak could be improper, either, or even that Flynn lied to the VP, although he allows the spokespersons to say that last one, the way he allows them to fabricate alternative reasons for the Comey firing. (He never objects to "alternative facts" floating in the same pool, as long as they don't implicate him.) He's angry with Comey for failing to put him in the clear, the way he did for HRC in July. He can't understand Comey at all, he can't figure out whose side he's on. Everything you say in his world is an expression of your gang affiliation, and Comey seems to be a sneak playing both sides.

But he wants it understood by the public that whatever they're investigating has nothing to do with him. It's not enough to say they're investigating him wrongly, they shouldn't be investigating​ him at all. "I said to myself, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story." That's not a reference to an FBI investigation but to what he brands as #fakenews. Comey never said that. But Comey totally failed to rule out the possibility in the March 20 testimony and again on May 3, and that's what Trump can't forgive.

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