This is the scene in the movie where the president grimly resolves to make the visit anyway, and then when he enters the building there are agents lining the hallways hooting at him in slow motion, but as he makes his way past the gauntlet they start to grudgingly respect his courage and determination and eventually start cheering for him as the music swells. And then Ivanka gets appointed new FBI director and the national crime rate drops to zero.
Anonymous sources as usual here, but acting director Andrew McCabe did testify yesterday that Comey “enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day.” The new guy’s all but telling you that the rank and file are pissed, which jibes with a thousand or so different media reports within the last 48 hours.
But that idea [of Trump visiting the FBI] was dropped later Thursday, administration officials said, after the FBI told the White House the optics would not be good. FBI officials made clear that the president would not draw many smiles and cheers, having just unceremoniously sacked a very popular director.
And FBI agents said that, while many of them voted for Trump, after the president unceremoniously fired a very popular director, few were ready to meet him at the bureau with open arms.
“My sense is most FBI employees feel a loyalty to Comey,” one person who works at headquarters told NBC News. “And whether they agree or disagree with the way he handled the email case, like and respect him … Trump would not be well-received at headquarters.”
Of the many weird elements of the last few days, one of the strangest is Trump’s insistence on insulting and even threatening Comey knowing how unhappy the FBI was already with how he was treated. Bad enough that he was humiliated by learning he was fired via TV reports while he was addressing agents in L.A. But for Trump to call him a “showboat” yesterday and then to hint-hint this morning that he might try to embarrass Comey with secret recordings? Does this guy not know what the FBI was capable of in the Hoover era, and why J. Edgar himself was able to survive as director for nearly 50 years? Even if the White House isn’t worried about dirty tricks, they’ve got to know that the more they alienate the Bureau, the greater the risk that some disgruntled agents will pick up the pace on leaking to the media. Only a fool would make enemies of the entire federal police force gratuitously. Weirder still, Trump has gone out of his way to call Mike Flynn a “very good person” even as he’s busy tearing down Comey. Imagine the reaction at the FBI, watching the well-liked former director being belittled by the president while a guy who’s seeking an immunity deal is held up for his alleged good character. No wonder the greeting at FBI HQ was expected to be less than “warm.”
There are other problems with this morning’s Twitter threat about secret tapes. Ben Shapiro:
Second, revealing that there may be “tapes” of Comey means that those tapes are now subject to subpoena. Even an amateur history student would realize that this is precisely how Nixon went down: a member of the White House staff revealed the presence of a taping system, at which point special prosecutor Archibald Cox asked for a subpoena; Nixon refused to turn over the tapes, and then ordered the Saturday Night Massacre when Cox kept demanding them and the Attorney General refused to fire him.
Third, the president relies on the good counsel of professional advisors. Which professional advisors would be willing to speak honestly with him if they thought they were being taped, and that Trump would later use that tape against them?
Fourth, Trump has said repeatedly that he believes Trump Tower was bugged by the Obama administration during the last election cycle. Now he’s saying he might have bugged Comey in some fashion. This is insane.
All correct, although each of those points to a broader fear that Trump just isn’t thinking clearly in handling this and therefore will continue to make major mistakes, some maybe even more damaging than these. The people around him seem not to know how to stop him either. Read this piece about some White House aides shuttering themselves in their offices in frustration and others pleading with him not to do yesterday’s interview with NBC to no avail, with predictably damaging results. Not only is there no uniform strategy on how to defend the firing, various spokesmen — including Trump himself — seem bizarrely willing to undermine their own previous arguments about how this decision was about restoring faith in the Bureau, not about “loyalty” or obstructing the Russia probe. There’s a “widespread recognition this was handled terribly but not a real sense that we can do much here,” said one White House aide to Politico. Another, asked what the strategy was to get through the crisis, responded by asking if the reporter was joking. Republicans in Congress don’t know what to do either. They can’t sell health-care reform and tax reform to the public when the salesman-in-chief is busy fighting with Comey and the FBI. The storm is going to rage, it seems, until Trump gets bored and moves on to something else — or until the next leak from an enemy he’s made in the intelligence community by canning Comey creates a totally new political storm for him to navigate. Oh well. Republicans bought the ticket. Let’s enjoy the ride.
Update: Yeah, this is going to get worse before it gets better.
A source close to Comey told me this morning: “He hopes there are tapes. That would be perfect.”
— Ken Dilanian (@KenDilanianNBC) May 12, 2017