.. the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, carried out the president’s orders and lobbied Mr. Sessions to remain in charge of the inquiry
.. Mr. McGahn was unsuccessful, and the president erupted in anger in front of numerous White House officials, saying he needed his attorney general to protect him. Mr. Trump said he had expected his top law enforcement official to safeguard him the way he believed Robert F. Kennedy, as attorney general, had done for his brother John F. Kennedy and Eric H. Holder Jr. had for Barack Obama.
..Mr. Trump then asked, “Where’s my Roy Cohn?” He was referring to his former personal lawyer and fixer
.. The president’s determination to fire Mr. Comey even led one White House lawyer to take the extraordinary step of misleading Mr. Trump about whether he had the authority to remove him.
.. a false statement that the president dictated on Air Force One in July in response to an article in The Times about a meeting that Trump campaign officials had with Russians in 2016. A new book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” by Michael Wolff, says that the president’s lawyers believed that the statement was “an explicit attempt to throw sand into the investigation’s gears,” and that it led one of Mr. Trump’s spokesmen to quit because he believed it was obstruction of justice.
.. Some experts said the case would be stronger if there was evidence that the president had told witnesses to lie under oath.
.. Regardless of whether Mr. Mueller believes there is enough evidence to make a case against the president, Mr. Trump’s belief that his attorney general should protect him provides an important window into how he governs. Presidents have had close relationships with their attorneys general, but Mr. Trump’s obsession with loyalty is particularly unusual
.. Mr. Sessions told Mr. McGahn that career Justice Department officials had said he should step aside, Mr. McGahn said he understood and backed down.
.. The lawyer, Uttam Dhillon, was convinced that if Mr. Comey was fired, the Trump presidency could be imperiled, because it would force the Justice Department to open an investigation into whether Mr. Trump was trying to derail the Russia investigation.
.. Stephen I. Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas School of Law, called the episode “extraordinary,” adding that he could not think of a similar one that occurred in past administrations.
“This shows that the president’s lawyers don’t trust giving him all the facts because they fear he will make a decision that is not best suited for him,” Mr. Vladeck said.
.. Mr. Trump unloaded on Mr. Sessions, who was at the White House that day. He criticized him for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, questioned his loyalty, and said he wanted to get rid of Mr. Comey. He repeated the refrain that the attorneys general for Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Obama had protected the White House.
.. In an interview with The Times last month, Mr. Trump said he believed that Mr. Holder had protected Mr. Obama.
.. Holder protected the president. And I have great respect for that, I’ll be honest.”
.. The attorney general wanted one negative article a day in the news media about Mr. Comey, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting.
.. White House officials have said the letter contained no references to Russia or the F.B.I.’s investigation. According to two people who have read it, however, the letter’s first sentence said the Russia investigation had been “fabricated and politically motivated.”
.. the president said the attorney general had been disloyal for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, and he told Mr. Sessions to resign.
Mr. Sessions sent his resignation letter to the president the following day. But Mr. Trump rejected it, sending it back with a handwritten note at the top.
“Not accepted,” the note said.
Inside Trump’s Hour by Hour Battle for Self-Preservation
With Twitter as his Excalibur, the president
takes on his doubters, powered by long spells
of cable news and a dozen Diet Cokes. But
if Mr. Trump has yet to bend the presidency
to his will, he is at least wrestling it to a draw.
Mr. Trump’s uninhibited approach seems erratic to many veterans of both parties in the capital and beyond. Some politicians and pundits lament the instability and, even without medical degrees, feel no compunction about publicly diagnosing various mental maladies.
.. Before taking office, Mr. Trump told top aides to think of each presidential day as an episode in a television show in which he vanquishes rivals. People close to him estimate that Mr. Trump spends at least four hours a day, and sometimes as much as twice that, in front of a television, sometimes with the volume muted, marinating in the no-holds-barred wars of cable news and eager to fire back.
.. Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser, has told associates that Mr. Trump, deeply set in his ways at age 71, will never change. Rather, he predicted, Mr. Trump would bend, and possibly break, the office to his will.
That has proved half true. Mr. Trump, so far, has arguably wrestled the presidency to a draw.
.. Mr. Kelly is trying, quietly and respectfully, to reduce the amount of free time the president has for fiery tweets by accelerating the start of his workday. Mr. Priebus also tried, with only modest success, to encourage Mr. Trump to arrive by 9 or 9:30 a.m.
