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Two questions for Comey



What are we to make of Trump’s statement (unconfirmed by Comey) that Comey told him “three times” that he (Trump) was not a target of the investigation? He made that claim to Lester Holt yesterday.

Trump’s assertion raises two serious questions.

First question: How many times have we heard law enforcement officials say they can’t reveal who may or may not be under investigation? It’s routine for them to say that. So, if a law enforcement official can’t publicly reveal if someone is under investigation, why is it okay for them to reveal it in a private conversation, and to the very person who may or may not be the target of the investigation? Curious and troubling. So, Mr. Comey, did you actually say that to Trump not once, not twice, but three times?

Second question: Even assuming that Comey did tell Trump he’s not under investigation, how would Comey have reached that conclusion before the investigation has been completed? How would Comey have known that, for instance, Trump didn’t collaborate on some level with the Russians, or that Trump did not order his subordinates (Page, Manafort, Flynn, etc.) to collaborate with the Russians? Those questions are fundamental to this investigation; we are led to believe that the House and Senate Committees, and the FBI, are getting into the details, but all three are far from reaching conclusions. So, Mr. Comey, how could you reassure Trump he’s investigation-free before the investigation is finished?

You know, all we have for this assertion, without Comey’s input, is Trump’s word for it—and a pathological liar’s “word” isn’t worth a bucket of warm spit.

One would hope that these questions will be answered next Wednesday, when Comey testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee. That hearing, unfortunately, will not be open to the public, which raises another troubling issue: far too much information that the public is entitled to know is kept secret in closed hearings. I can understand why some hearings need to be closed; after all, you don’t want to reveal the names of American agents, or the particulars of, say, how we combat cyberwarfare. But why can’t the public hear Comey answer my two questions? He wouldn’t be revealing national secrets, or endangering anybody except, obviously, Trump.

Right after the Lester Holt interview aired, I checked out Trump’s @realDonaldTrump twitter feed, and he was attacking Richard Blumenthal, Roger Stone, Democrats in general, Comey, Chris Murphy, Chuck Schumer, Sally Yates and Jim Clapper with his usual combination of anger and hysteria. With all the problems piling up (North Korea, Syria, Iran, the economy, jobs, tax reform, healthcare, just to mention a few), how is it that Trump spends so much time ranting on Twitter? It really makes you think that Comey was right when he said Trump is “outside the realm of normal” and “crazy.”

Speaking of Trump’s mental state, I’m noticing a lot more reference lately, from posts on social media, to the 25th Amendment to the Constitution—specifically Section 4: “Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to…the Senate and the…House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.”

Notice that no hearings are required, no congressional votes, no judicial ruling. The process is automatic and “immediate.” Pence couldn’t do it alone; he would need “the principal officers” of the administration (presumably, senior Cabinet members) to go along, but he could do it without executive branch members if he got senior leaders of the legislative body (presumably, the Speaker and the Majority Leader, and perhaps certain committee chairs). All it would take would be two letters (to the Speaker and to the President pro tempore of the Senate) and that would be it. No more Trump. What could he do, surround the White House with federal troops and refuse to step down? Wacky, science-fictiony stuff, but we have a POTUS straight out of a Hollywood horror movie about a madman in the Oval Office, lending further credence to the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction.

  1. I’ve been saying this for at least a year and a half now: Trump is a distraction, being skillfully manipulated by the ultraconservative, fundamentalist so-called Christians who are actually running their agenda to suspend civil rights and protections. We are all in danger. #NeverAgain #Resist

  2. Steve, where are you getting this from: “but he could do it without executive branch members if he got senior leaders of the legislative body (presumably, the Speaker and the Majority Leader, and perhaps certain committee chairs).”

    The 25th Amendment doesn’t allow that, unless Congress has provided for it “by law.” To my knowledge, there is no statute authorizing removal of the President by “senior leaders of the legislative body.”

    It kind of doesn’t matter, though. If things get to the point where even Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell are ready to get rid of Trump, then impeachment and removal from office will work just fine. But as long as Ryan thinks that Trump is his best shot at crippling Medicare and Medicaid for the benefit of rich people, then apparently Trump can do whatever he wants.

  3. Jim B, my copy of the Constitution Article XXV Section 4 says “either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress…”. That very clearly says the VP can team up with EITHER the executive (which I interpret as the cabinet) OR Congress (which is the legislative branch). Thus, as I wrote, the VP could do it without the cabinet, if he had the support of the legislative branch. Or he could do it without the congress, if he teamed up with the cabinet. Of course, the congress could still weigh in on whether or not the president truly does have “an inability” to discharge the duties of his office. This is all pretty opaque, but if Republicans decide it needs to be done, they will figure out a way to do it very quickly–and Democrats will let them do it.

  4. Steve, that strikes me as a bizarre interpretation, and not one I’ve ever heard before. In your comment, you leave off everything after “Congress.” Let’s look at the full context again, as you quoted in the post, with some annotations added by me:

    “Whenever [1]the Vice President and [2] a majority of either [a] the principal officers of the executive departments or [b] of such other body as Congress may by law provide. . . .”

    The non-Cabinet option isn’t Congress itself. For one thing, “of such other body as Congress,” would be a bizarre way of phrasing it. But more importantly, the full phrase is “such other body as Congress shall by law provide.” “By law” is important there: it means that Congress has the authority under the 25th Amendment to pass a law that vests that authority in some other body instead of the Cabinet. Which could be the leaders of Congress or particular committees, or the Supreme Court, or a panel of doctors, or the former presidents and vice-presidents (which is a suggestion I’ve heard recently).

    By analogy, the original Constitution as well as the 20th Amendment give Congress the authority to designate the order of presidential succession after the Vice-President. That doesn’t mean Congress gets to make it up on the fly. Congress passed the Presidential Succession Act. (Which is arguably unconstitutional in two different ways, but I can bore you with those nitpicks another time.)

    But Congress hasn’t exercised its 25th Amendment authority to assign that power to anyone other than the Cabinet. And it would have to do so by an actual law, passed by both houses and signed by the president (or overriding a veto), not just by a couple of leaders getting together and declaring that they have the power.

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