The New York Times is reporting that in a May 10 Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, President Trump referred to fired FBI Director James Comey as a “nut job” and told the two men that “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
Remember that Trump, in this same May 10 meeting with Lavrov and Kisylak, reportedly passed along classified information to the Russians that was considered so top-secret that his administration asked news organizations – including CNN – not to report it even after Trump revealed it to the Russians.
It’s hard to imagine how Trump, who is currently aboard Air Force One jetting his way to Saudi Arabia to kick off a nine-day foreign trip, could have handled this meeting worse.
He was, and is, desperately trying to convince the American public that reports of his campaign’s ties to Russia – and the possibility of collusion between the two – are totally ridiculous, “fake news” in Trump’s parlance. If you were trying to make that case, you would do, literally, the opposite of what Trump reportedly did in that May 10 meeting.
(Sidebar: Remember when George Constanza decided to do the opposite of every one of his natural instincts because his life was such a wreck?)
There is no worse way to convince people that all of the Russia stuff is made up and a “total hoax,” in Trump’s words, than to share classified information with two top Russian officials and, in the same damn meeting, call your recently-fired FBI director a “nut job” and make clear you got rid of him because of the pressure on you regarding Russia’s influence in the election.
I dare you to come up with a scenario in which Trump could do more in a single meeting to undermine his case regarding the Russia investigation. Short of saying, “Hey guys, thanks for colluding with my campaign to hurt Hillary and get me elected,” and then releasing a video and a transcript of Trump saying exactly that, it’s hard to imagine.
The official White House response to the Times report is, in and of itself, stunning. Here’s White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s reaction to the story, as told to CNN:
“The President has always emphasized the importance of making deals with Russia as it relates to Syria, Ukraine, defeating ISIS and other key issues for the benefit and safety of the American people,” Spicer said in a statement to CNN. “By grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia’s actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia. The investigation would have always continued, and obviously, the termination of Comey would not have ended it. Once again, the real story is that our national security has been undermined by the leaking of private and highly classified conversations.”
The most important takeaway from that statement is that the White House is not denying the Times’ reporting on the meeting. So, Trump did call Comey a “nut job” and did say that “great pressure” had been taken off of him in regard Russia as a result of firing Comey.
What the statement is trying to do is emergency latch some strategy to Trump’s comments to Lavrov and Kislyak. See, the President fired Comey because he was getting in the way of a major presidential priority: Pushing the restart button on Russia relations! That explains everything!
Of course, the White House initially insisted the reason Comey was fired was because of a memo from deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein outlining the issues surrounding the FBI director’s conduct in the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server.
Days later, Trump blew up that explanation when he told NBC’s Lester Holt that he had made the decision to fire Comey before the Rosenstein memo – after thinking about Comey’s handling of the Russia investigation.
But wait, there’s more! On Thurday, in a press conference with the Colombian president, Trump indicated that the memo from Rosenstein was in fact the impetus to firing Comey. At around the same time, Rosenstein was reportedly telling senators in a closed door briefing that he knew Trump was going to fire Comey before he even wrote the memo. And now, it was the Russia relationship, again, that led to Comey’s dismissal!
What. The. Heck.
The simple fact is that rather than stamping out the source of all the smoke surrounding his administration and Russia, Trump blew on the embers like crazy in this May 10 meeting. And the explanation issued by the White House only provides more oxygen to claims that there has to be something more going on here.
If past is prologue, Trump will dismiss the story as meaningless and accuse the media of being out to get him. But, if and when he says that, consider this: The President of the United States, in a meeting with two top officials of an adversarial foreign government, not only told them top secret classified information but also labeled his ex-FBI director a “nut job” and insisted he would now be more free to act with the whole Russia thing de-pressurized.
No matter where you land on the political spectrum, that is not “fake news.”