Blow, Kristof, and Collins

In “James Comey Cometh” Mr. Blow says Comey’s statement makes Trump sound more like a mob boss than like the president of a democracy.  Mr. Kristof, in “James Comey and Our Own Tin-Pot Despot, Donald Trump,” says Trump’s contempt for the legal system is clear.  In “Guess What Week It Is?” Ms. Collins says it’s time to take a highway out to lunch.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

It is hard to calculate the grievousness of the wounds that James Comey’s testimony will inflict on Donald Trump.

On Wednesday, representatives of Comey, the consummate showman whose own flair for the dramatic rivals Trump’s, requested the release of his incredibly detailed opening statement in advance of his Thursday Senate testimony.

If you believe the Comey statement, you must take away from it that Trump is a liar, a bully and a criminal. You must take away from it that Trump has a consuming need to be surrounded not only by loyalists but also by lackeys. You must take away that Trump is brand obsessed — his own brand — and that anything that besmirches that brand must be blunted. You must take away that Trump knows nothing of decorum and propriety and boundaries. You must take away that this is the most comprehensive and compelling case thus far that Trump did indeed engage in obstruction of justice.

Trump’s comments as alleged in the Comey statement make Trump sound more like a mob boss than the president of a democracy.

Comey recounts that at a Jan. 27 dinner alone with Trump in the Green Room of the White House, Trump demanded, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.” This was after Trump seemed to implicitly threaten Comey’s job:

“The President began by asking me whether I wanted to stay on as FBI Director, which I found strange because he had already told me twice in earlier conversations that he hoped I would stay, and I had assured him that I intended to. He said that lots of people wanted my job and, given the abuse I had taken during the previous year, he would understand if I wanted to walk away.”

Trump was also insistent that Comey publicly state that Trump — not necessarily members of his campaign — was not at that time under investigation, because “the cloud” the suspicion created was impeding his progress as president. As Comey recalls, Trump said he would do as Comey advised and have the White House counsel contact the leadership of the Department of Justice to make the request for a public statement, but then Trump added:

“‘Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know.’ I did not reply or ask him what he meant by ‘that thing.’”

Comey writes that he didn’t want to issue a statement that Trump was not under investigation at that time because it by no means meant that Trump would not be under investigation later, after more was known. As Comey wrote about Trump following another phone call:

“He repeatedly told me, ‘We need to get that fact out.’ (I did not tell the President that the FBI and the Department of Justice had been reluctant to make public statements that we did not have an open case on President Trump for a number of reasons, most importantly because it would create a duty to correct, should that change.)”

Trump was obsessed with the salacious dossier of unsubstantiated claims compiled by a former British spy, including the explosive claim that Russian authorities believed they could successfully exploit Trump’s “personal obsessions and sexual perversion in order to obtain suitable ‘kompromat’ (compromising material) on him.”

The document continued:

“According to Source D, where s/he had been present, TRUMP’s (perverted) conduct in Moscow included hiring the presidential suite of the Ritz Carlton Hotel, where he knew President and Mrs. OBAMA (whom he hated) had stayed on one of their official trips to Russia, and defiling the bed where they had slept by employing a number of prostitutes to perform a ‘golden showers’ (urination) show in front of him.”

According to Comey’s statement, Trump was so upset by the details in the dossier that at a dinner in the Green Room of the White House, “he said he was considering ordering me to investigate the alleged incident to prove it didn’t happen.”

It demonstrates Trump’s inexplicable and incessant pleading on behalf of his fired national security adviser, Michael Flynn; Trump implored Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn. At one point, Comey quotes Trump as saying: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy.”

Comey wrote of the exchange:

“I immediately prepared an unclassified memo of the conversation about Flynn and discussed the matter with FBI senior leadership. I had understood the President to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December. I did not understand the President to be talking about the broader investigation into Russia or possible links to his campaign. I could be wrong, but I took him to be focusing on what had just happened with Flynn’s departure and the controversy around his account of his phone calls. Regardless, it was very concerning, given the FBI’s role as an independent investigative agency.”

The supreme irony here is that Trump was apparently not under investigation at the time, but his reactions to the investigation itself and his raging narcissism may have put him at the center of an even more ominous investigation.

