Friday Talking Points -- Trump Dumps Top Cop

It's been another whirlwind of a week in politics, so let's run through it as quickly as possible.
05/12/2017 09:02 pm ET Updated May 13, 2017
JIM WATSON via Getty Images

We always wanted to kick off with an authentic tabloid headline, and this week just seemed like the perfect time. “Trump Dumps Top Cop” just seems somehow appropriate ― we’ve got a tabloid president, so why not go whole hog on the tabloid headlines?

This week will go down in American political history as the week people stopped comparing Donald Trump to Andrew Jackson, and instead began comparing Trump to a different Oval Office predecessor, Richard Nixon. If we had a dollar for every time the word “Nixonian” was written or uttered onscreen this week, we could retire tomorrow.

At this point it’s hard not to call Trump Nixonian ― and that was true before today’s threats about possible “tapes” made in the White House (”James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”), and about the possibility of just ending press conferences altogether. With that thrown into the mix, it’s hard to come up with any other descriptor than “Nixonian.”

Even Nixon’s own presidential library had the occasion to (1) troll the sitting president, (2) have some fun, and (3) boost the reputation of Richard M. Nixon’s presidency. We’re betting they’ve never seen such a trifecta before! Here’s what they tweeted in the midst of all the frenzy: “FUN FACT: President Nixon never fired the Director of the FBI #FBIDirector #notNixonian.”

A Republican House member went one step further, with a full-Godwin dive into the fray: “America has overcome amazing challenges that Donald Trump, as frightening as he is to some people ― small potatoes compared to Nazi Germany.” Man, when that’s the best defense your own party is out there making ― that you’re small potatoes compared to Hitler ― then you know you’ve had a bad week.

As for those Trump “tapes,” we will (of course) probably never get to hear any existing tapes of Trump talking privately with James Comey, for a number of reasons. The first and foremost is that when Trump reviews the tapes, they’ll most likely show he misremembered the conversation entirely. Trump is famous for listening to his own brain rather than objective evidence, even when his nose is rubbed in the inevitable inconsistencies. “I’m sorry, sir, but I cannot comment on ongoing investigations” becomes, in Trump’s memory: “I am totally loyal to you personally, and by the way, you’re not under investigation.” So what’s he going to do when he reads the actual transcript or listens to the actual tape? Publicly admit it? Doubtful.

The second reason Trump’s tapes will never be heard is that they’d most likely just conveniently erase them. Nixon’s 18-minute gap would become an 18-terabyte gap on a hard drive somewhere. Tapes? What tapes? See, Trump used quotation marks around “tapes,” so they never existed. Nothing to see here, please move along....

And the third reason we’ll likely never hear those tapes is that it would take an honest Congress devoted to uncovering the truth, and, well, we don’t have anything like that currently. So we personally don’t expect to be hearing the Trump tapes (oh, excuse us, Trump “tapes”) any time soon.

It’s been another whirlwind of a week in politics, so let’s run through it as quickly as possible. Trump was supposed to be riding high this week, after the House passed the blazing bag of dog poop known as the “A.H.C.A.” ― the Republican replacement answer to Obamacare. The more people learn what is in this bill, the more they hate it. But Trump, true to form, stomped all over his own victory lap, and tossed a grenade into the political world instead.

Monday, Sally Yates testified before a Senate committee, and revealed no enormous bombshells, but did sharpen the focus on the firing of Michael Flynn ― which took 18 days longer than it should have. On the same day, the story broke that James Comey had seriously misstated the truth in his testimony last week about his entrance into the electoral process last year.

But Donald Trump didn’t take the obvious route, and fire Comey for flat-out lying to Congress, instead he manufactured a completely and utterly unbelievable reason for doing so. Astonishingly, he apparently thought everyone ― Democrats included ― would cheer this move, showing how monstrously wrong his political instincts can be, at times. Here’s how the story initially broke:

President Trump fired F.B.I. Director James B. Comey on Tuesday, at the recommendation of senior Justice Department officials who said he had treated Hillary Clinton unfairly and in doing so damaged the credibility of the F.B.I. and the Justice Department. . . . “The president has accepted the recommendation of the attorney general and the deputy attorney general regarding the dismissal of the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters in the White House briefing room. The firing is effective “immediately,” he said.

Turns out the only part of all that that was true was that Comey was fired immediately. Everything else turned out to be nothing short of moonbeams and fairy dust. Democrats didn’t exactly cheer, instead they outright laughed at Trump’s stated reason, because the idea that Trump would fire Comey because he was too hard on Hillary Clinton is, of course, a monstrous joke.

Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell both backed Trump’s initial version. McConnell’s wife, we’d all do well to remember, is a member of Trump’s cabinet.

The day after the Tuesday Afternoon Massacre, conservatives were already questioning the rationale for the firing. By the end of the week, Charles Krauthammer had called it “a political ax murder, brutal even by Washington standards.”

Others in the media were just as incredulous, generating headlines like: “The White House’s Laughable Spin About Comey Now Lies In Smoking Ruins.” This soon turned into a flood of disbelief, as story after story after story pointed out how many lies were being told from the White House Briefing Room podium, on a regular basis.

As it turns out, the guy who wrote the initial letter was threatening to quit, if the White House didn’t stop pushing all the blame for Comey’s firing off on him. A resignation in the middle of this mess would have only looked worse for the Trump administration, so they quickly backed off this claim. Since Sean Spicer was off in the midst of all this, the flailing and spinning was left to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who didn’t exactly emerge from her trial by fire unscathed.

Trump himself generated a lot of the bad press, after doing an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, where he just went ahead and admitted that “this Russia thing with Trump” was the real reason for firing Comey, and furthermore that he had decided to do so last week and the two Justice Department letters were nothing short of the creation of a bogus narrative for Trump to hide behind.

If any more evidence of the delusional nature of how Trump sees politics were necessary, Trump quickly scheduled a stop at the F.B.I., where he thought he’d be warmly received. But then the meeting was cancelled:

The White House nixed tentative plans for Trump to visit F.B.I. headquarters today after the president was warned that he would “not be greeted warmly” at the agency, per NBC. F.B.I. officials made it clear the presidential visit would “not draw many smiles or cheers” after Trump unceremoniously fired a very popular director.

Or, in an unrelated bit of Trumpian delusion, how about Trump claiming he coined the phrase “prime the pump” in an Economist interview? Trump claimed he “came up with it a couple of days ago” and “thought it was good.” Um, maybe because people have been using the expression in relation to the government and the economy for roughly 100 years?

But what truly took the prize for being politically tone-deaf this week was Trump meeting in the Oval Office with two high-ranking Russian government officials. And not letting in the American press, while allowing Russian photographers to come in (and maybe plant a few bugs while they were there).

That’s the week that was. By the end of it, Trump was tweeting to Rosie O’Donnell once again (you just can’t make this stuff up). Oh, and threatening Comey with “tapes,” while threatening the existence of any press conferences at all. Just another week in Trump’s paradise. Anyone sick of “winning” yet?

Oh, just in case everyone’s forgotten ― Donald Trump has not even been in office for four months yet. We aren’t even one-twelfth of the way through this long national nightmare.

We have three Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week awards to hand out this week, and none of them even have anything to do with Donald Trump. So let’s get right to it.

Our first MIDOTW award goes out to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who really deserves a “Profiles In Courage” award as well. Landrieu oversaw the removal of the second of four Confederate monuments in his city this week, and he explained his reasons in a column he wrote for the Washington Post:

The record is clear: New Orleans’s Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and P. G. T. Beauregard statues were erected with the goal of rewriting history to glorify the Confederacy and perpetuate the idea of white supremacy. These monuments stand not as mournful markers of our legacy of slavery and segregation, but in reverence of it. They are an inaccurate recitation of our past, an affront to our present and a poor prescription for our future. The right course, then, is to excise these symbols of injustice. The Battle of Liberty Place monument was not built to commemorate the fallen law enforcement officers of the racially integrated New Orleans police and state militia. It was meant to honor members of the Crescent City White League, the citizens who killed them. That kind of “honor” has no place in an American city. So, last month, we took the monument down.

This wasn’t easy to accomplish, either. It took two years of review, legal challenges, and death threats against “nearly every heavy-crane company in southern Louisiana.” The original firm hired to do the work had a car firebombed. So, like we said, a mere Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award is nowhere near enough, but it’ll have to do.

