“If you can’t dazzle them with your brilliance, baffle them with your b.s.” That’s just one of the rules of the Washington Swamp. A case in point is the statement from Marc Kasowitz, the New York attorney who has long represented private citizen Donald Trump in his various shady dealings, and who now has brought his hired gun to the really dark corners of the new Trump presidency. When James Comey, the former FBI director fired last month by Trump, testified about his dealings with the chief executive (who came across as The Godfather), Kasowitz managed to latch onto a minor point and claim: “The president feels completely and totally vindicated” by what Comey had to say. After an extended period of cybersilence, the twitter in chief weighed in, tweeting “Completely vindicated.” For once, Trump was staying on message, flimsy though it was.
The truth was much more foreboding. What Jim Comey had to say regarding conversations with the president about the FBI’s investigation of alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government has raised questions of whether our current president is guilty of obstruction of justice. I say “current president” because such a violation of the law could be an impeachable offense.
So how is it that Trump’s lawyer says he “feels completely and totally vindicated”? Because he spotted a glimmer of good news for his client: Comey acknowledged in his testimony that he told the president during some of their uncomfortable encounters that he was personally not under investigation. Kasowitz decided to spin that as a big deal.
It was a small deal, minuscule actually, since that might change at any point as counterintelligence sleuths uncover new leads. It clearly is insignificant when considering Comey’s charge that Trump was exerting specific pressure on the FBI to ditch the whole thing, to “lift the cloud” on his presidency.
In Jim Comey’s telling, Trump hinted that Comey’s continued employment depended on his total fealty. “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.” In other words, agree to play by my rules or I’ll toss you out of the game. Comey says he refused to make such a pledge. He was fired soon thereafter.
Another piece of wisdom in swamp lore: If you’re playing a game here, bluffing doesn’t work. Donald Trump made a rookie mistake when he tweeted, shortly after the marsh gas exploded into flaming controversy, that “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” All that accomplished was to heat things up even more. Comey has been around the Capitol track a few times. So, of course he leaked to the press his now-famous memos to himself — his version of Trump’s heavy-handedness. He made no bones about it, readily admitting that he had done so to the Senate Intelligence Committee. Millions of people watched the hearing as he charged that the president told “lies, plain and simple” about his dismissal and “defamed” him and the FBI. As for recordings of the conversation, Comey told the hearing, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.”
It’s not that Lord Trump is totally naive or that Washington is the only swamp. His real estate/gambling/TV turf has always been a snake pit. In Trumpworld, the loyalty he seeks is a one-way street. Any number of those who have hitched their wagons to his caravan learned that the hard way. The latest is Jeff Sessions, the courtly bigot from the Senate who gave Trump’s candidacy early credibility. He’s now the attorney general, but we don’t know for how long. He has displeased his great leader, who has hung Sessions out to dry.
As for Jim Comey, he’s a nuance kinda guy, which is necessary to fight wars here in the swamp. Trump is definitely not. While Donald Trump Sr. limited his Twitter output to a single spurt and showed some restraint, his kid, Donald Jr., described Comey’s testimony as “BS.” Nothing baffling about that.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.