President Donald Trump must have a lot on his mind as an eventful week—even by the new standard he’s created in Washington—comes to an end. He has now met the deadline he set himself on Monday, when he promised to make “major decisions” within 24 to 48 hours on Syria, after “Animal Assad,” as he calls that country’s dictator, unleashed a chemical weapon attack on civilians including children. A trade war between the United States and China is still brewing, with American farmers worried their livelihoods are at risk after China vowed to stamp tariffs on their products in retaliation for Trump’s tariffs on aluminium and steel—and Trump reconsidering his rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership to help them. And federal prosecutors announced the existence of a months-long criminal probe into the dealings of Trump’s personal lawyer and porn-star-payer Michael Cohen, whose offices were raided by the FBI earlier this week in what Trump in a tweet called “A TOTAL WITCH HUNT!!!”
But the pressure on the president regarding all these problems dissipated by the end of the week, as Trump received a priceless present from the man he must have least expected to proffer one: James Comey.
Comey’s tell-all, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, isn’t set to be released until next week. But the former FBI director decided to leak excerpts of the book early to a number of media outlets, and they’re leading the news in every publication—not to mention every pub—in Washington. Instead of facing insistent questions about the “nice and new and ‘smart!’” missiles Trump told Russia, over Twitter, to be “ready” to face in Syria, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders got to grandstand a bit by relaying a list of damning criticisms of Comey from a host of Democrats. Comey has also provided the president himself with a very pleasant distraction, handing Trump the opportunity to do what he does best: send angry, insult-laden tweets that fire up both his base and the fifth estate.
Indeed, Trump’s Friday morning tweets about Comey are some of his best-composed. “James Comey is a proven LEAKER & LIAR. Virtually everyone in Washington thought he should be fired for the terrible job he did-until he was, in fact, fired. He leaked CLASSIFIED information, for which he should be prosecuted. He lied to Congress under OATH. He is a weak and untruthful slime ball who was, as time has proven, a terrible Director of the FBI. His handling of the Crooked Hillary Clinton case, and the events surrounding it, will go down as one of the worst “botch jobs” of history. It was my great honor to fire James Comey!”
They are certainly better written than Comey’s certain bestseller, if excerpts like these are any indication: “His face appeared slightly orange with bright white half-moons under his eyes where I assumed he placed small tanning goggles, and impressively coifed, bright blond hair, which upon close inspection looked to be all his.” “As he extended his hand, I made a mental note to check its size. It was smaller than mine, but did not seem unusually so.”
Trump would probably do best, in fact, to keep quiet and let Comey destroy on his own the idea, if anyone still holds it, that he’s a righteous public servant who cares only about truth, justice, and the American way. Comey doesn’t just offer purple prose about the president he briefly served; he betrays quieter confidences, too. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, for example, “said he was sick about my firing and that he intended to quit in protest. He said he didn’t want to work for dishonourable people who would treat someone like me in such a manner. I urged Kelly not to do that, arguing that the country needed principled people around this president. Especially this president.” But then, a war of words between Comey and Trump is a better story—for the president—than the possibility of a war of weapons in Syria and beyond.
Sanders echoed Trump’s tweets when she declared at the Friday news briefing, “One of the president’s greatest achievements will go down as firing director James Comey.” It’s odd that no reporters questioned her about this assertion, as some news outlets give that accomplishment to deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein. NBC News did, for example, in a piece published Friday headlined “Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein tells confidants he is prepared to be fired.” Might we soon have another Comey on our hands? One part of NBC’s story suggests that the man who fired him—or at least followed Trump’s instructions and wrote the memo doing so—is about as self-righteous as the former FBI director. In talking to the “confidants” who don’t keep much confidential, Rosenstein “has repeated the phrase, ‘Here I stand,’ a reference to Martin Luther’s famous quote, ‘Here I stand, I can do no other.’ Coincidentally, former FBI Director James Comey, whom Rosenstein fired, repeated the same phrase to President George W. Bush in a conversation that has been widely reported and that Comey describes in his forthcoming book.” We can only watch to see who indeed will be left standing once the latest palace intrigue story out of Washington runs its course.