Our second MIDOTW award goes to Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, for coming up with a brilliant tactical idea for House Democrats to use, from now until Election Day, 2018. Since Republicans are terrified to hold town hall meetings with their constituents to explain their vote on the GOP healthcare bill, Democrats should “adopt a district” and do it for them. A Salon story explains:

On Monday, Maloney traveled north to attend a town hall in a neighboring district represented by Republican Rep. John Faso, R-N.Y. Maloney suggested that other Democrats take up his “adopt a district” tactic with other evasive GOP colleagues. “Maybe a Democrat ought to go into every district where a Republican who supported Trumpcare won’t hold a town hall meeting and do it for them,” he said. “Sit in that chair and say I’ll stand here and answer your questions until your own congressman starts doing his job,” he said on MSNBC on Friday. . . . Maloney said he came up with the idea to “adopt a district” when Faso’s constituents, apparently unable to reach their representative, called his office on the day of the House vote on Trumpcare. Faso held a “tele-town hall” in March, before last week’s vote to repeal and replace Obamacare but cited a scheduling conflict to explain why he skipped Monday’s town hall. “If at any time the current congressman wants to come here and do his job, well, I will pack up and I will leave,” Maloney said to Faso’s constituents Monday night. “If he walks in right now, I will hand him this microphone and I will go home. That’s how it should be. But until he is here to answer these questions, I am going to be here answering these questions. Let him stand on his own two feet and explain this vote to you.” He pledged to the constituents of the Republican district: “As long as [Faso] keeps dodging town hall meetings, I will keep coming back.”

Other Democrats are apparently beginning to use the same tactic, in districts neighboring their own. This is the most brilliant political tactic we’ve heard in a long time from Democrats, and we have to say we heartily encourage this trend in the hopes that it will spread like wildfire. If we’re going to take back the House, this is one thing that’ll help, to put it mildly. Well done, Representative Maloney!

And our third Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week is a group award. Every Democrat serving in the Vermont state legislature who voted this week to legalize recreational marijuana deserves their own MIDOTW.

This is historic, because if the governor signs it, it will be the first time recreational marijuana is legalized through the legislative process rather than through a ballot initiative. Vermont politicians are doing what their constituents obviously want them to do, which shouldn’t be all that unusual, really. Nevertheless, it is a clear measure of the growing acceptance of legalization that the politicians aren’t terrified to act any more.

Unfortunately, Vermont currently has a Republican governor. He’s being coy right now, and refusing to say whether he’ll sign the measure or not. On the bright side, he hasn’t just come right out and vetoed it yet, so there’s still hope. The bill does not have a veto-proof majority, but if it fails this time around, perhaps next year it will.

In any case, we think that all Vermont politicians who voted for legalization in such a historic fashion deserve a group MIDOTW award for their efforts.

[Congratulate New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu on his official contact page, Representative Sean Patrick Maloney on his House contact page, and all the Vermont legislators via the Vermont legislature’s webpage, to let all of them know you appreciate their efforts.]

This one’s pretty easy, this week. Former House member Corrine Brown of Florida was convicted of 18 counts of corruption this week. Here are the main points, from the Miami Herald story:

Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown could spend the rest of her life in prison after being found guilty of taking money from a charity that was purported to be giving scholarships to poor students. The Thursday verdict came after prosecutors outlined a pattern of fraud by Brown, 70, and her top aide that included using hundreds of thousands of dollars from the One Door for Education Foundation for lavish parties, trips and shopping excursions. She was convicted of 18 of the 22 charges against her, including lying on her taxes and on her congressional financial disclosure forms.

For shame, Representative Brown. For shame.

Which is why she is easily our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week. Hard to top that one, really.

[Ex-Representative Corrine Brown is a private citizen, and it is our policy not to provide contact information for such persons.]

Volume 436 (5/12/17)

Since we’ve got Nixon on the brain this week, we’re going to use all the talking points to list just seven of the most notable similarities between Tricky Dick and Lyin’ Don. This shouldn’t be seen as any sort of definitive list. After all, anything could happen tomorrow morning to create a whole new raft of such comparisons.

But because of this monomania in the talking points, we’ve got to use this introduction to toss out the most important talking point for Democrats to start using. Point out ― as forcefully as possible ― how Team Trump is radically undermining their own credibility on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis. Here’s just one suggestion:

“How can anyone in their right mind believe one single thing Donald Trump says anymore? How can anyone take anything a Trump spokesperson says as nothing short of utter moose poop, at this point? How many lies have to be uncovered before the entire world sees Trump and all his spokespeople as nothing more than a group of boys crying “Wolf!” all the time? Why anyone would believe a single thing from the White House press briefing room podium at this point is beyond me....”

This cuts directly to the heart of their credibility, which they have been busily undercutting all week long. The only response to some far-fetched explanation from the White House at this point should be: “Yeah, right ― tell me another funny story!”

OK, with that out of the way, let’s go ahead and take a deep dive into the wonderful world of Nixon.

