According to Comey’s account in a new memoir, Trump “strongly denied the allegations, asking — rhetorically, I assumed — whether he seemed like a guy who needed the service of prostitutes. He then began discussing cases where women had accused him of sexual assault, a subject I had not raised. He mentioned a number of women, and seemed to have memorized their allegations.”
The January 2017 conversation at Trump Tower in Manhattan “teetered toward disaster” — until “I pulled the tool from my bag: ‘We are not investigating you, sir.’ That seemed to quiet him,” Comey writes.
Trump did not stay quiet for long. Comey describes Trump as having been obsessed with the prostitutes portion of the infamous dossier compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, raising it at least four times with the FBI head.
.. Trump offered varying explanations to convince Comey it was not true. “I’m a germaphobe,” Trump told him in a follow-up call on Jan. 11, 2017, according to Comey’s account. “There’s no way I would let people pee on each other around me. No way.” Later, the president asked what could be done to “lift the cloud” because it was so painful for first lady Melania Trump.
.. In his memoir, Comey paints a devastating portrait of a president who built “a cocoon of alternative reality that he was busily wrapping around all of us.” Comey describes Trump as a congenital liar and unethical leader, devoid of human emotion and driven by personal ego.
.. Interacting with Trump, Comey writes, gave him “flashbacks to my earlier career as a prosecutor against the Mob.
- The silent circle of assent.
- The boss in complete control.
- The loyalty oaths.
- The us-versus-them worldview.
- The lying about all things, large and small, in service to some code of loyalty that put the organization above morality and above the truth.”
.. The result, in Comey’s telling, is “the forest fire that is the Trump presidency.”
.. “You can’t be kicked out of the room so he can talk to me alone,” Comey told Sessions, according to the book. “You have to be between me and the president.”
.. “Sessions just cast his eyes down at the table, and they darted quickly back and forth, side to side. He said nothing. I read in his posture and face a message that he would not be able to help me.”
.. Comey delivers an indirect but unmistakable rebuke of the GOP’s congressional leaders as well: “It is also wrong to stand idly by, or worse, to stay silent when you know better, while a president brazenly seeks to undermine public confidence in law enforcement institutions that were established to keep our leaders in check.”
.. “I have one perspective on the behavior I saw, which while disturbing and violating basic norms of ethical leadership, may fall short of being illegal,” he writes.
.. “They lose the ability to distinguish between what’s true and what’s not,” Comey writes. “They surround themselves with other liars . . . Perks and access are given to those willing to lie and tolerate lies. This creates a culture, which becomes an entire way of life.”
.. Comey also writes that in a post-election briefing for senators, then-Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) confronted him about “what you did to Hillary Clinton.” Comey responded, “I did my best with the facts before me.” A teary-eyed Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) grabbed him by the hand afterward and said, “I know you. You were in an impossible position,” Comey writes.
.. Comey is critical of then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, saying she had a “tortured half-out, half-in approach” to the Clinton investigation and that he considered calling for the appointment of a special prosecutor.
.. “As he extended his hand,” Comey adds, “I made a mental note to check its size. It was smaller than mine, but did not seem unusually so.”
.. Comey recalls being struck that neither Trump nor his advisers asked about the future Russian threat, nor how the United States might prepare to meet it. Rather, he writes, they focused on “how they could spin what we’d just told them.”
.. “I decided not to tell him that the activity alleged did not seem to require either an overnight stay or even being in proximity to the participants,” Comey writes. “In fact, though I didn’t know for sure, I imagined the presidential suite of the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow was large enough for a germaphobe to be at a safe distance from the activity.”
.. Comey writes that he believed Trump was trying “to establish a patronage relationship,” and that he said: “I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.”
.. Trump broke the standoff by turning to other topics, Comey writes, speaking in torrents, “like an oral jigsaw puzzle,” about the size of his inauguration crowd, his free media coverage and the viciousness of the campaign. He talked about the Clinton email investigation as in three phases, as if it were a television series: “Comey One,” “Comey Two” and “Comey Three.” Trump also tried to convince Comey that he had not mocked disabled New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski at a campaign rally, and then turned to the detailed allegations of sexual assault against him.
