Trump Is Not Ready To Deal With His Legal Problems

Updated:
Posted in: Law Enforcement

Former FBI Director James Comey delivered his much-anticipated testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, June 8, 2017. I am back in Washington, D.C., wearing my CNN analyst/contributor hat, covering the proceedings. Trump has hired a crony, a New York lawyer who has handled his divorces and defamation actions, rather than someone who knows the ways of Washington. Trump and his lawyer’s response to Comey’s testimony is strange, to state it nicely. First a bit of background.

James Comey’s testimony was as explosive as anticipated. Rather than read his prepared statement at the hearing, since it had been submitted to the committee the day before and had received wide press coverage, the former director gave the committee (as well as Donald Trump, who is never far from his 60-inch flat screen, and the watching world) a few thoughts he had not included in his statement.

There has been much debate since Comey was fired by Trump whether it was true as stated in the letter dismissing the FBI chief whether Trump had been told by Comey on three occasions, as he claimed, that he was not under investigation. Comey quickly cleared up that the matter. He agreed that he had given President Trump information that the president might have believed were assurances that he was not under investigation, but he was only referring to a counter-intelligence investigation.

In short, the FBI does not believe Trump is a spy or Russian agent, but the former director refused to say in open session whether the president is currently under criminal investigation. By not absolving Trump of a criminal inquiry, it was very clear that what Comey was saying was that Trump is under investigation by the Special Counsel Mueller to determine whether he colluded with the Russian’s hacking of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid, and related matters. These related matters could include Trump’s financial ties to Russian oligarchs, which many Trump watchers believe could spell trouble, even if he was not involved in collusion. I will return to investigating Trump in a moment.

Notwithstanding the limited statements Comey made, twenty-four hours later Trump announced that he had been vindicated by Comey: No investigation. No collusion. Although Comey said neither, Trump heard both. But Trump’s delusion is much more serious.

Probably the most unprecedented moment in the Comey proceeding was when the former director called the President of the United States a liar. It happened on several occasions during his testimony, with Comey mincing no words when flat-out calling Trump a liar. Early in his remarks Comey said the first time he met Trump, he was uncomfortable. “I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting,” Comey added and explained that he started writing memos of his meetings with the president. “I knew that there might come a day where I might need a record of what happened, not just to defend myself and FBI and the integrity of our situation, and the independence of our function.”

Comey also said he believed the president lied about the reason he fired him: “The administration (read: the President) then chose to defame me—and, more importantly, the FBI—by saying the organization was in disarray and that it was poorly led, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader. Those were lies, plain and simple.”

These are extraordinary charges from any former high official, and particularly a former FBI director, when the president appears still under investigation. Not surprisingly, before the day ended Trump struck back, as he would again the next day. Trump’s private outside attorney, a longtime friend and lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, had come to Washington from New York, and following Comey’s testimony read a brief statement at the National Press Club (a few blocks from the White House) where he denied Comey’s charge in his testimony that Trump had tried to impede the FBI’s investigation of Michael Flynn, who briefly served as Trump’s national security adviser. Kasowitz similarly denied Trump had made any false statements. Kasowitz’s general denials did little to blunt the impact of Comey’s powerful testimony, given under oath, nor did Trump’s lawyer refusing to take questions bolster their case.

I have considerable experience following presidential scandals up close (Watergate, Iran-Contra, and the Lewinsky matter). I found Marc Kasowitz’s defense of President Trump underwhelming. More specifically, his defense seemed limited to the claim that Trump did not say what Comey says he did; Trump joined the defense 24 hours later at a press conference by volunteering to put his version under oath, as Comey’s was. Then the defense went on the attack with a Kasowitz statement riddled with problems. It is the kicker at the end trying to shift the problems to Comey:

Today, Mr. Comey admitted that he unilaterally and surreptitiously made unauthorized disclosures to the press of privileged communications with the President. The leaks of this privileged information began no later than March 2017 when friends of Mr. Comey have stated he disclosed to them the conversations he had with the President during their January 27, 2017 dinner and February 14, 2017 White House meeting. Today, Mr. Comey admitted that he leaked to friends his purported memos of these privileged conversations, one of which he testified was classified. He also testified that immediately after he was terminated he authorized his friends to leak the contents of these memos to the press in order to “prompt the appointment of a special counsel.” Although Mr. Comey testified he only leaked the memos in response to a tweet, the public record reveals that the New York Times was quoting from these memos the day before the referenced tweet, which belies Mr. Comey’s excuse for this unauthorized disclosure of privileged information and appears to entirely retaliatory. We will leave it the appropriate authorities to determine whether this leaks [sic] should be investigated along with all those others being investigated. (Italics added to note problems explained below.)

Let’s look at each at the counterattack by Trump and Kasowitz:

Charge: Kasowitz claims Comey leaked classified information.

Response: To the contrary, this is a total misreading of Comey’s statement, not to mention it suggests Kasowitz paid no attention to Comey’s responses to the questions of the Senate Intelligence Committee. A careful reading of Comey’s testimony, including his responses, reveals he did not release any classified material to any unauthorized persons. Comey repeatedly testified that the memos he wrote of his conversations with Trump were almost all UNCLASSIFIED. Or, as he stated to clarify at one point, “My view was that the content of those [memo are] unclassified, memorialization of those conversations was my recollection recorded.” At another point in his testimony he corrected a senator who was not clear on classification. Senator Heinriech asked: “The memos that you wrote, you wrote—did you write all nine of them in a way that was designed to prevent them from needing classification? Comey answered, “No. On a few of the occasions, I wrote—I sent emails to my chief of staff on some of the brief phone conversations I had. The first one was a classified briefing. Though it was in a conference room at Trump Tower, it was a classified briefing. I wrote that on a classified device. The one I started typing in the car, that was a classified laptop I started working on.” The Senator asked, “Any reason in a classified environment, in a skiff [sic], that this committee, it would not be appropriate to see those communications at least from your perspective as the author?” Comey said, “No.” But this has nothing to do with anything Comey “leaked,” if that is the correct word, which does not appear the case.

There is not a scintilla of evidence that Comey released any classified information, other than to his FBI associates involved in the Russia investigation, and cleared to receive such information.

Charge: Kasowitz claims Comey “leaked” information, and in doing so acted “surreptitiously.” Trump similarly call Comey a “leaker” as his press conference twenty-four hours after Comey’s testimony explaining his release of one of his memos to a friend, which he authorized sharing with the news media.

Response: Trump and his attorney appear to misunderstand the term “leak,” and exactly what Comey admitted to doing in releasing information. Specifically, Kasowitz charged: “Mr. Comey admitted that he unilaterally and surreptitiously made unauthorized disclosures to the press of privileged communications with the President. The leaks of this privileged information began….” First, Comey did not “leak” anything. Google, and most dictionaries, define a leak as “intentional disclosure of secret information.” Comey was privy to the conversation, so it was no secret—he simply used an intermediary, openly. If Sean Spicer, the press secretary, shared a Trump conversation off-the-record with a reporter, that is not a leak. Comey’s friend released his account of a conversation to make the information public. He did not need Trump’s consent because he had been fired, and Trump was falsely characterizing Comey’s position. To act surreptitiously means to keep something secret, and that was not done. The press coverage all but said the material had been provided by Comey and with his consent.

Charge: Kasowitz claims Trump’s conversations with Comey were “privileged.”

Response: This is absurd. Presidential conversations are only rarely privileged and that occurrs when they deal with national security matters or involve deliberations in decision making. Trump and his lawyer seem to think when Trump speaks some right of privacy attaches to his words. The Trump White House played this same game in claiming they allowed Comey to testify without invoking executive privilege to block him. I addressed this claim in a piece I wrote for CNN, because it is so over the top it is disconnected from reality. Now his New York lawyer is playing with it, and trying to suggest wrongdoing by Comey, and it is laughable.