I don’t know if the president will ever be charged with a crime. I don’t know whether he will eventually be impeached. Prosecution and impeachment are both birds in the bush, ones that may never manifest.

But I am absolutely sure that the picture emerging of Trump’s predilections and peccadilloes reaffirms and strengthens my view of him: He is thoroughly unfit for the office and a stain on this nation and the world. Trump should not be in a mansion with white columns, but in a cell with black bars.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

In his prepared testimony before Congress, James Comey says he spoke alone with President Barack Obama on just two occasions — once simply for Obama to say a brief goodbye. In contrast, he adds, “I can recall nine one-on-one conversations with President Trump in four months.”

These were profoundly uncomfortable and in some cases “very concerning” and highly irregular, recounts Comey, who was fired as F.B.I. director last month. After one conversation, he says, “I took the opportunity to implore the attorney general to prevent any future direct communication between the president and me.

Trump sought a pledge of personal loyalty so as to turn the head of the F.B.I. into a political lackey. “I need loyalty,” Comey quotes Trump as telling him. “I expect loyalty.”

“I didn’t move, speak or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed,” Comey adds. “We simply looked at each other in silence.”

Trump’s behavior is reminiscent of what tin-pot despots do. I know, for I’ve covered the overthrow of more than I can count.

So let’s not get mired in legal technicalities. Whether or not it was illegal for Trump to urge Comey to back off his investigation into Russia ties to Mike Flynn, who was fired as national security adviser, it was utterly inappropriate. What comes through is a persistent effort by Trump to interfere with the legal system. There’s a consistent pattern: Trump’s contempt for the system of laws that, incredibly, he now presides over.

All this is of course tied to Russia and its equally extraordinary attack on the American political system last year. The latest revelation is that Russian military intelligence executed a cyberattack on at least one supplier of American voting software and tried to compromise the computers of more than 100 local voting officials.

Comey specifies in his testimony, to be presented Thursday, that he told Trump that there was no personal investigation of him, but that this might change. Comey seems to have an open mind — a good lesson for all of us.

To frame the Comey testimony, consider the staggering comments this week of James Clapper, the director of national intelligence until early this year.

“Watergate pales really, in my view, compared to what we’re confronting now,” said Clapper, a former lieutenant general with a long career in intelligence under Republican and Democratic presidents alike. He added: “I am very concerned about the assault on our institutions coming from both an external source — read Russia — and an internal source — the president himself.”

As Clapper suggested, Trump has been undermining the institutions and mores that undergird our political process; whether or not his conduct was felonious, it has been profoundly subversive.

Apart from Comey and the Russia investigation, Trump has systematically attacked the institutions of American life that he sees as impediments. He denounced judges and the courts. He has attacked journalists as “the enemy of the people,” and urged that some be jailed for publishing classified information. He has publicly savaged Democrats and Republicans who stand up to him.

More broadly, Trump has ignored longstanding democratic norms, such as that a presidential candidate release tax returns and obey certain ethics rules. He flouts conventions against nepotism. And perhaps most fundamentally, he simply lies at every turn: Politicians often spin and exaggerate, they even lie in extremis to escape scandal. But Trump is different. He lies on autopilot, on something as banal as the size of inauguration crowds.

Obama was meticulous about ethics rules. He consulted lawyers before accepting the Nobel Peace Prize; aides were forced to give up Twitter accounts when they left office, to ensure they had not benefited improperly by gaining followers.

In contrast, the Trump family seems indifferent to optics — and determined to monetize the presidency. The latest ugliness is in a devastating exposé by Forbes about charity work by Eric Trump to raise money for children with cancer.

Eric raised some $16 million, which is wonderful. The Trump family had claimed to donate the use of its golf courses for these charity events, so that virtually all of the money raised was flowing to the sick children. Instead, Forbes says, the Trumps charged huge sums to hold the events — misleading the public, and profiting from donations intended for sick children.

Skimming money meant for kids with cancer? This is cartoonlike. (The family hasn’t responded in detail, although Eric did say that, to him, the critics are “not even people.” He lamented that “morality’s just gone.”)

President Trump sought office as a law-and-order campaigner, and he is overseeing a crackdown on refugees, immigrants, drug offenders and other vulnerable people. But he is also systematically undermining the rule of law as “those wise restraints that make men free,” in the words of the late law professor John Maguire.

