As the fired FBI director makes headlines, the bureau’s raid on the offices of Trump’s lawyer signals peril for his presidency
The first big interview with the fired FBI director James Comey is blazing toward a broadcast on Sunday night, but for the Donald Trump presidency, multiple meteors have already hit, The Guardian reports.
In Comey’s book, A Higher Loyalty, obtained by the Guardian on Thursday from a bookseller in New York before publication, the former official casts Trump as both “unethical” and “untethered to truth” and compares his presidency to a “forest fire”.
Likening Trump to a mafia boss, Comey describes a meeting in the Oval Office which gave him flashbacks to his career as a young prosecutor.
“As I found myself thrust into the Trump orbit, I once again was having flashbacks to my earlier career as a prosecutor against the Mob,” Comey writes. “The silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us-versus-them worldview. The lying about all things, large and small, in service to some code of loyalty that put the organization above morality and the truth.”
The Republican party has launched a concerted effort to get its rebuttal in before the book is published, with a Trumpian web site dedicated to branding the former director “Lyin’ Comey”.
But A Higher Loyalty is an instant bestseller online and will be supported by a media blitz to begin Sunday night with an hour-long broadcast on ABC News.
Trump called Comey a “weak and untruthful slime ball” on Friday in a Twitter response to the first reports from the book.
But Comey is not the only former FBI chief giving Trump a migraine – the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible Russian collusion with the Trump campaign has been accelerating and is also enraging the president.
The sky began to fall in for Trump on Monday, when FBI agents raided the offices and a hotel room used by Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen. The raids were a strong sign that prosecutors might soon charge one of Trump’s fiercest loyalists with a serious crime or crimes, legal experts said.
“It’s a disgraceful situation,” Trump said. “It’s a total witch-hunt … It’s an attack on our country, what we all stand for.”
As the implications of those raids continue to sink in, Trump may be lured towards the kind of drastic action that would send fissures through the executive branch and beyond, multiple former White House and justice department officials interviewed by the Guardian said.
“The raid of Michael Cohen’s office was a seismic event, for any presidency,” said Andrew Wright, a former White House associate counsel and a professor at Savannah Law School. “I think he [Cohen] is in very serious trouble.
“And sure enough, the president appears to have really come pretty unhinged at that news, so I think that’s incredibly significant.”
Even for a White House that can seem to cycle from crisis to extreme crisis, the current pressure on Trump, and the resulting peril for his presidency and the country, is acute, according to seasoned prosecutors.
“The pressure on the president is actually unimaginable to me,” said Betsy de la Vega, who was a federal prosecutor for more than 20 years.
While the public has no way of knowing how far along Mueller is in his work, De la Vega said, the decision to conduct the Cohen raids, given their high stakes, could indicate that prosecutors had completed significant work behind the scenes.
“They would have to know that setting it in motion would cause great consternation, to say the least, on the part of Donald Trump and his pals, so that gives me the sense that the pace is increasing.”
Cohen, who has denied all wrongdoing, could face charges including bank fraud, wire fraud, campaign violations, tax crimes or other charges relating to payments made to multiple women in advance of the 2016 election, and communications thereafter with at least one of those women.
The prospect of such an indictment is clearly weighing on the president’s mind. In the week since the Cohen raids, Trump has lashed out at Mueller and his superior, the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein.
“Mueller is most conflicted of all (except Rosenstein…),” Trump tweeted in a Wednesday morning tirade against “the Fake & Corrupt Russia Investigation, headed up by the all Democrat loyalists, or people that worked for Obama”.
Mueller has indicted or reached plea agreements with 19 individuals, including four former senior Trump campaign aides, plus three companies in Russia. He is a Republican, as is Rosenstein. So are Comey and Jeff Sessions, the attorney general.
But none of Mueller’s targets has been as close to Trump as Cohen, who is a friend of the family, has been involved with the Trump children on real estate deals around the world, and who could have a lot to tell prosecutors about operations inside the Trump Organization.
The visceral threat of a prosecution so close to his company and his family could drive the president to take a step that the White House asserted last week was within his power: removing Mueller, or perhaps Rosenstein.
“There’s a clear pattern of the president seeming to think that the department of justice belongs to him,” said Alex Whiting, a Harvard Law School professor specializing in criminal prosecution issues. “And that’s deeply concerning. These threats to fire Sessions or fire Mueller or fire Rosenstein all fit into that.
“It’s a remarkable disregard for the rule of law. The precedent that this is setting, what this means for our country and our future, is very concerning.”
The combined pressures from the investigation, and a media cacophony with outlets such as Fox News touting an imminent Trump “personnel decision,” could be driving Trump toward a dangerous step, said Wright.
“It feels like there are people that are really trying to tempt the president to take drastic action to try and shut down these investigations, and I think that would just really send us into political convulsions in this country, and I think that would not solve the president’s problems, it would worsen them,” Wright said.
“I’m quite concerned about the precarious situation we find ourselves in right now.”
Members of congress in both chambers have said they support passing legislation to protect the special counsel, but such legislation is moving slowly.
Trump, meanwhile, appears not to have been shaken in his basic faith that the best way to handle the prosecutions swirling around him is to fight back with all the power the presidency can muster.
“No Collusion or Obstruction (other than I fight back), so now they do the Unthinkable, and RAID a lawyers office for information! BAD!” Trump tweeted on Wednesday.
“It’s the thing he hasn’t learned from the beginning,” said Wright, discussing Trump’s relationship with the prosecution.
“It’s like being wrapped by a boa constrictor. The more you struggle, the more likely you’re going to die quickly. And the less you struggle, the more likely you might be able to slip out of its clutches.
“And instead the president is just wiggling and wiggling and wiggling.”