It appears to me that Donald Trump has made the same mistake Richard Nixon did during Watergate: he is not represented by competent counsel. When I first learned the dimensions of Watergate I went to one of my two immediate superiors to explain I did not have such experience nor did the lawyers on my staff, thus suggesting we bring an experienced criminal lawyer so we not make some foolish mistake. My suggestion was promptly dismissed and we proceeded to make one foolish mistake after another. After I broke rank and left the White House, Nixon never hired a criminal lawyer, and proceeded to commit more crimes. Not until he resigned did he hire a highly qualified criminal lawyer, and get the representation he needed.

President Trump has hired a great litigator, who has handled a lot of nasty business for him in the past. But what he really needs an experienced Washington-based criminal lawyer, without which he may not survive the problems he currently faces. The weak response to the Comey testimony, and Trump’s bravado the next day at his press conference, show he is not ready to handle the legal problems he is facing. White House lawyers represent the office of the president, and are not available to handle his personal problems.

  • What bothers me about this is the framing of “leak” and the redefinition of such terms as “privileged” here. These are parts of a high-level lie, what I would actually describe as a Level 3 lie of reframing. This is the kind of technique that Trump himself rarely rises to, but there are some highly skilled liars and propagandists working for Trump, and they are calling these shots.

    As reconfirmed in the rather peculiar outdoor press conference Trump had, his own lies tend to be at Levels 0 and 1, where self-contradiction collapses of its own weight and counterfactual statements can be disproved by any fool who checks the facts. The missing level is 2, partial truth, which is actually the favorite lie of moderately skilled liars such as lawyers. (I think Trump may have gotten as high as Level 2 in his recent peculiar attacks on the Mayor of London. Perhaps he thus contributed to the election results that shocked the Conservatives so badly?)

    Right now I think obstruction of justice may merely be the most serious crime Trump has committed since he arrived in the White House. I think the more serious crimes probably began long ago, and that his tax returns will reveal that most of his assets are actually laundry fees for Putin’s dirty money. The most serious threat to the country would involve whatever interest payments Putin has been demanding more recently. However it might be the bribery clause that gets him, since he’s been paying and receiving such massive bribes…

    • I’m unable to understand why any of #PresidentTweety’s defenders think it is better if he’s investigated separately or as part of a broader conspiracy. I predict this topic will not get an intellectually honest response (which is why I’ve decided against addressing it directly to any of them), but let’s consider what sort of conspiracy might be revealed when Mueller (taking over for Comey) looks at Trump’s tax returns.

      First of all, the story begins with bankruptcy, which is something Trump ought to know better than he seems to. Before you can go bankrupt, you have to borrow a lot of money. Trump did, but that’s not the problem as long as your creditors think you can pay it back and are willing to loan you some more money. The American banks declared Trump bankrupt a LONG time ago, which forced Trump to go for international money. Funny coincidence, but that was at the same time Putin and his cronies had a lot of dirty money that needed laundering. Wouldn’t it be a shocking surprise if Trump’s assets turned out to be laundry fees?

  • blw21

    Too bad for John Dean, Democrats and the liberal “mainstream” media, former Director Comey did not testify about any “collusion” between Russians and Mr. Trump or his campaign during the 2016 election season, but Director Comey did testify as to obstruction of justice by Barack Obama’s Attorney General Loretta Lynch. How many liberals care about that?

  • margo533

    Fascinating, insightful, extremely informative article by the most knowledgeable expert on Congressional investigations of presidential misconduct available today. And we are fortunate to have him still with us. I can still see him as he was on that day so many years ago, as his testimony broke Watergate wide open, his beautiful Maureen visible just behind him. Back when we all were young. Thank you, thank you Mr Dean.

  • Lynn Foskey Sharpe

    An attorney that does not know how to spell “scintilla” is no lawyer.

    • That’s the best your sock puppet can come up with? Bye troll.

