As Noah Feldman pointed out, had Donald Trump not fired James Comey as FBI Director on 9 May 2017, the FBI would have continued to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election, the Department of Justice would have indicted the Russians involved in the troll farm that manipulated U.S. social media, the scandal of Cambridge Analytica-Facebook would have been revealed and Mark Zuckerberg would have been required to testify before Congress about it, but the FBI investigation would have most likely been restricted to Russian manipulation and interference rather than collusion let alone obstruction of justice. Trump’s pleas to Comey to go easy on Flynn culminating in his firing him, initially clumsily claiming the firing was because of Comey’s mishandling of the probe into Hillary Clinton’s email, and then publicly admitting on NBC to Lester Holt that it was because he wanted “the Russian thing” to go away, immediately brought to the fore the possibility that Trump was guilty of obstruction of justice.
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” Trump had called the Russia probe a “cloud” over his administration. The cloud was not Russian interference in the election, but the series of stories of connections between the Trump team and Russians. Trump asked what Comey “could do to lift the cloud.” Firing Comey brought about the swarms flying around his head. Trump had fired the FBI Director for investigating him. Comey, as it turned out, was not a tiny lice that Trump could pick off his scalp, but the lead fly that, when swatted, would be followed by swarms.
“Without the firing of Comey, there would have been no appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel. If Comey had remained in office, he would have had every incentive to limit the investigation to whether Russia interfered in the election and whether Trump’s campaign had coordinated with that effort. Comey would not have had any reason to go after Trump personally, especially as regards to Cohen…By firing Comey, then attempting to assassinate his character, Trump made it blatantly clear that he considered any investigation a personal matter, and would treat any investigator as his enemy. As a result, when Mueller stepped into his role [on 17 May 2017], he had to be aware from Day One that Trump would see him as the enemy, would try to pressure him and might well fire him.” Trump had ensured then that he would not just be bothered by the itching of one lice, or the buzzing of one fly, but would be attacked by swarms.
Mueller had every reason to insulate himself against the possibility of being fired. He had every reason to build up whatever leverage he could to stop that from happening. That meant genuinely investigating, not only possible coordination with Russia, but also all crimes that might be discovered during that investigation. Mueller’s appointment letter specifically gave him that very broad mandate. And the evidence soon led Mueller down the path to a full-scale investigation of Michael Cohen’s payment to Stormy Daniels.
What about Paul Manafort and Rick Gates? As I wrote above, the Donald told Lester Holt of NBC that he was motivated to fire Comey, in part, “because of this Russian thing.” Could Trump have provided any better indication that there had been cooperation by Trump team members that required probing as well as investigating the role of Russia in the 2016 American election? Further, just think about it; Trump said Comey better not forget that it was possible that he had taped the whole event. Tricky Dick’s tapes immediately came to mind. As it turned out, there was no tape, but thank goodness that Comey had enough smarts to write up a memo on the firing and then send it to a friend who was a professor of law. Presence of head, on the one hand, was in direct contrast with the head of the U.S. government covered by swarms of flies.
On the day between firing Comey (9 May) and his NBC interview with Lester Holt, where he admitted that the firing of Comey had, at least in part, been motivated by his desire to have the “Russian thing” go away (11 May), Trump met with the Russian Ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, and the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, in the Oval Office (10 May). Trump explicitly told them that he had fired Comey over the “Russian thing.” The Russians knew the reason for the firing before the American public did. DT also told the Russians that Comey was “crazy” and “a real nut job.”
But that was not all that Trump told the Russians. The Israelis, he said, had discovered from sources in Syria that ISIS was developing a laptop computer bomb that could not be detected in security screenings. This was highly classified information passed onto American intelligence by a U.S. close ally that was then relayed to a foreign government which had for decades been an enemy of the U.S. Further, by disclosing the Israeli source of the intelligence, DT had endangered the Mossad’s sources. Is it possible that obstruction of justice and collusion were intertwined because the highest office in the land was now occupied by a Russian “asset”?
