Trump’s Scarlet Letter & What It Can Tell Us About His Russia Scandal Obsession
Donald Trump was not a happy man when Air Force One taxied to a stop at Joint Base Andrews outside of Washington, D.C. on the evening of Sunday, May 7, 2017. He had spent the weekend at his lair in Bedminster, New Jersey stewing over FBI Director James Comey, who was not responding to his multiple hints that he wanted the investigation into whether the president’s campaign colluded with Russia to sabotage Hillary Clinton to be shut down. Just before 9 p.m., his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner got off the plane with their children. Wife and kids were bundled into a SUV, but Kushner returned to the plane. Nearly an hour later, Trump finally emerged.
Other than Kushner’s fleeting comment to the press pool that “Everything is good. He was just working on something,” there was no explanation at the time. But the Mystery of the Secret Hour, as blogger Josh Marshall has appropriately termed the incident, finally has been solved: Trump and key aides were putting the finishing touches on a scorching letter informing Comey that he had been fired.
The specific wording of the letter, four pages long and single-spaced, remains a secret, but what it said has been leaked in dribs and drabs and paints a portrait of a beleaguered president obsessed by what he viewed as Comey’s disloyalty, a scandal that wouldn’t go away and the self-indlicted wounds that kept making it worse, as well as the complicity of others in the now well-documented obstruction-of-justice chain — a key component in the burgeoning investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller that is just about the only hope of prematurely ending Trump’s presidency.
Leakers describe the letter as “emotional and critical” with an “angry, meandering tone,” and it apparently was only because of the intervention of White House counsel Andrew McGahn, who had helped hardliners Kushner and top aide Stephen Miller draft the letter, that it was spiked. An alternative, seemingly less bellicose course was taken the next day, May 8, when Deputy Attorney General Ron Rosenstein was ordered to write a memo providing the basis for firing Comey. These were bogus allegations about how he had handled the FBI’s Clinton email server investigation.
Comey was fired on May 9, while the charade that it was because of the Clinton investigation lasted barely 24 hours. Trump blabbed on May 10 to the Russian foreign minister and U.S. ambassador in an Oval Office meeting and then to Lester Holt of NBC News on May 11 that the real reason was the Russia investigation.
Mueller, of course, is on the case because of Trump’s subterfuge.
In a scandal fraught with ironies, none is larger than the fact that Mueller is probably the one man who can take down Trump and never would have been in a position to do so had the president not fired Comey on phony grounds, repeatedly lied about having Russia ties (which, begging credulity, he continues to do) and threaten anyone else who was getting too close to the truth. The truth is that Trump’s ties are innumerable, date back two decades and involve a rogue’s gallery of crooks and money launderers. And that Kushner, eldest son Donald Jr. and several key aides willingly joined in Vladimir Putin’s cyber conspiracy to throw the 2016 election to Trump with his knowledge, if not his direct participation.
According to leaks reported by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Associated Press, Trump first broached the subject of getting rid of Comey sometime between May 4 and 7 to Ivanka, Kushner and Miller.
Ivanka’s position is not known, but both Kushner and Miller urged him to go all out. For good measure, Trump dressed down McGahn and then-chief strategist Steve Bannon over Attorney General Jeff Sessions having recused himself on March 2, the implication being that they had surrendered control of the investigation and with it whatever leverage he had.
After the original letter was drafted, Vice President Mike Pence and then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus were told about it.
This puts the veep in hot water because he claimed on May 10 that Trump had simply acted on Rosenstein’s memo, which of course had been reversed engineered because Trump didn’t need any justification from the Justice Department. He had already made up his mind. But McGahn’s position is even more compromised because he is said to have edited the first letter to reduce Trump’s legal exposure before urging that it not be released at all, then set up an Oval Office meeting on May 8 for Trump with Sessions and Rosenstein to set in motion the pretext for firing Comey.
In any event, Pence and McGahn clearly participated in a cover-up.
Just to make things even more interesting, Rosenstein was sent a copy of the first letter before he drafted his memo. This means he (pick one) either committed a gross ethical lapse or knew he was being used, believed he had witnessed a crime and was laying the groundwork to appoint a special prosecutor.
You can bet that the text of Trump’s Scarlet Letter, of which Mueller is said to have a copy, eventually will be revealed. But it hardly matters because it merely would put an exclamation point on what already is known: Trump was deeply fearful of Comey and would do anything to stop him.