President Trump, apparently under the impression that his personal communications strategy will fare better than that of his staff, has taken to Twitter to issue a threat against former FBI director James Comey. Last night, The New York Times carried a report claiming that Trump’s account of a dinner meeting he had with Comey was false; Trump, the report said, had asked Comey for a loyalty pledge, which Comey had rejected. Trump, like everyone else in the United States, thinks that Comey was the source of that leak.
So Trump tweeted this:
James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
This is unwise for a variety of reasons.
First, it’s not smart to blackmail a fellow who is scheduled to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee next week. Comey obviously had few limits on what he was willing to say publicly before Trump blackmailed him; now he’ll be even more loose with his tongue.
Second, revealing that there may be “tapes” of Comey means that those tapes are now subject to subpoena. Even an amateur history student would realize that this is precisely how Nixon went down: a member of the White House staff revealed the presence of a taping system, at which point special prosecutor Archibald Cox asked for a subpoena; Nixon refused to turn over the tapes, and then ordered the Saturday Night Massacre when Cox kept demanding them and the Attorney General refused to fire him.
Third, the president relies on the good counsel of professional advisors. Which professional advisors would be willing to speak honestly with him if they thought they were being taped, and that Trump would later use that tape against them?
Fourth, Trump has said repeatedly that he believes Trump Tower was bugged by the Obama administration during the last election cycle. Now he’s saying he might have bugged Comey in some fashion. This is insane.
Finally, it is simply unseemly for the most powerful man on the planet to threaten a former employee over a conversation that cannot be confirmed either way. It demonstrates a lack of judgment and self-control.
Whatever Trump supporters think of him, it does not help Trump to behave this way. He’s undercutting his legitimacy with Congress, his trustworthiness, and by extension, his agenda. He’s in the middle of a grueling legislative fight over Trumpcare, and we’ve just spent a week debating a Russia scandal he says shouldn’t exist. What in the world is he thinking? Or is he?