So as we watch Comey testify, remember that the fundamental question is not just whether the president broke a particular law regarding obstruction of justice, but also whether he is systematically assaulting the rule of law that makes us free.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Happy Infrastructure Week!

O.K., I know some of you are distracted by competing current events. But the Trump administration would prefer that we all concentrate on the president’s plans for improving the nation’s roads and bridges.

Trump promised he’d be discussing infrastructure with all the major players “in great depth next week.” This was right before he went into a meeting with legislative leaders on Tuesday. You may be wondering why he didn’t discuss it with them in great depth right at that moment. Since this is, you know, Infrastructure Week.

One possible answer is that the president likes promising to discuss important policy matters in the future much more than he likes working on them in the present. But to be fair, one of the Republican leaders did report later that Trump had mentioned the wall along the Mexican border, which would definitely be a structure. The president revealed he wants to pay for it by putting solar panels along the top.

Wait a minute, I thought he hated renewable energy!

Where did you come from? No, he doesn’t hate renewable energy. Just wind power, and that’s just because the Scottish government put some turbines near one of his golf courses.

But let me tell you a little more about Infrastructure Week. While the whole world was talking about James Comey, Trump launched it with a plug for privatization of part of the Federal Aviation Administration. He sat down in front of the cameras and signed what might have looked, to the uninitiated, like a law, or a program, or at least a calendar of events. But it was really just a letter to Congress encouraging everyone to take up the F.A.A. idea. Which they have already made pretty clear they probably won’t.

Why would we want to privatize the F.A.A.? It’s not going to make flying safer. If they wanted to make it better, they could tell the airlines to put in more leg room.

I could use a little less interruption. But, yeah.

During the presidential campaign, Trump called for a $1 trillion program to rebuild the nation’s roads and bridges and waterways. It was a super popular idea, and once he was elected, one of the very few bright spots congressional Democrats saw on the horizon. They figured Republican fiscal conservatives would balk, but they could make a deal to deliver the needed extra votes.

“I told him — you know you’ll need our support,” a prominent Democrat happily told me last year. “And he said, ‘Yeah.’”

This is what conversation sounds like in Washington these days. Still, by Trumpian standards, that’s the Gettysburg Address.

But Trump’s people never reached out to the Democrats, who had reasonable reservations about the original plan, which made some very iffy presumptions about using tax credits to get private investment in the roads and bridges. Under the very best of circumstances, it would mean a lot of tolls. It would also require a lot of smart government oversight, and we are talking here about a White House that has yet to figure out how to nominate an ambassador to Great Britain.

Plus, the president’s budget actually cut $206 billion the government had already committed to infrastructure projects. So on Wednesday, when Trump was in Cincinnati standing by the mighty Ohio and extolling the glories of river transport, cynics gloomily recalled that he wants to slice a billion dollars from the Army Corps of Engineers, which fixes the dams and locks.

Did he brag about winning the election? He always does that in his speeches.

Yeah, there was a little mention of how Ohio “was supposed to be close. It wasn’t.” He spent much more time praising himself for approving the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which required him to courageously stand up to environmental groups that had not supported him in the election. (“Nobody thought any politician would have the guts to approve that final leg. I just closed my eyes and I said: ‘Do it.’”)

What’s wrong with investing government money on roads? President Eisenhower did the biggest highway construction program ever, and he was a Republican.

If you’re going to try to imagine Donald Trump and Dwight Eisenhower in the same party, we can’t continue talking.

But Trump did bring up Eisenhower’s grand achievement in Cincinnati. “The Interstate Highway System — we don’t do that anymore. We don’t even fix them,” he complained. There was no explanation of how the fixing was going to be accomplished through private investors, who want new tolls, not less potholes.

He didn’t say anything at all about how his infrastructure plan would work, possibly because it doesn’t appear to exist at this point in time. The Democrats do have one, but Trump certainly hasn’t read it.

Because he can’t read, right?

Don’t be mean. He just doesn’t like to read at great length. But the president made it sound as if, at the first mention of the word “infrastructure,” the Democrats had thrown themselves upon the barricades. “I just don’t see them coming together. They’re obstructionist,” he claimed.

The emperor has no clothes.

Yeah, this one has been buck naked since the day he took office.

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