For more than a month, President Donald Trump has dug a legal hole so deep that he has trapped himself. Shovelfuls of self-inflicted errors could cost Trump his office.
With a pledge to testify under oath about the events connected to his firing of FBI Director James Comey, Trump continues to excavate his presidential grave one scoop of dirt after another.
On May 9, Trump fired Comey.
In a letter to Comey that day, Trump wrote he had received “letters from the attorney general and the deputy attorney general of the United States recommending your dismissal as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I have accepted their recommendation, and you are hereby terminated.”
On May 10 in the White House, Trump told two top Russian officials that he fired the FBI director to eliminate “great pressure” he faced “because of Russia.” The FBI’s investigation into possible connections between the Trump presidential campaign and the Russian government was the highest-level case overseen by Comey.
On May 11, Trump told Lester Holt of “NBC Nightly News” that, when he fired Comey, he did not rely on the recommendations from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. “I was going to fire Comey — my decision,” Trump said, adding, “I was going to fire, regardless of recommendation.”
His reason for firing Comey, Trump told Holt: “When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.’”
On May 12, Trump wrote on Twitter, “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”
On June 8, Comey testified under oath to the Senate Intelligence Committee about his firing by President Trump, including related events before and after.
Comey said that at the end of a Feb. 14 counterterrorism meeting in the Oval Office, Trump dismissed the other participants, including Sessions, and spoke with him alone about Michael Flynn. Trump had fired Flynn from his position of national security adviser the day before.
Trump asked him to halt investigation into Flynn’s Russian interactions, Comey said, quoting Trump: “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.”
“I’ve seen the tweet about tapes,” Comey told the committee. “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.”
“The president surely knows if he taped me,” Comey added. “If he did, my feelings aren’t hurt. Release all of the tapes. I’m good with it.”
On June 9, Trump held a joint news conference with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in the Rose Garden.
A reporter asked about Comey’s statement that the president told him to let Flynn go. “I didn’t say that,” Trump said.
“So he lied about that?” the reporter asked.
“Well, I didn’t say that. I mean, I will tell you I didn’t say that,” Trump said.
The reporter asked: “So, he said those things under oath. Would you be willing to speak under oath to give your version of those events?”
“One hundred percent,” Trump said.
The reporter asked, “When will you tell us about the recordings?”
“Over a fairly short period of time,” Trump said.
“Are there tapes?” the reporter asked.
“Oh, you’re going to be very disappointed when you hear the answer. Don't worry,” Trump said.
Since his appointment May 17 by Rosenstein, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has stood above the FBI, the House and the Senate, and their investigations.
Friday, Trump wrote on Twitter that he is under investigation: “I am being investigated for firing the FBI director by the man who told me to fire the FBI director! Witch hunt.”
Trump could be right about being investigated but likely is wrong about the investigator — Rosenstein, by implication. In any case, the president can expect scrutiny.
Because of his sworn-testimony promise, Trump faces the prospect of testifying to Mueller about his Russian interactions, as well as any other actions that Mueller deems appropriate.
The president’s wide-ranging comments about the investigations and related goings-on — too often contradictory — are unlikely to escape prosecutorial examination or testimonial untangling.
Most damning is Trump’s conflict of interest in firing Comey who, at the time, oversaw the investigation into connections between Russia, and the Trump campaign and administration.
If Mueller finds truth in Comey’s account of Trump interfering with the FBI’s investigation, the lid on his presidency’s casket will close for good.