New D.C. scandal after firing Comey could spur Trump to redouble his efforts to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian breakthrough during his upcoming visit
Chemi Shalev, Haaretz
A Jewish folk tale recounts a dim-witted bandit who stole something from a stall in a busy market in the shtetl, before disappearing into the crowd. Then some genius came along and shouted “Oyfn ganef brent dos hitl” – “the cap on the thief’s head is burning” – upon which our dopey crook gave himself away by reaching for his hat to make sure it isn’t on fire. The Yiddish phrase, which is now in widespread use in Hebrew, is used whenever someone’s behavior reveals his or her guilt.
The difference between our goofball ganef and Donald Trump is that the latter didn’t wait for someone to shout out that his hat’s on fire. Trump himself set the blaze over his ginger head with his shock dismissal on Tuesday of FBI Director James Comey.
For many Americans, the move showed that the FBI investigation of illicit ties between Russia and Trump’s staff, before and after November’s election, was getting too close for Trump’s comfort. Trump was already having a hard time deflecting suspicions that where there’s smoke there’s fire, and that the accumulating evidence of clandestine ties between his advisers and the Kremlin, even if only circumstantial, was enough to secure his conviction. By firing Comey, critics said, Trump was searing his forehead with a signed confession “I did it.”
Comey’s abrupt dismissal shocked even diehard cynics who were convinced that Trump couldn’t surprise them any more. It strengthened calls for the appointment of a special prosecutor to oversee the FBI probe. It united Democrats in righteous indignation and put Republicans in a very uncomfortable corner: If they back Trump they will be portrayed as spineless but if they oppose him they will be marked for savage retribution. And it created a crisis of confidence in the resilience of U.S. democracy and in the ability of checks and balances to repel a direct assault on the rule of law by a president who doesn’t play by any rules.
Initial leaks from the White House indicated that Trump might have underestimated the fear and outrage that would overtake U.S. politics and media once Comey’s sacking became public knowledge. The FBI director, after all, had made enemies on both sides of the political divide, his advisers reasoned, and no one will mourn his departure. Hillary Clinton and the Democrats viewed Comey as a prime reason for their loss in the November presidential elections because of his October 28 letter to Congress about Clinton’s emails. Many Republicans resented Comey for a diametrically opposed reason: they believed he had prematurely let Clinton off the hook in his July 5 press conference in which he announced that the FBI would not press for criminal charges.
Nonetheless, Trump’s attempt to use the Clinton affair as a pretext for firing Comey, as detailed in the letter written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, was met with widespread disbelief and ridicule. The news networks immediately brought up clips in which candidate Trump lauded Comey for the same reasons he is now citing as grounds for his dismissal. Trump will have to work overtime in order to convince anyone that the real reason for Comey’s firing isn’t his anger over the ongoing investigation of Russiagate and Comey’s refusal to publicly proclaim the president’s innocence. Comey, it should be remembered, is the third prominent law enforcement official that Trump has fired in as many months in office, after he sacked the previous Deputy Attorney General Sally Yate – who was in charge of the Russia investigation, but was ostensibly fired because of her refusal to defend the Muslim travel ban – as well as Preet Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District in New York, who was said to be investigating some of Trump’s business activities.
The very fact that Kellyanne “Alternative Facts” Conway was brought out of her recent obscurity to rebuff the allegations against the president could be viewed as corroboration of their veracity. The glaring conflict of interest between the involvement of Attorney General Jeff Sessions in Comey’s dismissal and his previous recusal from the Russian investigation because of his failure to disclose his own meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kisliyak added even more fuel to the fire. And the timing of the expected visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to the White House gave commentator and comedians a precious peg for claiming that the Kremlin was now delivering its marching orders in person.