Military intelligence and Israeli intelligence had been alerted to the real possibility that the most important mole in the history of the world may, unthinkably, possibly be the president of the U.S., either because the Russians had something on him or because he wanted to be favoured by the Russians, perhaps for some transactional motives. However, the reasons may have been more mundane. DT was indiscreet. DT did not recognize the potential disastrous consequences to an ally’s intelligence sources. But stupidity was only slightly less dangerous than an intentional operative when the person supplying the information has not only access to all intelligence but can himself decide what is or is not highly secret.
If the flies swarming around The Donald were so bothersome that he was caught on camera with two Middle East authoritarian leaders touching a glowing orb as if it was a magic talisman, if he was being pursued so much that he pushed the Montenegrin Prime Minister aside to get up front for a photo op, and if he had become so wound up that he sent out his infamous covfefe tweet – “Despite the constant negative press covfefe,” it began to universal bewilderment – by the beginning of the next month, even worse followed. In a speech from the Rose Garden, Donald Trump announced he was withdrawing America from the Paris climate deal.
The earth-bound plagues of lice and flies were now followed by fire and boils and rain. The plagues of locusts, darkness and death of the first born will follow in the next blog. DT had ignored what 99% of environmental science said; he had become the loudest spokesperson for the members of the flat earth society. Immediately after the announcement in June, the U.S. was hit with the most intense heat wave ever; cattle and livestock were dying from drought and high temperatures. People were burnt alive. Intense windstorms with hurricane rains followed.
In August, Hurricane Harvey struck southeast Texas with 60” of rain on Nederland, a record. Houston was flooded with 35” of rain and 70% of Harris County was flooded in at least 1.5 feet of water, swamping 136,000 structures. At the end of August and in early September, Puerto Rico was devastated before Hurricane Irma crashed across Florida. Though initially reported as perhaps about 100 dead, including 14 in a nursing home in Hollywood, Florida, the death toll from the two hurricanes actually exceeded 3,000 when official figures were finally forthcoming from Puerto Rico that included the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria that arrived a week later. But it was unclear whether the Donald even regarded Puerto Rico as part of the U.S.
As an appetizer to the most devastating fire in the history of the U.S. at the end of the year, a dozen wildfires ravaged Northern California destroying more than 1,500 commercial and residential buildings and killing 11. By the end of October, the death toll from wildfires, including the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, had risen to 43. Then came the massive Thomas wildfire in Southern California in December scorching 440 square miles and destroying over 1,000 structures. By 2018, each of three wildfires burning at the same time were even worse. The Camp Fire alone killed 87 and destroyed 18,000 structures.
God was screaming, but Donald had his ears plugged and his eyes covered. Climate change had already affected ocean temperatures, altered weather patterns, produced drought that increased the fuel supply, “compounded by atmospheric conditions linked to global warming.” This past week, the California Pacific, Gas and Electric (PG&E) that had over 700 suits filed against it for its negligence with respect to those fires, with claims totalling more than $30 billion, filed for bankruptcy protection. Fire investigators determined PG&E had been the precipitating cause of at least 17 of 21 major Northern California fires in 2017.
Back to the flies. The fires and hurricanes would eliminate them from the news, but never for very long. In July of 2017, Donald Trump personally dictated a statement for Donald Trump Jr. in which the latter claimed that a meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer was about adoption. To make the story even more absurd, the meeting was actually held because Donald Jr. had been told the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton. Talk about collusion! The Mueller Investigation was certainly needed to dot the i’s and cross the t’s, but the avalanche of evidence connecting the Trumps with the Russians was just beginning. The fight was now on to provide evidence that those links amounted to collusion, obstruction of justice and perhaps outright felonies.
It can’t get worse, we say, as each day we turn on the TV news. But it does get worse, much worse. As a hint, in August 2017 we were assaulted by a double whammy. On the one hand, in response to North Korea testing missiles that could carry a nuclear payload to the U.S., Trump threatened that such initiatives “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” A week later, after the horror of neo-Nazis, racists and antisemites with tiki torches marched in Charlottesville Virginia to “affirm the right of Southerners and white people to organize for their interests,” and chanted, “Jews will not replace us,” Donald Trump told Americans that there were “good people on both sides.” The next day, he fired Steve Bannon. Another acolyte was sacrificed and served as a distraction fro Trump’s stupidity, insensitivity and, most likely racism.