Impeachment is a distant scenario, but he is increasingly alone. In order to keep investigators from accessing his communications with his attorney, he has retained an outside lawyer.
His attorneys have implored him not to react with his usual caustic tweets. The White House communication staff keeps claiming that James Comey’s testimony before Congress is only one of the important events in the political day. Today, they will try to shift attention to other subjects, from terrorism to the Qatar case, from immigration to the British elections. However, after having read the written statement that was already released last night, few people in the president’s circle hold onto the illusion that he might actually refrain from charging headlong against the former FBI director whom he fired a few weeks ago. Besides, possible ways to crush Comey’s credibility have been an object of study for a long time in the president’s West Wing.
Knowing that Comey was going to give an account that would have embarrassed him, Trump has been preparing for a fight for a long time, even taking precautions that might hinder special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation. Marc Kasowitz, the man the president has tasked with planning his defense strategy, is not only a tough guy very much in tune with “The Donald,” but he is also an outside lawyer. Communications between him and the president will therefore be beyond the reach of the FBI, which is otherwise entitled to acquire all conversations occurring between the branches of the administration and even within the White House. This two-level defense is not easy to manage, as it creates internal disputes. At the end of the day, though, the administration’s attorneys as well as the outside ones are urging Trump not to turn a case that is already institutionally serious into a bullfight. They are going to be the ones who demolish Comey’s credibility, day after day, with targeted attacks, even though they have yet to enact a convincing and clear-cut strategy. Their job is made all the more difficult by Comey’s pedigree as a moderate conservative respected by Republican leaders.
However, an increasingly furious and television-addicted Trump, who spends hours every day watching all-news channels, starting with CNN, is still sure that he can impose his own truth through the means of direct communication that propelled him to the White House. He may succeed in squashing Comey, but he cannot stop the Russiagate investigation any longer. His choice for the new FBI director is a hybrid. Not a politician capable of looking out for him, nor an insider at the federal agency, but rather Chris Wray, a former prosecutor who now works as a criminal defense lawyer and has recently represented New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, an ally of the president, in the Bridgegate scandal. Despite the remoteness of an impeachment scenario in which the Republican Party dumps him, Trump is in serious trouble on two fronts. On the one hand, the president is increasingly alone in his defense against allegations of obstruction of justice as well as against suspicions of collusion with the Russians and probably slanderous rumors on morally questionable behavior. Yesterday, the Republican Party tried to prepare an array of conservatives to defend Trump on various TV channels right after Comey’s testimony. Nevertheless, only minor figures came forward.
On the other hand, the president’s true weakness lies in the Department of Justice. Trump is convinced that if Jeff Sessions had not recused himself from all matters related to Russiagate, this investigation would not have spread to the point of paralyzing the presidency. Hypotheses have been spread concerning the removal of the former Alabama senator and even about Sessions offering his resignation to the president. However, it is already too late. If Trump sacked him after having inflicted on him the humiliation of being excluded from meetings with the director of the FBI (who answers to the attorney general, not to the White House), he would have a hard time finding a reliable replacement who could obtain the Senate’s approval. This would leave Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in charge for an indeterminate amount of time. And ever since Trump’s clumsy attempt to blame Comey’s firing on him, Rosenstein has become quite tough on the president.