Opinion: The “naive president” thesis, dissected

(AP)

President Trump’s Republican defenders are falling back upon his incompetence and inexperience to explain away the narrative laid out with such precision by former FBI Director Jim Comey.

In short, they argue, Trump did some things wrong, but he didn’t know that he was doing wrong. He didn’t know that he was crossing so many legal and ethical lines. It’s a PR approach that has great promise, at least initially, because we all know that Trump is indeed incompetent and inexperienced, as he has demonstrated repeatedly in his first few months in office. The story fits the facts.

Except when it doesn’t.

If Trump did not know that it was wrong and illegal to pressure Comey into dropping the investigation into Michael Flynn and “lift the cloud” of the Russian investigation, why did he arrange repeated, highly unusual, one-on-one private meetings to do so,  with no witnesses?

In his written testimony, for example, Comey says he got a call from the White House at noon on Jan. 27, inviting him to dinner that night. Comey assumed others would be in attendance as well, and was startled to learn otherwise.

“It turned out to be just the two of us, seated at a small oval table in the center of the Green Room. Two Navy stewards waited on us, only entering the room to serve food and drinks.”

That’s the rather theatrical dinner during which Trump raised the issue of Comey remaining as FBI director, then asked for Comey’s personal loyalty, which Comey refused to give.  His description of that moment is compelling:

“A few moments later, the president said, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.” I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence.”

According to Comey’s testimony, he explained to Trump that he could not be politically loyal, that the position of FBI director, with its 10-year term, was designed to be insulated against politics. Comey was giving the new president the lay of the land in Washington, trying to explain where the lines were, and thought he had done a good job of doing so.

But as Comey makes clear in the rest of his testimony, Trump paid no attention. He paints Trump as a man who never paid attention to rules or restraints on power in his private life, and had no intention of doing so now that he had become president.

(In press interviews, Trump has claimed that it was Comey, not Trump, who initiated the request for that dinner, as if it was Comey, not Trump, who had an agenda. That’s a fact that should be easily checked.)

Comey also describes an Oval Office meeting with Trump attended by half a dozen other top staff people, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions. At the end of the meeting, Trump tells everyone but Comey to leave the room. Sessions, Vice President Pence, even Jared Kushner — none is allowed to remain.

As Comey writes:

“When the door by the grandfather clock closed, and we were alone, the president began by saying, “I want to talk about Mike Flynn ….”

Again, that is not a man unaware that he’s doing wrong or in any way naive about what he’s doing. That’s a man who wants no witnesses to the event.  In a later telephone call, again with only Trump and Comey on the line, Trump repeats his request to “lift the cloud” of the Russian investigation.

Every time Trump raises the question, every time he exerts pressure on the FBI director, there are no witnesses to his doing so. He takes considerable pains to arrange such opportunities. I don’t think you can honestly square that fact with the claim that he was naive or didn’t know what he was doing. He knew exactly what he was doing. He is a 70-year-old high-level businessman who has dealt with lawyers, casino regulators, investigators and court depositions his entire life. He is many things, but naive is not one of them.

It’s also worth noting that in a press conference, Trump has categorically denied asking Comey to “let Flynn go.”

Reporter: Did you at any time urge former FBI Director James Comey in any way, shape, or form to close or to back down the investigation into Michael Flynn?

Trump: No. No. Next question.

That’s a man who knows right from wrong, but simply chooses not to honor the difference.


Two notes: First, here’s an ad funded by an anonymous, pro-Trump SuperPAC attacking Comey just before his testimony is to begin.

Second, I’ll be live-tweeting the Comey testimony, and will post the tweets here as updates. If our president chooses to participate in the event via Twitter, I will post those as well.

Reader Comments 0

1216 comments
phillunney
phillunney

Remember during the campaign and the outrage over private servers? Can anyone confirm or deny whether the Trump Admin is using secure servers?

Vicky Avila
Vicky Avila

You are Stupid scams traitor SATAN Clown LiER COMEY BEGGIST LiER.

Bill Amos
Bill Amos

I think you missed the televised hearing on Thursday.

Frieda Bennett
Frieda Bennett

Intentional ignorance and grievance politics are coming close to destroying this country. Neither is admirable; neither is curable. The Base 38 is at best a cult and at worst a gang. Either way, the 62% are left with the difficult tasks ahead.

Mack Mall
Mack Mall

Come on I know you tRump supporters are stupid but dam your head not can't be that far up your butt to not see this coming. Ha ha Baby Hilter is going down just wait and watch. Lmao

Joyce Naumis
Joyce Naumis

Just how stupid does POTUS think we are? He's a grown man, for heaven's sake who has been the leader of a multinational corporation. He knows exactly what he's doing at all times.

Mike DuPree
Mike DuPree

A cowardly FBI Director (head of the most powerful law enforcement agency in the country) who was afraid to respectfully disagree with either of his bosses. His testimony was dissected and we all found out who really tried to influence the election. Unless liberals have something else up their sleeves, you still have a fat Zero. Trump, like any other president, should be able to expect loyalty from those who serve in his administration. I don't believe Trump did anything wrong by saying what he said to Comey. How many of you jumped on the bandwagon when there was talk about Obama pardoning Hillary in the midst of an investigation as well as an election? I guess you forgot about that.

scooderpup
scooderpup

Hacked our election by spreading alternative facts, mostly on the equivalent to Russian TV, which is the alternative fact dirty old men channel. Broke into the DNC computers and spread that information to republicans so they could use that Infomation to smear democratic opponents through the US. I could go on, but the rest of the world and anyone who does not wallow in the mire of Murdock, realizes we've been had by Putin. And the Pee pee tapes probably exist, since, unprompted, trump,volunteered that he never met Russian prostitutes. No one asked him, he just wanted to put that out there.

