• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Trump-Comey Saga Continues

The Trump-Comey saga—I think this fairly captures what it’s become—has closed its curtain for a brief intermission. For the time being, at least, the theatrics have come to a stop. Those in attendance, namely the American people, had better bask in the lull. Stand up as a country glued to this cause célèbre, loosen up, stretch, and recess. Hasten back, though, and take a seat; the second act is bound to be a whirlwind affair.

So far, President Trump and former FBI Director James Comey have exchanged body blows tit for tat. Theirs is a fight that pits Trump’s ruthless irascibility against Comey’s steady, at times sanctimonious candor. The two are two sides of a coin ever at odds and forever ready to fight.

President Trump, naturally not one to be upstaged when it comes to controversy, had this to say in the days preceding James Comey’s testimony before Congress: “Comey”, he said, “better hope there are no tapes before he starts leaking to the press”. Was this a goad? A not-so-subtle threat? Blackmail? Perhaps a dash of all three? Whatever it was, or was intended to be, it set the news media astir. The word “tapes”, you see, is a sacred term in Washington D.C. It was tapes, after all, that sent Richard M. Nixon away from White House and into the annals of American ignominy. Trump should being doing his darndest to shield himself from the specter of Nixon. He must know by now that the media is only too eager to attach him with his predecessor. They’ll beckon that crook from the grave, parading him like occultists drunk with Nixonian necromancy and impeachment revelry.

Because of this association, Trump must tread more carefully. The threat of tapes ought not be tossed about so lightly. By saying and implying what he did, the president laid down on the line not only a threat, but a bit of his credibility as well. He either has tapes, capturing in every breath his conversations with Comey, or he doesn’t. It’s either a dull threat or a portentous promise. And knowing each man’s personality—that of Comey and that of Trump—having the tapes would likely bode ill for the President.

A quick review reminds us that Comey, though sodden with shortcomings of his own making, is generally considered a truthful man. Most see him as being veracious, often to a fault. Mr. Trump, on the other hand, as both a private and public citizen, has proven himself less bound to the demands of truth. He’s less committed to verity, more so to expediency. This isn’t one man’s biased opinion, I should add. Trump told us as much in his book, The Art of the Deal. In it, he made us aware of the sub-species of truth he calls “truthful hyperbole”, a hybrid between hubris and fact. So, it’s no stretch to conclude that Trump cares a bit less for the truth than Comey.

But now, forty days after having first hinted that he recorded his and Comey’s conversations, Trump has changed his tune. In a much-delayed follow-up tweet, Trump conceded that he has “no idea whether there are “tapes” or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make and do not have, any such recordings”. One can often tell when it’s not Trump, but an underling or attorney who sends a message. This appears to be one of those times. In the end, a scandal born of an ill-advised tweet died by another tweet.

The tweet sent, Trump thought he had washed his hands of the situation. But still, there lingers an unsettling ambiguity in the words he said and a putrid filth about it all. He failed to explicitly say that no such tapes exist; he simply hid behind his ignorance therein. How is it, I ask, that the President of the United States, the most powerful man in the world, knows not if his private conversations are being recorded? Does Trump really want to cower behind this defense, which perhaps frees him of guilt, but raises many more questions about his competence? I should think not. Nonetheless, he quieted those who accused him of being deliberately deceitful. For more than a month he led James Comey and, more importantly, if we’re being honest, the American people at-large to believe there were tapes when Trump knew otherwise. This looks like perfidy in its ugliest form.

This isn’t the first time Trump has tried this trick. When Tim O’Brien was preparing the release of his book, TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald, Trump threatened the biographer with secret recordings that could damage his career. The two went to court over the threat, and Trump lost. But it set in place what’s become a standardized practice for Trump. He’s a bit of a recidivist when it comes to empty threats, yet he employs the technique with religious devotion. At worst, it brings to mind the definition of insanity; at best, incorrigibility.

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