.. Mr. Trump, who enjoyed complete control over his business empire, has made significant concessions after trying to micromanage his first months in office. Despite chafing at the limits, the president actually craves the approval of Mr. Kelly, whom he sees as a peer, people close to Mr. Trump said.
.. He calls Mr. Kelly up to a dozen times a day, even four or five times during dinner or a golf outing, to ask about his schedule or seek policy advice, according to people who have spoken with the president. The new system gives him “time to think,” he said when it began.
.. For most of the year, people inside and outside Washington have been convinced that there is a strategy behind Mr. Trump’s actions. But there is seldom a plan apart from pre-emption, self-defense, obsession and impulse.
.. Occasionally, the president solicits affirmation before hitting the “tweet” button. In June, according to a longtime adviser, he excitedly called friends to say he had the perfect tweet to neutralize the Russia investigation. He would call it a “witch hunt.” They were unimpressed.
He has bowed to advice from his lawyers by not attacking Mr. Mueller, but at times his instincts prevail.
.. When three former campaign advisers were indicted or pleaded guilty this fall, Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer handling the investigation, urged the president not to respond. If he did, it would only elevate the story.
Mr. Trump, however, could not help himself. He tweeted that the financial charges lodged against his former campaign manager, Paul J. Manafort, had nothing to do with the campaign and that investigators should be examining “Crooked Hillary & the Dems” instead. By the next morning, he was belittling George Papadopoulos, the campaign adviser who pleaded guilty to lying about his outreach to Russians, dismissing him as a “low level volunteer” who has “proven to be a liar.”
.. By Sunday morning, with news shows consumed by Mr. Flynn’s case, the president grew angry and fired off a series of tweets excoriating Mrs. Clinton and the F.B.I., tweets that several advisers told him were problematic and needed to stop
.. Once he posts controversial messages, Mr. Trump’s advisers sometimes decide not to raise them with him. One adviser said that aides to the president needed to stay positive and look for silver linings wherever they could find them, and that the West Wing team at times resolved not to let the tweets dominate their day.
.. The ammunition for his Twitter war is television. No one touches the remote control except Mr. Trump and the technical support staff — at least that’s the rule. During meetings, the 60-inch screen mounted in the dining room may be muted, but Mr. Trump keeps an eye on scrolling headlines. What he misses he checks out later on what he calls his “Super TiVo,” a state-of-the-art system that records cable news.
.. “I do not watch much television,” he insisted. “I know they like to say — people that don’t know me — they like to say I watch television. People with fake sources — you know, fake reporters, fake sources. But I don’t get to watch much television, primarily because of documents. I’m reading documents a lot.”
Later, he groused about being forced to watch CNN in the Philippines because nothing else was available.
.. To an extent that would stun outsiders, Mr. Trump, the most talked-about human on the planet, is still delighted when he sees his name in the headlines. And he is on a perpetual quest to see it there. One former top adviser said Mr. Trump grew uncomfortable after two or three days of peace and could not handle watching the news without seeing himself on it.
.. If someone on the show says something memorable and Mr. Trump does not immediately tweet about it, the president’s staff knows he may be saving Fox News for later viewing on his recorder and instead watching MSNBC or CNN live — meaning he is likely to be in a foul mood to start the day.
.. In private moments with the families of appointees in the Oval Office, the president engages with children in a softer tone than he takes in public, and he specifically asked that the children of the White House press corps be invited in as they visited on Halloween. Yet he does little to promote that side, some longtime friends say, because it cracks the veneer of strength that he relishes.
.. Only occasionally does Mr. Trump let slip his mask of unreflective invincibility. During a meeting with Republican senators, he discussed in emotional terms the opioid crisis and the dangers of addiction, recounting his brother’s struggle with alcohol.
According to a senator and an aide, the president then looked around the room and asked puckishly, “Aren’t you glad I don’t drink?”
.. Mr. Trump’s difficult adjustment to the presidency, people close to him say, is rooted in an unrealistic expectation of its powers, which he had assumed to be more akin to the popular image of imperial command than the sloppy reality of having to coexist with two other branches of government
.. His vision of executive leadership was shaped close to home, by experiences with Democratic clubhouse politicians as a young developer in New York. One figure stands out to Mr. Trump: an unnamed party boss — his friends assume he is referring to the legendary Brooklyn fixer Meade Esposito — whom he remembered keeping a baseball bat under his desk to enforce his power.