“There was no way he groped that lady sitting next to him on the airplane, he insisted,” Comey writes. “And the idea that he grabbed a porn star and offered her money to come to his room was preposterous.”
.. And then Trump brought up “the golden showers thing,” Comey writes. The president told him that “it bothered him if there was ‘even a one percent chance’ his wife, Melania, thought it was true.” Comey writes that Trump told him to consider having the FBI investigate the prostitutes allegation to “prove it was a lie.”
.. As the dinner concluded, Trump returned to the issue of loyalty.
“I need loyalty,” Trump tells Comey, according to the book.
“You will always get honesty from me,” Comey replies.
“That’s what I want, honest loyalty,” Trump said, reaching what Comey writes was “some sort of ‘deal’ in which we were both winners.”.. “But he’s a killer,” O’Reilly told Trump.The president’s reply: “There are a ton of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think? Our country’s so innocent?”
Trump fumed to Comey about the media criticism he received.
“I gave a good answer,” Trump said, according to Comey. “Really, it was a great answer. I gave a really great answer.”
Trump sought validation: “You think it was a great answer, right?”
Comey replied, “We aren’t the kind of killers that Putin is.”
Trump apparently did not take the correction well. Comey writes that the president’s eyes changed and his jaw tightened, and Priebus escorted him out.
.. Comey describes soon receiving an “emotional call” from Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly.
“He said he was sick about my firing and that he intended to quit in protest,” Comey writes. “He said he didn’t want to work for dishonorable people who would treat someone like me in such a manner. I urged Kelly not to do that, arguing that the country needed principled people around this president. Especially this president.”
Kelly did not resign. Two and a half months later, he was named White House chief of staff.
Don’t let one speech fool you into revisionist history.
But a more careful look at Trump and Bush’s records shouldn’t elevate Bush; it should remind us that the two presidents have more in common than they care publicly to admit.
For starters, just think about tax cuts for the extremely wealthy, suppressing the black vote and Bush’s penchant for denigrating facts and expertise. Our country’s historical amnesia be damned; the roots of Trump’s reactionary agenda were planted in W.’s West Wing.
.. “Because of my position and my affection for the president and my belief and trust in he and his advisers, I gave them the benefit of the doubt,” McClellan said. “And looking back on it and reflecting on it now, I don’t think I should have.” McClellan faulted the Bush administration for never having shifted from campaign mode to governing mode, a failure that “almost guaranteed that the use of force would become the only feasible option [in Iraq].
In the permanent campaign era, it was all about manipulating sources of public opinion to the president’s advantage.”
.. In his recent speech, Bush claimed that bigotry “is blasphemy against the American creed,” referring to Trump’s politics. But Bush’s own Svengali, Rove, was simply more sophisticated and soft-spoken in his bigotry than Trump’s past and present cabal, Stephen K. Bannon, Stephen Miller and Sebastian Gorka.
.. he and Rove were the crown princes of wedge issues. Having championed a historically unprecedented move to change the Constitution to bar same-sex couples from marrying, Bush and Rove then helped get 11 initiatives to ban same-sex marriage on state ballots in November 2004, the better to draw conservatives to the polls to support his reelection
.. Bush, Rove and Gillespie worked diligently with Republican state legislators to put voter-restriction laws on the books, the better to keep blacks and college students away. Despite no worthy evidence of voting fraud in 2000 or 2002, John Ashcroft, Bush’s attorney general, put the issue at the top of the Justice Department’s agenda.
.. Bush had his attorney general fire seven U.S. attorneys. Ultimately, the Department of Justice’s own inspector general concluded that some of the dismissals were motivated by the fired prosecutors’ refusal to go after trumped-up voter fraud cases.
.. Mother Jones suggests that Wisconsin’s black voter suppression helped tip the state to Trump.
.. Bush’s tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 delivered the top 1 percent of earners an average tax break of more than $570,000 between 2004 and 2012. Bush boosted that top 1 percent’s already high after-tax income by more than 5 percent each year.