    • Richard Michaelson PC

      Nor are you an English teacher. Why don’t you just read for content, and not be so picky.

      • Because he’s an unusually witless troll. In general, ad hominem argumentation is resorted to by people (in this case, trolls and sock puppets) who can’t defend the actual issues, so they attack the people presenting the issues.

  • Lynn Foskey Sharpe

    However, Mr Comey’s statement, ahead of testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, confirms he did indeed tell Mr Trump he was not personally under investigation, on not three occasions, but four.

    • At the time… and on the specific topic of collusion with the Russians… since there was no indication that Trump himself had personally, improperly, secretly met with Russian government officials during the campaign, and lied about it, unlike members of his campaign. On the other hand, they were all working for him, which is going to require any investigators to at least look him over “impersonally” because he’s the head of the group they are indeed investigating….

  • There is not a sintillia of evidence….” — I think you mean “scintilla”.

    When Trump and Kasowitz claimed “Comey leaked”, that effectively admitted the truth of the information Comey released. Realizing that tactical error, they then switched footing to claiming “Comey lied”… but without retracting the earlier claim. So now they’re in the self-contradictory position of claiming he leaked…lies. (How exactly can one do that? If I were to make up fake statements or even entire fake documents about purported classified matters, those would indeed be lies, but they could not possibly be leaks.)

    Unlike your good self, *I* have never been a lawyer, nor, as the saying goes, have I played one on TV. But I think even *I* might have given Trump better advice than he has… well, than he has followed, anyway. Not that he tends to follow advice (or pay his legal fees), so pity any lawyer he still has.

  • Francis Graff

    John Dean was a rat and an abetter to Nixon’s crime. Now what do you think of the Hatch Act that Comey has clearly been involved? I think you should be as quiet now as you can be John, you were a disgrace to good government.

    • Oh, the troll has a fresh sock puppet? Bye.

    • G.N.M.

      Yep.

    • “Rat” in criminal slang, like “squeal” and “snitch”, means someone inside the conspiracy who tells the truth about it to the authorities, rather than keeping it secret. And historically John Dean did testify to Congress about what was going on inside the White House and Oval Office during the Watergate scandal — but calling him a “rat” for that would be said only from the viewpoint of someone who wanted that criminal conspiracy and cover-up to succeed. Yet then you immediately follow it with the word “abetter” (practically an antonym), which is the charge Dean took for not “ratting” even sooner. Which of the two opposed offenses are you angry about? You can’t consistently be angry about both in the same breath.

      • I think you’re just feeding a troll (or a sock puppet of even lower status). The trolls are just attacking the messenger since the reality is too ugly weak to be defended.

        • By “feeding” you mean “noting for all other readers’ attention that he was using criminal slang from the viewpoint of continued allegiance to the gang boss”….

  • tj Hessmond

    Anyone who reads this article and who watched the testimony of Mr Comey would wonder if the barrister constructing the article observed the testimony given by Mr Comey.

    To compare Mr Trump to Mr Nixon is nonsense..

    It was blatantly clear from the testimony (if that is even a proper term) that President Trump did not trust Mr Comey, and for good reason. It was obvious that Mr Comey was disgruntled with the private CEO tactics Mr Trump used when meeting with Mr Comey (one on one with no witnesses). In the business area this means the Manger conducting the conversation, holds little trust or good faith related to the person they are having a conversation with. Mr Comey rambled on about this tactic, as its most likely not one commonly used in the political arena and very difficult to purpose either a defensive or offensive position against.

    Mr Comey along with Ms. Lynch were involved in one of the largest political manipulations of the justice system ever to occur in the history of America. That political manipulation of what was supposed to be justice, left Mr Comey and Ms. Lynch, the FBI and the Justice Department with no credibility in the eyes of the American people.