A secret plan

How does thee compare to Tricky Dick? Let us count the ways...

“When both Richard Nixon and Donald Trump were campaigning for the presidency, they both told voters they had a ‘secret plan to end the war.’ In Nixon’s case, it was Vietnam, and in Trump’s it was a plan to beat the Islamic State. Neither plan ever appeared because it was all nothing short of political flimflammery designed to fool the voters.”

Before and after

Then there was the election itself....

“Both Nixon and Trump were absolutely obsessed with their election. In Nixon’s case, this happened before the election, when he authorized a break-in at the Democratic headquarters in the Watergate building. He wanted the inside scoop on the Democratic plans. He went on to win one of the biggest landslides in American history. In Trump’s case, he became obsessed with his victory after the fact, because it was so historically small. Trump is still obsessed with rewriting history, claiming his Electoral College victory was a landslide (when it wasn’t), his inaugural was the best-attended (ditto), and showing visitors county maps of the election months after he was sworn into office. Now he’s just announced a blue-ribbon commission will be looking into “voter fraud” ― because Trump still has the delusion that three million illegal votes were cast, all of them for Hillary Clinton. He’s still incredibly insecure because he lost the popular vote, and now he’s spending government money to prove a fiction. At least Nixon’s win was so big he didn’t have to obsess about it after the fact.”

Call the plumbers

This one’s pretty obvious, although few have so far noticed.

“The White House secret group that orchestrated the Watergate break-in was known as ‘The Plumbers.’ The group, which included G. Gordon Liddy, Howard Hunt, and Charles Colson, was originally formed to investigate leaks right after the Pentagon Papers scandal. Nixon was obsessed with plugging such leaks, hence: ‘The Plumbers.’ Donald Trump, ever since the Russia election scandal broke, has insisted that the real story everyone should be focused on is the fact that such information leaked to the press in the first place. There were reports this week that James Comey was fired in large part because he refused to dial down the Russia investigation and instead devote all his time and energy into finding the leakers. The similarities between Trump and Nixon in obsessing over leaks is notable. For both men, this obsession led them directly into trouble, too.”

Enemies list

Again, an obvious comparison.

“Nixon infamously had an ‘enemies list,’ and once you were on that list you didn’t get off it. As John Dean wrote in a 1971 memo: ‘This memorandum addresses the matter of how we can maximize the fact of our incumbency in dealing with persons known to be active in their opposition to our Administration; stated a bit more bluntly ― how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.’ Team Nixon contemplated using I.R.S. audits and even litigation and prosecution against members of the enemies list. Nothing quite so blatant has surfaced from Team Trump, but can anyone doubt that Trump has his own enemies list and would stop at nothing to ‘screw’ people on it? Just look at his behavior over the past year or so.”

You’re fired!

This one is the current favorite in the mainstream media, of course.

“Nixon was infamously responsible for the ‘Saturday Night Massacre.’ Trump just had his own ‘Tuesday Afternoon Massacre.’ Both presidents were unafraid of firing Justice Department officials when they refused to stop investigating the president. It is entirely fitting that the biggest scandal of Trump’s presidency to date was the use of his signature catchphrase: ‘You’re fired!’ The irony is rather stark, wouldn’t you say?”

Testing... 1... 2... 3...

Today, of course, Trump ratcheted things up to a whole new Nixonian level, in two different ways.

“Donald Trump just publicly threatened James Comey ― the man he just fired ― in a form of political blackmail. Comey was told bluntly to shut up and stop leaking to the press, or Trump would produce tapes of their conversations that would prove something or another (according to Trump). We leave this one as an exercise for the student, to see how easy it is to draw the lines from Trump’s administration to Nixon’s.”

Stonewall!

Again, Trump is just making this too easy....

“Richard Nixon’s strategy for dealing with press inquiries into Watergate was a simple one: stonewall them. Give them nothing. Build a stone wall and hide behind it. Donald Trump, this morning, just threatened to end press conferences altogether, and only accept written questions. Even Nixon never went that far, it’s worth pointing out. This happened after this week’s press conferences had devolved into a contest to see who could tell the biggest whoppers from the podium. Trump tweeted in response: ‘As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!’ Boy, you can say that again, Mister President! Indeed, that may be the perfect summation of his presidency so far: ‘It is not possible for Trump surrogates to say anything from the podium with perfect accuracy.’ After this week, nobody’s arguing that point, that’s for sure.”

Chris Weigant blogs at:

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com

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