.. It was Bush and Rove who demonized climate scientists, reproductive health specialists, stem-cell researchers and Middle East experts. Referring to the war in Iraq, a top Bush aide once mocked “the reality-based community,” a code for those who dare criticized Bush’s policies — gasp! — based on facts. Bush dishonestly teed up the anti-intellectual, anti-elitist rage that became the emotional touchstone of Trumpism.
.. There’s very little lifestyle or ideological difference between the Bush clan and core members of the Trump administration: Jared Kushner, Steven Mnuchin, Gary Cohn, Rex Tillerson or Betsy DeVos (whose brother, Erik Prince, founded Blackwate
Look to the right now and you’re apt to find an alternative reality in which the same set of facts is rearranged to compose an entirely different narrative. On Fox News, host Lou Dobbs offered a representative example on Thursday night, when he described the Donald Trump Jr. email story, with wild-eyed fervor, like this: “This is about a full-on assault by the left, the Democratic Party, to absolutely carry out a coup d’état against President Trump aided by the left-wing media.”
Mr. Dobbs isn’t some wacky outlier, but rather an example of how over the last several years the conservative underworld has swallowed up and subsumed more established right-leaning outlets such as Fox News. The Breitbart mind-set — pugnacious, besieged, paranoid and determined to impose its own framework on current events regardless of facts — has moved from the right-wing fringe to the center of Republican politics.
.. “They’ve become extraordinarily influential. Radio talk-show hosts are reading Breitbart every day. You can feel it when they interview you.”
.. “The relationship has always been largely transactional,” the G.O.P. strategist Alex Conant told RealClearPolitics this month. “Republicans in Congress can pass laws, and Trump can sign them. Therefore, it’s mutually beneficial.”
.. Another argument holds that Mr. Trump’s efforts to discredit mainstream outlets, echoed by the right-wing media, have stripped his followers of their ability to distinguish what’s real from what isn’t.
.. Culture has always been a driving obsession of the conservative underworld of Breitbart and its ilk. “Andrew was always more interested in changing the culture than he was in changing what was going on in Washington,” Steve Bannon,
.. a majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents now believes that colleges and universities — the flash point of our current culture wars — have a negative effect on the country. This number is up sharply from the 45 percent who agreed with this same statement last year.
.. If you’re not a Republican, watching Republicans react to the news can feel a bit like witnessing a mass hallucination.
.. There’s no guarantee that this will endure. Even on Fox News, there are scattered signs that the latest Russia developments may finally be breaking through — at least to a few folks. “This was a bungled collusion,” the Fox pundit Charles Krauthammer said the other night, noting that he had previously been sympathetic to the White House line. “It undoes the White House story completely.”
Donald Trump just took us out of the Paris climate accord for no good reason. I don’t mean that his decision was wrong. I mean, literally, that he didn’t offer any substantive justification for that decision. Oh, he threw around a few numbers about supposed job losses, but nobody believes that he knows or cares where those numbers came from. It was just what he felt like doing.
.. today’s G.O.P. doesn’t do substance; it doesn’t assemble evidence, or do analysis to formulate or even to justify its policy positions. Facts and hard thinking aren’t wanted, and anyone who tries to bring such things into the discussion is the enemy.
.. So how did the administration respond? By trying to shoot the messenger. Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director, attacked the C.B.O.
.. He also accused the office — headed by a former Bush administration economist chosen by Republicans — of political bias, and smeared its top health expert in particular.
.. Mulvaney and his party don’t study issues, they just decide, and attack the motives of anyone who questions their decisions.
.. they insist that the private sector is infinitely flexible and innovative; the magic of the marketplace can solve all problems. But then they claim that these magical markets would roll over and die if we put a modest price on carbon emissions
.. Can you think of any major policy area where the G.O.P. hasn’t gone post-truth?
.. bear in mind that so far Trump hasn’t faced a single crisis not of his own making. As George Orwell noted many years ago in his essay “In Front of Your Nose,” people can indeed talk nonsense for a very long time, without paying an obvious price. But “sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.”