    Mr Comey appeared to be grasping at straws, which in the end made no point other than to exonerate Mr Trump, and paint a picture of Mr Comey as week and timid, The event was simply political grandstanding, an argument of the parsing of words and nothing more. Even this article is an argument of the parsing of words which attempts to give them credibility in the abyss of defeat.

    In layman’s terms the vast Democratic political machine has spent months waging a disinformation campaign against Mr Trump bound up in the rouse of Russia House. After Mr Comey’s testimony before the senate committee, that rouse has been deconstructed and bears no continual validity. The vast machine of the DNC took up yet another campaign against Mr Trump and as in the beginning they find themselves on the losing end of the argument.

    • Bye, troll.

    • Richard Michaelson PC

      I agree that comparing trump to Nixon is nonsense, like you said. Nixon was an angel compared to Trump.

    • @tjhessmond:disqus: “… the private CEO tactics Mr Trump used when meeting with Mr Comey (one on one with no witnesses). In the business area this means the Manger conducting the conversation, holds little trust or good faith related to the person they are having a conversation with.”

      A Manger (from the French word for “eat”) is a bin used to feed animals, kept filled with straw. Whether the person to whom you refer is filled with straw or something else, I doubt he has ever been used for that purpose… unlike, say, Mason Verger.

      A Manager, on the other hand, (or anyone) who “held little trust” of someone he was about to meet would more likely want reliable witnesses with him, in order to be able to verify the contents of the conversation in case the other person lied about it. That is, after all, why Director Comey wanted not to be left alone with Trump, but to have witnesses present at all times.

      Ah, but if that Manager “held little good faith”, as you put last… meaning that some sort of treachery was his intention all along… then indeed he would want no witnesses. I think you have finally pegged it!

  • Comey wrote memos about Trump because he did not trust him
    from before he knew him, an honorable person would have tendered resignation at
    time of Trump inauguration. How can a person work in best interest of someone’s
    platform if he cannot trust enough or actually seem that he is more politically
    involved with Democratic party to be an honest employee.

    To the point of Comey saying that Trump was not under
    investigation right now, he cannot answer because remember he is no longer
    employed by the FBI and is not and should not be entitled to that information.
    Evidence of him being politically motivated in his choices in the FBI it is
    obvious the answer is yes, notice actions as being “directed” by Lynch and no
    notes, Trump not directing him and notes of concern. He does not and has not
    worked within actions of impartiality
    from before the inauguration and we do not know how far back that his actions
    were allowing improper actions in previous administration. Given that, which I
    hope, the rest of the FBI as a whole is impartial but the director was not,
    this would lead to a disarray of capability and work. Reason is that impartial, honest, patriotic
    FBI agents would be working in a conflict between legal and orders from the
    director never sure of the condition of fulfillment of their oath. When Comey
    was no longer employed by FBI he divulged privileged information or even if you
    contend that it is not, the action of inferring unproven information as a
    former director of FBI with the intent to cause a special investigation by
    giving out misleading information to news agency with what can only be an attempt
    to disrupt our government. The idea of not being privileged information, Comey
    noticed that Trump only would talk and relate information between himself and
    Comey by MAKING SURE everyone left. This in itself constitutes a privileged communication
    if not meant to be classified. The memos were taken as a part of his job as he
    stated which means they are government / FBI property, he did not turn them
    over as a part of his dismissal. I would think this action would determine that
    he may have taken other information that does not belong to him, he should have
    a complete search of all areas of his influence.

    • I just went through that again and STILL can’t figure out what you’re trying to say. I suspect it is because you are trying to defend #PresidentTweety and you can’t even twist your own logic enough to make sense out of it. However, it’s so confusing that maybe you’re not a troll? In the case you’re making a real point, could you try to make it more clearly?

      (If you’re a troll, then I’m hoping your attempt to clarify yourself will make your status clear so I can block you and not waste more time with what on its face seems to be gibberish.)

  • Richard Michaelson PC

    I look forward to John Dean’s articles more than any other political information I read. No one, absolutely no one has the political insight combined with the personal legal experience of John Dean.