Can this president weather his own storms?
WASHINGTON — Wow, we went from no drama to all drama in the blink of an eye. An embattled President Trump spent the weekend raging in frustration at his inability to control events — and his administration is just in its second month. How will he make it through a year? Let alone four?
And how long before Trump campaign insiders whose names have surfaced in reports about Russian contacts start lawyering up? How long before nervous political allies start backing away? How long before Republicans in Congress start putting self-interest — and, one dares to hope, the national interest — above party loyalty?
According to widespread news reports, Trump was furious that any momentum he gained from his speech to Congress was halted in its tracks by revelations about Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ meetings with the Russian ambassador. Sessions had testified in his confirmation hearing that “I didn’t have — did not have communications with the Russians,” which turned out to be what my grandmother used to call a lie.
The next morning, according to The Washington Post, Trump “exploded” in anger. The day after that he “simmered with rage,” the newspaper reported, as he summoned his senior aides to chew them out. Trump was apparently irate that after he had said publicly that there was no need for Sessions to recuse himself from any investigation into the Russia connection, Sessions had gone before the television cameras to do just that.
The attorney general’s recusal was obviously a necessary and proper step, but necessity and propriety do not seem to matter to the president. Sessions had wussed out, in Trump’s view, and he appears to consider wussing out a cardinal sin.
What happened is not hard to grasp: Sessions bowed to reality. But Trump won the White House by creating his own reality, built on what adviser Kellyanne Conway called “alternative facts.” He has not learned that actual facts do not just go away, even if the president tries his best to ignore or deny them.
I’m assuming here that Trump can tell the difference between real facts and the ones he makes up. If he can’t, then we’re really in trouble.
I’d suggest that Trump reflect on this fact: The Post and other news organizations apparently had no trouble getting inside sources to dish about the president’s mood swings. While Trump fumes about leaks from the intelligence community and the entrenched federal bureaucracy, his closest aides are bending journalists’ ears with self-serving narratives.
After he and others were taken to the woodshed by Trump on Friday, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus reportedly spent an hour calling reporters and trying vainly to convince them — on a not-for-attribution basis, of course — that no woodshedding had taken place.
On Saturday morning, at his Mar-a-Lago estate, Trump fired up his Twitter account to make an unprecedented — and apparently wholly unfounded — allegation: that then-President Obama had ordered wiretapping of the Trump campaign. The White House press office later doubled down by demanding a congressional investigation of this alleged snooping.
Trump must be unfamiliar with the adage about being careful what you ask for.
A spokesman for Obama denied there was any wiretapping, as did Obama’s director of national intelligence, James Clapper, who was in a position to know. FBI Director James Comey reportedly pressed Justice Department officials to issue a statement denying the president’s unsupported claim — which Justice has so far declined to do. If Sessions’ recusal was enough to make Trump mad, imagine what a public statement refuting the president’s angry tweets would do to his blood pressure.
What if Congress grants Trump’s demand, however, and launches an investigation? Any serious inquiry, it seems to me, would necessarily have to look into the alleged reason for the alleged wiretapping: contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians. A congressional probe would take as its starting point the consensus of the U.S. intelligence community that the Russian government meddled in our election with the aim of boosting Trump’s prospects of victory.
Trump has put himself in a no-win position. If the Republican leadership in Congress denies his request for an investigation, he suffers an embarrassing public rebuke. If the request is granted, however, Trump sets in motion a process he will not be able to control.
It is one thing to take office determined to disrupt traditional ways of doing things. It is quite another to flail wildly at imaginary enemies, wounding oneself in the process. What on earth will the third month of the Trump presidency be like?
Eugene Robinson’s email address is [email protected] (c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group