Donald Trump is going to meet soon with the pope. How do you think that will go? Maybe when Trump emerges, he’ll announce that Francis promised him canonization. Then the Vatican will deny it. Then Sean Spicer will hold a press conference in which he will explain that the president was simply working off a memo written by the deputy secretary of state.
Then a reporter will point out that the State Department doesn’t have any deputy secretaries yet. Then we will hear another complaint about “gotcha journalism.”
Look, it wouldn’t be any weirder than what we’ve been through this week.
The president managed to fire F.B.I. chief James Comey in the most unseemly, strange and borderline ridiculous manner humanly possible. A third of Trump’s letter of dismissal was an expression of gratitude for “informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation.” That sounded sort of fishy, since Comey did not have a reputation for running around town assuring people they were not currently suspected of any crimes.
On the night the message was delivered, Spicer starred in what we will call the White House Shrubbery Incident, briefing the press corps in the dark, near a cluster of bushes by the West Wing.
He was not hiding in the foliage! Stop passing around that story! Although he did make it clear he was prepared to bolt if anybody tried to get a picture. (“Just turn the lights off. Turn the lights off.”)
During the conference in deep shadows, Spicer informed the media that the decision to fire Comey was based entirely on a memo by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein: “It was all him. … No one from the White House. That was a Department of Justice decision.”
We will now pause to identify Rod Rosenstein. He had been deputy attorney general for two weeks. Before that he was U.S. attorney in Maryland, a very well-regarded public servant. Let that be an important lesson, people. Whatever you do, do not take a job in the Trump administration. Before you’ve got your desk organized, you’ll be involved in a national scandal. Or in a bush.
“At the very minimum he was being used — they were using his reputation to try and wipe up their mess,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in a phone interview. Rosenstein has agreed to meet with the full Senate next week. Let’s hope he says something very useful and interesting. Otherwise he’ll be known for the rest of his life as The Memo Guy.
Since nothing ever happens in this White House that is not instantly followed by a contradicting story, by the end of the week the president was claiming it was all his idea to fire Comey. That version did seem way more believable than the idea that Trump was reacting to something he had read. The memo was only three pages long, but still.
Then he went Watergate. “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Trump twittered.
“You would think they’d have learned a lesson,” mused Nixon aide John Dean. “But Trump doesn’t seem to have much of an institutional memory. If any.”