Chris Policronis
Chris Policronis

The President is not and was not under investigation by the FBI. AJC did you watch the same hearing yesterday?

Greg Garner
Greg Garner

Okay here comes all the liberal panty wast bright thoughts

scooderpup
scooderpup

And the misspellings by the uneducateds.......

George Ann Devoe
George Ann Devoe

I am losing respect for Paul Ryan who keeps finding excuses for the President's behavior. Mark my words, President Trump will not leave office with many respecting him. One truth he has said, and I am paraphrasing, I can shoot someone on 5th Ave. and my supporters will still vote for me.

David Oliver
David Oliver

Every thing the Republicans accused President Obama of doing, President Trump is doing, and for them it seems to be okay.

Terry Sciple
Terry Sciple

Well, impeach him for incompetence and obstruction of justice. Fine by me. In fact, actually that fits the bill.

Pat Smith
Pat Smith

"If Trump did not know that it was wrong and illegal to pressure Comey into dropping the investigation into Michael Flynn and “lift the cloud” of the Russian investigation" then he shouldn't be President. Plan and simple!

Frank Hilton
Frank Hilton

Trying to make lemonade, are we? That dog won't hunt!

Peggy Jones
Peggy Jones

"On Dec. 11, Fox News aired an interview with then President-elect Donald Trump, and he explained why he didn’t need to have daily intelligence briefings, which are ordinarily given to presidents and president-elects. He said: 'I’m, like, a smart person. I don’t have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years'.”

Melissa Salyer
Melissa Salyer

Someone actually commented that Trump is getting the corruption out of Washington. Lol. If that's the case, what is worse than corruption, pure unadulterated evil? Because Washington is worse now, not better.

Barbara Fitzgerald
Barbara Fitzgerald

We the American people never knew the corruption that was going on in Washington. We was always wondering why our country was going down the drain thank you president Trump letting American people know how corrupt our country really was. You are doing a good job of getting the corruption out of Washington keep up the good work

Don S. Rowley
Don S. Rowley

Then: "I have the best brain. I alone can fix this!" Now: "He's new to this, he doesn't understand protocol"

Rob Fine
Rob Fine

What's next, Trump will be declared insane and not be charged with anything.

Barbara Candelaria
Barbara Candelaria

AJC... do you write for the National Enquirer too?.... laughable "journalism"!!

Audrey Smalls
Audrey Smalls

At the end of the day trump is a liar and John Mccain should go to the neared nursing home and Comey should be given a meds for dealing with the clown trump trying to make him do unethical things for him.Impeach him and his cronies now

Joni Ellis Bodie
Joni Ellis Bodie

Just as ignorance is no excuse for not knowing the law, it should not be an excuse for being the unethical and ridiculous excuse for a president that Trump is.

Brian Barnard
Brian Barnard

Wait didn't Comey set the precedent of one on one meetings with the president when in his first meeting at trump tower he had everyone clear the room to discuss private info?

Kisha West Wilson
Kisha West Wilson

Republicans are putting party over country. If Obama or Clinton did even an eighth of what 45 is doing, they would be calling for their resignations. I can't wait until 2018! Let's fire all of them!

Wladimir Ellias Chacon
Wladimir Ellias Chacon

44 and Clinton have plenty of blood on their hands... it tested comey and failed.

Kisha West Wilson
Kisha West Wilson

Wladimir Ellias Chacon actually Trump failed. Sad day. Y'all know he lies and won't admit it. Enjoy this ONE term.

Lynn Smith
Lynn Smith

Don't look now, Jay---but your Liberal Bias is showing! "Bigley!"

Stephen Scruggs
Stephen Scruggs

Trump will have 8 years as a great president. Trump will be even greater when it is shown that Trumps enemy's lied, rioted, produced anarchy against him and he still achieved greatness. The corrupt media, which is owned by 6 one world government corporations. The greedy politicians that leave office millionaires will be stopped. Country's will pay their fair share to NATO and the UN. Past presidents will be shown to be greedy, even traitors to America. We are fortunate enough to watch Trump make America great again.

May May
May May

Well all of that rant was delusional. \U0001f602\U0001f602\U0001f602

TheBystander
TheBystander

In the end, this will come back to bite the Dems. Lynch will be shown as a partisan hack.

David Dave Williams
David Dave Williams

I hope everyone was paying attention! Top 10 things we learned yesterday: 1. Trump was never under investigation. 2. Trump did not obstruct justice. 3. Trump did not collude with Russia. 4. Russia did not alter the election outcome. 5. Comey leaked his own memo. 6. Loretta Lynch pressured Comey to cover for Hillary Clinton. 7. There was ample evidence to put Hillary in jail but Comey chose not to pursue it. 8. CNN and other fake news outlets have been lying / making things up this entire time. 9. The Democratic Party no longer has the ability to scream "RUSSIA" every time Trump tries to do something. 10. The Russia story is dead - any democrats who continue to push it will look foolish and insane to the American people.

MDK2014
MDK2014

So Mr Bookman...even if Trump didn't know he could legally be involved...why was Comey so shocked at his actions and  why didn't Comey advise him it was his call and decision to make within the law on what to do with the investigation?  The seasoned guy was as uninformed as the new guy???

Mega Beat
Mega Beat

If you don't like than why follow it smart guy