This week in politics has seemed more like a month
The pace at which Trump moves and acts seems to play on the edge between strategic and totally out of control
Remember that time when former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified in front of a Senate committee that she had warned White House counsel Don McGahn that national security adviser Michael Flynn was compromised by the Russians and was a potential blackmail target?
That happened less than five days ago.
This week in politics has seemed more like a month as stories – like the one involving Yates, Flynn and McGahn – that would have been MASSIVE news in a normal week are forgotten amid the next MASSIVE story to break.
Walk down memory lane with me. And remember that all of these things have happened in the last 96 hours.
Tuesday, May 9
The day is dominated by talk of why Trump didn’t fire Flynn for 18 days after Yates told McGahn about her concerns. Then, just before 6 p.m. ET, Trump fires FBI Director James Comey. Minutes later, CNN breaks the news that grand jury subpoenas have been delivered to associates of Flynn in connection with the ongoing FBI investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The White House communications shop goes into panic mode, with press secretary Sean Spicer’s now-infamous among-the-bushes-in-the-dark briefing as the highlight/lowlight.
Wednesday, May 10
Vice President Mike Pence goes to Capitol Hill to argue that President Trump fired Comey because of a memo penned by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein arguing that Comey lost the confidence of the FBI with his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server. (Trump would directly contradict that assertion less than 24 hours later.) Then, Trump does a photo-op with former Nixon Secretary of State Henry Kissinger even while comparisons of his firing of Comey to Nixon’s firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox in the infamous “Saturday Night Massacre” swirl.
Later, pictures emerge of a smiling Trump shaking hands and laughing with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Yes, the same Kislyak at the center of the Flynn investigation. And the guy who Attorney General Jeff Sessions forgot he met with twice during the 2016 campaign, leading to his decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe. The White House later admits it was tricked by the Russians, who used the photos to troll Trump.
Thursday, May 11
Two interviews with Trump – one in Time, the other in The Economist – come out in the morning. In the Time interview, Trump watches taped footage of the Yates hearing and offers biting commentary. In the Economist interview, Trump seems to claim he invented the phrase “priming the pump.” Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe testifies in front of the Senate intelligence committee and directly contradicts repeated assertions by the Trump White House that Comey was disliked and distrusted by the rank and file at the FBI.
Trump sits for an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt in the afternoon, in which he insists he was going to fire Comey regardless of the Rosenstein memo – throwing two days of White House spin out the window – and acknowledges that Comey’s interest in the Russia investigation played a role in his dismissal. (The White House had repeatedly insisted the Russia investigation had nothing to do with Trump’s decision.) As a cherry on top of the day, Trump gets into a Twitter fight with comedian – and longtime nemesis – Rosie O’Donnell.
Which brings us to the present. So far today, Trump has sent six early morning tweets in which he, among other things, threatened Comey to stay silent, floated the idea he might be taping conversations at the White House (Nixon, again!), argued that his staff can’t possibly be expected to tell the truth all the time and suggested canceling the daily press briefing. Trump’s lawyers also released a statement insisting that his last decade of tax returns do not show “any income of any type from Russian sources.” They refused to release any of the documentation to back up that claim; Trump has resisted releasing his tax returns for months, insisting they remain under audit.
It makes me tired just writing it all.
The pace at which the news moves in the Trump presidency is, literally, unheard of – the result of the fast-twitch social media culture, Trump’s unpredictability, the level of interest (positive and negative) in everything and he does and, frankly, the long hours he keeps.
It’s easy amid the barrage – and every week has been a maelstrom if not the Category 5 level of this week – to forget things that happened even a day or two ago.
Some of that is a concerted strategy on Trump’s part. If you throw 100 balls into the air every day, no one can catch them all. He has, throughout his life, shown a penchant for using a new headline (of his own making) to bump down a less favorable headline. He thinks and acts like a cable TV producer and he knows that whatever is freshest is what usually dominates.
But there’s more here too. The pace at which Trump moves and acts – and tweets – often feels manic, as though he is playing right on the edge between strategic and totally out of control.
The events of this week seem to be firmly in the out-of-control space. Trump and his White House seem to be careening from one political/public-relations disaster to another. There appears to be no consistent message, no consistent strategy and no real plan to get one.
The image that keeps coming to my mind is Trump, alone, angry and tweeting, while his staff runs around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to put out a fire – even as two more start behind them.
Being unpredictable and unorthodox is one thing. Being totally out of control – a car with no brakes, a roller coaster car running out of track – is another. And Trump’s White House finds itself jammed into that car – with no clear sense of where they’re headed – right about now.