Remember the week of May 7. Remember that this was the week our constitutional crisis began. Remember that it took Donald Trump just 110 days to commit a high crime or misdemeanor (well, as far as we know; he might well have done sooner). Because that is what he did, in firing James Comey, even though Republicans won’t say so. Remember, if and when the day comes that we see Donald Trump issue that last salute and clamber aboard Marine One for his last, albeit ahead of schedule, helicopter flight as president, that it all started this week.
Bells may have started ringing in your head when you read those words above, high crime or misdemeanor. Bah. Alarmist. I say: no. The firing of Comey was almost undeniably obstruction of justice. Comey was pursuing, however you want to parse it, justice—trying to get to the bottom of a question that is obviously one of legitimate public and legal interest. Trump, in firing him, obstructed that pursuit. Case closed.
But oh, there’s more. As the Beast’s Justin Miller reported Friday, Trump’s January dinner with Comey may have broken the law. Bill Clinton implored then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch to meet him on a tarmac. That was considered scandalous, and reasonably so; it looked like Clinton was trying to influence the course of a federal investigation into his wife. So if that was scandalous, what is inviting the FBI director over for dinner while he’s investigating not your spouse, but you?
But oh, there’s more. Then Trump asked Comey point blank if he, Trump, was the target of an investigation. The mere asking of that question, as Lawrence Tribe told Lawrence O’Donnell Thursday night, was a high crime or misdemeanor. Then Trump went on national TV (the Lester Holt interview) and not only admitted that he asked this question, but boasted about it! Then, in all likelihood, he lied about it—it seems impossible to imagine that Comey would have said anything other than something like, “Mr. President, respectfully, I believe we shouldn’t be discussing this.”
This isn’t just weird or unusual. It’s obstruction of justice—it’s inserting oneself into a federal investigation. Imagine President Hillary Clinton doing the same thing to Comey one week into her presidential tenure. The House Judiciary Committee would be drafting articles of impeachment right now.
But what are the Republicans doing here? With a small number of exceptions, they’re backtracking and rationalizing. Mitch McConnell’s floor statement defending the firing was the stuff of a parallel universe. Paul Ryan’s statement that Comey was “compromised” and had lost the confidence of agents was a straight-up White House talking point and is disputed by pro-Comey bureau sources.
Their statements were ridiculous, and they exposed the posture of the GOP. They see Trump as an opportunity to get what they can. If they can pass their tax cuts for the rich, end Obamacare, and put conservative judges on the Supreme Court and the federal circuit courts, they’ll let Trump do what he wants.
What will it take? That’s the question that faces us now. We see now, after this fateful, breathtaking week, the stakes. Trump will destroy the republic’s institutions if he decides they are not serving his personal interests. He’ll do and say anything. He’ll threaten the now-former FBI director with “tapes.” That was a telling touch, by the way, putting tapes in quote marks. I’ve heard people on TV speculate about what he meant by those quote marks. I know exactly what he meant. Semi-literate people who don’t know the rules of grammar use quote marks for emphasis. I’ve seen many signs that say: CLOSEOUT SALE! “EVERYTHING” MUST GO! Trump is a semi-literate, and that’s what he meant. But back to the main point: These “tapes” may exist, and they probably prove that Trump is lying, just as his tax returns probably prove that he’s in Russia up to his eyeballs. But we’ll never hear them, just as we’ll never see the tax returns (after he leaves office? Who cares?). He’ll continue to hint that they exculpate him, and McConnell and Ryan and the pro-Trump media will insist that it must be so.
What will it take…two things. One, Trump gets so low in the polls that he’s clearly an albatross to the House Republicans in their pursuit to hold on to their majority in 2018. Two, he does or says something that just makes everyone throw up their hands and say “okay, enough.” We can’t say what that thing is, but it does exist. As Potter Stewart said, we’ll know it when we see it. Or maybe the Republicans will never know it when they see it, which will increase the chances that the Democrats will take the House in 2018, and then it's a different ball game.
None of this was hard to predict. It was all too easy to predict, and many people (myself included) did predict that once in office, Trump would have no regard for our institutions and would be interested in them only to the extent that they could extend and amplify the greater glory of Trump. But back then it was theoretical. Now it’s real.
Also real, by the way, are the policies, which are consistently the opposite of his promises. This week, while Comey-mania unfolded, the United States and China reached a sweeping trade agreement. Among its provisions: Chinese companies can start buying liquid natural gas from American producers. That will put a knife in the back, or maybe the chest, of the U.S. coal industry. MAGA.
That’s an abomination, but it’s the sub-abomination. The real problem is the rape of the Constitution. The grabbing, you might say, of the Constitution by the pussy. He can get away with anything, he famously said on that tape. He could, then. Now? I truly do believe that good will prevail. Public opinion still matters. On which topic, I’m looking forward to next week’s polls. One expects they’ll register that most people have grasped that this was a pivotal week—one in which the republic was placed in grave danger, but also the week when the citizenry started to understand the stakes.