.. advisers said they saw a novice who was gradually learning that the presidency does not work that way. And he is coming to realize, they said, the need to woo, not whack, leaders of his own party to get things done.
During his early months in office, he barked commands at senators, which did not go over well. “I don’t work for you, Mr. President,” Mr. Corker once snapped back, according to a Republican with knowledge of the exchange.
.. he had become more attentive during daily intelligence briefings thanks to pithy presentations by Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director, and a deeper concern about the North Korea situation than his blithe, confrontational tweets suggest.
.. “The bigger problem, the thing people need to understand, is that he was utterly unprepared for this. It would be like you or me going into a room and being asked to perform brain surgery. When you have a lack of knowledge as great as his, it can be bewildering.”
.. In almost all the interviews, Mr. Trump’s associates raised questions about his capacity and willingness to differentiate bad information from something that is true.
.. Mr. Trump is skeptical of anything he does not learn from outside his bubble.
.. “He really loves verbal briefings. He is not one to consume volumes of books or briefings.”
Other aides bemoan his tenuous grasp of facts, jack-rabbit attention span and propensity for conspiracy theories.
Mr. Kelly has pushed out advisers like Stephen K. Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, who he believed advanced information to rile up Mr. Trump or create internal conflict.
.. Ms. Pirro whipped up the president against Mr. Mueller and accused James B. Comey, the former F.B.I.director, of employing tactics typically reserved for Mafia cases, according to a person briefed on the meeting.
The president became visibly agitated as she spoke. “Roy Cohn was my lawyer!” he exclaimed, referring to the legendary McCarthy-era fixer who mentored Mr. Trump in the 1980s, suggesting that was the type of defender he needed now.
.. Mr. Bannon has told allies that Mr. Trump only “reads to reinforce.”
.. Mr. Trump’s insistence on defining his own reality — his repeated claims, for example, that he actually won the popular vote — is immutable and has had a “numbing effect” on people who work with him, said Tony Schwartz, his ghostwriter on “The Art of the Deal.”
“He wears you down,” Mr. Schwartz said.
.. “Who is going to run against me in 2020?” he asked, according to a person in attendance. “Crooked Hillary? Pocahontas?”
.. He is less likely to tweet at this hour, when the news he would react to is mostly recycled from hours earlier. But he watches Ms. Pirro and her fellow Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, and sometimes “hate-watches” CNN to get worked up, especially Don Lemon.
Trump always lashes out when he’s cornered. He told me so years ago.
The president’s tweets and public remarks will only get wilder as the Russia investigation narrows.In less than two hours, he managed to criticize his own FBI; peddle a new conspiracy theory; attack James B. Comey, Hillary Clinton and ABC; and draw more attention to the Russia probe that has already implicated several of his aides... As someone who spent hundreds of hours observing Trump so I could write “The Art of the Deal,” I find his increasingly extreme behavior entirely consistent and predictable... For five decades now, Trump’s pattern has been that the more aggrieved and vulnerable he feels, the more intensely he doubles down on the behaviors that have always worked for him in the past.Sunday’s tweetstorm won’t be the last time the president indulges in self-pity, deceit and deflection. In all likelihood, it will get worse... Trump’s first move in the face of criticism has always been to assume the role of victim. “Unfair” has long been one of his favorite words. He always perceives himself as the victim, so he feels justified in lashing back at his perceived accusers.
.. Here’s how he explained the tactic in “The Art of the Deal”:
“When people treat me badly or unfairly or try to take advantage of me, my attitude, all my life, has been to fight back very hard.”
“Sometimes, part of making a deal is denigrating your competition.”
In the weeks ahead, Trump will also probably double down on lying, even as he falsely accuses others of being dishonest. Consider his remarkable recent suggestion to aides that his remarks on the “Access Hollywood” tape about assaulting women might not be real — even though he has already publicly acknowledged that they were his, and apologized for them. Trump regularly rewrites his narrative, using what Kellyanne Conway has called “alternative facts,” to fit whatever he wants to believe and convey in any given moment. This is classic “gaslighting” — a blend of lying, denial, insistence and intimidation designed to fuel uncertainty and doubt in others about what’s actually true.
In the time I spent with Trump, I concluded that lying became second nature to him long ago, both because he lacked any conscience about being deceptive and because he discovered that he could get away with it. “Truthful hyperbole” is the sanitized term I gave lying in “The Art of the Deal,” with Trump’s blessing. I have never met someone, before or since, who was untruthful so effortlessly.
