Throughout his campaign and in the first months of his presidency, Donald Trump has been crossing lines never before crossed in our history. He may now have crossed a Rubicon. What is on the other side?
In firing FBI Director James Comey, the top cop investigating his campaign for possible collusion with Russia as it meddled in the 2016 campaign, Trump seems to have badly miscalculated. He appears to have believed that the move would garner support — or at least not ignite much resistance — from Democrats unhappy with Comey’s treatment of Hillary Clinton. Having instead provoked a hurricane of blowback from both Democrats as well as a growing number of Republicans, Trump has been knocked on his heels.
Trump and his surrogates have put forth a succession of contradictory explanations for his decision to sack Comey. The initial version, that he was persuaded to take the step on the recommendation of Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, did not pass the laugh test.
Trump has beaten a hasty retreat from that implausible stance and, flabbergastingly, acknowledged that the Russia investigation was on the forefront of his mind.
“When I decided to do it” — meaning, fire Comey — “I said to myself, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story,” Trump told NBC News’ Lester Holt during an interview Thursday.
This explanation has the virtue of probably being true. But it raises difficulties of another sort: He may have admitted to committing a crime or a series of crimes.
Now, Trump’s frantic tweets suggest raw fear. In the flurry he has unleashed Friday morning, the most notable is his warning to the former FBI director to keep quiet. “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”
There are two possibilities here: There are recordings or there are no recordings. Both are very bad.
If Donald Trump has had a surreptitious recording system installed in the White House, that would be a scandal of major proportions, if not a crime.
But even if there are no tapes, the tweet itself is a threat to a person who would be a critical participant in any criminal proceedings that might arise from the ongoing FBI investigation into Russian meddling.
Does Trump’s firing of Comey constitute obstruction of justice? And does his threatening tweet now constitute witness tampering? A Department of Justice run by Jeff Sessions will not be quick to ask or answer such questions. Neither will a Republican-controlled Congress.
But the questions themselves will not go away. Trump is out of his depth. He has been talking and tweeting without the benefit of counsel and in the process digging himself a hole.
A vise is plainly closing on our 45th President, one that he is tightening himself. As the pace of personal and political disintegration of this criminal buffoon accelerates, one is increasingly compelled to ask: Is this the beginning of the end of his administration? Or is it the beginning of the beginning of the end?
Schoenfeld is the author of “Necessary Secrets: National Security, the Media and the Rule of Law,” and a former senior adviser to the 2012 Romney for President campaign.