On the Comey Memos
January 6, 2017: Trump doesn’t deny the golden showers, just that they were prostitutes
Here’s the operative passage on Trump’s response to being informed about the pee tape.
I think the exchange has been distorted by Comey, who is a prig that would judge anything that reeks of kink.
Trump doesn’t actually deny he engaged in some kind of golden showers event. Rather, he denies there were prostitutes. He’s only denying he paid for sex. Given the way Trump’s associative brain raised what we now know to be hush payments for actual behavior, this seems closer to a confirmation than a denial.
His reference to 2013, while it might be deceit, might also be amazement that the Russians were digging up old dirt.
I’m particularly interested in the redaction, which must say something about the dossier (and possibly Steele’s identity, though Comey didn’t share it). We don’t know who leaked that Trump got briefed on the memo, and I don’t rule out CIA leaking it. But Comey tells Trump that he wants to keep two things secret — that FBI has the dossier and something about the circumstances of the dossier. Those details very quickly leaked. I think it possible — likely even — that Trump leaked these details precisely because Comey said he wanted them kept secret.
January 27, 2017: Trump asks for loyalty, then asks for investigation
While Comey admits that he’s not sure he got the order of the private dinner between him and Trump correct, as he lays it out, Trump raises loyalty (to which Comey doesn’t respond), then asks Comey to investigation the pee tape to prove it wrong, then asks for loyalty again.
I’ve joked that no one should complain now that an investigation arose out of the dossier since Trump asked for just that, but in context, I think the exchange is even more important. Trump asked for an investigation from a loyal person. He expected an investigation that would exonerate him and he tied that to loyalty.
And all that took place against the background of Sally Yates warning Don McGahn about what Mike Flynn had said with Sergei Kislyak. In the conversation, Trump introduced a claim that he doubted Flynn’s judgment, because he hadn’t immediately told Trump that Putin was the first to congratulate Trump on his inauguration (he was among the first to call after the election as well).
I’ve always wondered why Flynn’s firing is treated as part of the obstruction investigation, and not part of the conspiracy. I think the explanation lies, at least partly, in this exchange. It’s clearly spin. It’s not just that Trump was complaining that Flynn wasn’t passing on his messages quickly enough, but it’s that he’s creating the suggestion that Flynn was running Russia response independently, which he wasn’t.
That is, Trump’s first exchange with Comey after learning Flynn was under investigation was to put some distance between the two of them.
February 8, 2017: At a meet-and-greet with Priebus, Comey meets Flynn and Trump
Comey goes for what he calls a meet-and-greet with Reince Priebus, whom he has said he should primarily work with. But before that happens, Flynn sits down with him for five minutes (remember they would have worked together in 2013-2014), without mentioning the FBI interview.
During the Priebus interview, after an extended discussion about the dossier (remember, Paul Manafort had contacted Priebus weeks earlier to discuss the dossier, and possibly to lay out a rebuttal plan to it), he asks whether there’s a FISA order on Flynn.
Contextually, the answer was probably no because:
- Otherwise Comey wouldn’t have made an exception to the normal reporting channels
- Ordinarily, it takes a while to get a FISC order; the concern about Flynn intensified on January 5, but in the January 24 interview, FBI Agents generally thought he was being honest
- At this point, FBI was delaying the normal briefing of the counterintelligence investigation because of sensitivity concerns
In any case, though the meeting was supposed to be with Priebus, the Chief of Staff brought Comey into meet with Trump (this feels sort of like another job interview). During it, Trump first raised this remarkably (for him) awkward Putin attempt to protect Trump from the prostitute allegation in the dossier — though like Trump, he’s denying that the women were prostitutes, not that he was with women; Trump claims that Putin said this directly to him, which given Putin’s awkwardness could well be the case. Trump then raised Russian pique with Bill O’Reilly for a question about Putin; Comey judges Trump took offense to his distinction between Russian and US killings (though I’m not even sure that’s right).
February 14, 2017: Trump emphasizes the Flynn didn’t do anything wrong
There are actually three parts to the Flynn content in the famous oval office meeting: a first exchange where Trump defended what Flynn did repeatedly, a second one where Trump complained (rightly) about the leak of the FISA wiretap, and the third exchange about “letting this go.”
Given the context of the Priebus question about the wiretap less than a week earlier, I actually think that’s what the point was. The White House had to get rid of Flynn as an effort to squelch the investigation into actions Trump himself had ordered. But that was only going to work if the FBI did drop the Flynn investigation.
March 1, 2017: Trump calls to check in (and invite Comey to the White House)
This call, which Comey memorialized in an email to Jim Rybicki, seemed designed to get Comey to come of his own accord to the White House. More importantly, the day before Jeff Sessions’ recusal, Trump wanted to get cozy with Comey.
March 30, 2017: Trump asks the cloud be removed
The released memos raise two new details about the “cloud hanging over” phone conversation on March 30. Amid his other comments designed to convince Comey he was innocent, Trump also said he was going to sue Christopher Steele.
This would have been between the Webzilla and the Alfa Bank suits, and long before Michael Cohen launched his ill-advised (and now dropped) suit. While Trump is a litigious fuck and we can’t conclude anything by his threatened suit, it a detail that suggests coordinated lawfare was part of the plan.
In addition, Trump made a reference that made Comey think his “satellite” comment pertained to Sergei Millian. That’s interesting given that 1) George Papadopoulos was also under active investigation at this time and 2) Millian had pitched Papadopoulos to pick up the Trump Tower pursuit when Michael Cohen had dropped it in June.
April 11, 2017: Trump reminds Comey we had that thing
Given the way Trump always coupled his requests for loyalty with comments about Andrew McCabe, I wonder whether, when Trump said “we had that thing,” he doesn’t believe he made a deal with Comey, where Comey could keep McCabe on so long as Comey remained loyal.
Whatever it was, Comey had no inkling.