In Trump’s mind, he is only doing what’s required to win. Here’s the way he describes himself in “The Art of the Deal”: “Despite what people think, I’m not looking to be the bad guy when it isn’t absolutely necessary.”
.. The more threatened Trump feels by troublesome facts, the more preposterous the lies he will tell.
.. To get the outcome he wants, he’s willing to be scorned, parodied and even reviled in ways most of us are not. “I’m the first to admit,” he said in “The Art of the Deal,” “that I am very competitive and that I’ll do nearly anything within legal bounds to win.” He is willing to flatter, cajole and seduce, or bully, threaten and humiliate, depending on which approach he thinks will work best.
.. I watched him switch between these modes countless times during the 18 months I spent around him.
.. If he was getting what he wanted from someone on a call, he’d invariably sign off with, “You’re the greatest, you’re the best.” If he wasn’t getting his way, he was equally comfortable hurling insults and making threats.
.. The more frequent and aggressive Trump’s tweets become, the more threatened and vulnerable he is probably feeling. But he also knows that this approach can work.
.. The other predictable pattern for Trump is his approach to loyalty. He expects it unconditionally — more so when his behaviors prompt backlash — but he provides it only as long as he gets unquestioning adulation in return.
.. One of the most revealing relationships in Trump’s life was with Roy Cohn, best known as the chief counsel to Sen. Joseph McCarthy
.. For more than a decade, Cohn fought hard on Trump’s behalf and was fiercely loyal to him. They often spoke multiple times in a day. But when Cohn became ill with AIDS in 1984, Trump dropped him immediately.
.. I can’t remember a single occasion during the time I spent around Trump when he seemed genuinely interested in the welfare of another human being, including any of his three then-young children. And at that time, he was under vastly less stress than he is now. If either Jared Kushner or Donald Trump Jr. become Mueller’s next target, I can’t help wondering what Trump will perceive as his self-interest.
How Liz Smith invented Donald Trump
Liz Smith claimed to have invented Donald Trump, and in a powerful and enduring way, she did.
.. The legendary gossip columnist, who died Sunday at 94, started delivering her daily dish about New York celebrities in 1976, the same year the brash Australian press lord Rupert Murdoch bought the New York Post and transformed it into a British-style splash of lurid headlines, crime-drenched reporting and juicy gossip.
.. Smith and Trump were made for each other. She was a kinder, gentler gossipmonger, winning access to celebrities by telling the stories they wanted told rather than the more slashing tidbits that turned some columnists into personae non gratae among the boldface names. And he was a young real estate mogul hungry to establish himself as one of the city’s biggest names.
.. Trump had been schooled in the art of manipulating the news media by his mentor Roy Cohn, the New York lawyer who had launched his own career in the 1950s by enlisting the 20th century’s greatest gossip columnist, Walter Winchell, as a booster for Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s communist-hunting crusade.
.. Cohn had urged him to cultivate the gossip columnists, to make appearances at the right nightspots, to make certain that he was being seen and recorded with the hottest models and rising stars on his arm.
.. Trump used the tabloids to establish himself as a champion of the little guy. “When we would talk particularly to immigrants, recent immigrants who were the readers of the Daily News, they would always want to know about Donald Trump,” said News gossip columnist George Rush. “He embodied the American Dream to them. Excessive conspicuous consumption is not a bad thing in New York to a lot of people.”
.. The tabloid war was on, as Smith wrote about nothing but the Trumps for several months, trading scoops with the Post’s Cindy Adams, who took Donald’s side as Smith became an advocate for her own source, Ivana.
.. The Daily News plastered Trump split stories on the front page for 12 days in a row; the Post responded with eight consecutive Trump headlines on Page One.
.. The stories were a bonanza for the newspapers, and Trump later said that the divorce episode put him on the celebrity map, despite any pain that may have stemmed from having his personal life exposed. “Liz Smith used to kiss my ass so much it was embarrassing,” Trump wrote
.. The Ivana-and-Donald story made Smith a star, establishing her as the highest-paid print journalist in the country. And it lifted Trump to a new level of fame and infamy. He relished the idea that he was the talk of the town, both in the boardrooms from which he’d always felt excluded and in the barrooms where, he believed, middle-class New Yorkers aspired to be like him.