When a Republican-led Senate committee issued a nearly 1,000-page report in mid-August that detailed the prodigious extent of the contacts between Russian officials and members of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign team, it felt a bit like a dispatch from a vaguely familiar reality — a prepandemic realm when we could mostly agree to focus on foreign interference in American democracy, and when the Trump presidency felt as if it were hanging in the balance while it awaited word from Robert S. Mueller III. This is the world that forged Michael S. Schmidt’s “Donald Trump v. the United States.” It vividly resurrects that actually-not-so-distant era by unspooling the occasionally staggering stories of two administration figures who were central to the investigative sagas that dominated the early Trump years, largely thanks to their attempts to constrain him.
The subjects are both all too familiar and, Schmidt implies, underappreciated in their significance in shaping Trump’s presidency. Schmidt recounts with unsparing intimacy James Comey’s arc from the 2016 election to his 2017 firing from the F.B.I. directorship, and he documents the relentlessly uncomfortable White House tenure of the former general counsel Donald F. McGahn II, who, he points out, “was in charge of Trump’s greatest political accomplishment, and he found himself caught up as the chief witness against Trump.”