A short while ago I wrote that President Trump by his own erratic behaviour had made his position over the course of the Russiagate scandal far worse than it needed to be, so that whilst FBI Director Comey’s sacking was fully justified, and even though not a single fact has come to light that implicates the Trump campaign or the President himself in any collusion with Russia, the President’s actions have – almost certainly mistakenly – convinced many people he is hiding something.
The latest story about President Trump asking Director of National Intelligence Coats and NSA Director Rogers to say publicly that there is no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia is a case in point.
The first point to make is that we don’t know for a fact that the story is true. Like so many Russiagate stories it originates in a leak by our old friends the “multiple current and former US officials”. Coats and Rogers have refused to confirm or deny it, saying- absolutely correctly – that they cannot discuss private conversations they had with the President.
However even if the story is true – which for the record I think it is – I cannot see how asking Coats and Rogers to say what has already been repeatedly said in public by a host of others – Clapper, Brennan, Nunes, Feinstein, the BBC and CNN, to name just a few – can possibly be sinister, and can possibly be construed as an obstruction of justice.
Putting that aside, if Trump did ever make such a request to Coats and Rogers, then even if doing so was not a criminal act in itself, it was still extremely unwise, just as Trump’s repeated interactions with former FBI Director Comey before he sacked him were also extremely unwise.
The proof of that is the use Trump’s enemies are making of this story.
When I previously discussed many of President Trump’s unwise actions, I said that they pointed to the need for this most inexperienced of Presidents to get himself some good professional advice
Though the harm done is considerable, it is not in my opinion either mortal or irreversible. There is still time to turn things round.
However if disaster is to be avoided then the President has to change his ways, and has to realise that he cannot go on trying to run the government in the same seat-of-the-pants way that he ran his business.
Above all that means the President needs to get himself some proper professional advice and help, since it is clear that his existing advisers – Bannon, Kushner and Preibus – are simply not up to the job of doing it.
As in the realm of foreign policy, where because of his lack of experience and because he has listened to bad advice, Trump has also made some extraordinary mistakes, there are plenty of tough minded political professionals in Washington who are sympathetic to Trump’s views and who would be willing and even anxious to help him. If Trump can persuade himself to find them and listen to them, he will be able to avoid the repeated unenforced errors he has made in his handling of Comey’s case.
What Trump needs to do is consult widely, hunt these people down and bring them into the White House. There are plenty of grizzled political veterans in Washington like former Representative Ron Paul who if asked would help him do that.
With relief I note that the President has now taken a first step in this direction by appointing Marc Kasowitz, a tough New York based lawyer with a reputation as a tenacious litigator, to act as his private legal counsel.
I gather that Kasowitz is expected to head a strong legal team to advise the President and to represent his interests in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Since Kasowitz is not himself a criminal lawyer I presume he will recruit one as part of his team.
I also hope that Kasowitz will persuade Trump to clear any future tweets he makes on the Russiagate affair with him before he publishes them, and that he will also insist that the President clear with him any other public comments he wants to make about the Russiagate affair.
Indeed it would be better if from now on Kasowitz and his team were the only people authorised to comment on Russiagate at all.
Any good defence attorney would be able to knock out the whole allegation of obstruction of justice in short order. Any good trial attorney should also be able to point out what is manifestly true – that there is no evidence whatsoever for the Russiagate allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia – and do so effectively, both to Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation and to the US public.
It has been the absence of an attorney making these points which is one reason why this scandal – despite the complete absence of any evidence behind it – has gone on for so long, and has grown to such a monstrous scale.
The President has paid a price for Kasowitz’s appointment. It seems that his first choice to replace Comey at the FBI – former Senator Joseph Lieberman, who is a senior Counsel at Kasowitz’s law firm – has pulled out because he has decided that following Kasowitz’s appointment that he cannot do the job of leading the FBI.
That is understandable and right. There is nothing technically wrong with Trump sourcing both his personal counsel and his FBI Director from the same law firm. However at a time when the FBI is conducting an investigation into allegations of collusion between the President’s campaign team and Russia doing so would undoubtedly have provoked an uproar, which at the present time the President can ill afford.
Given the choice between having the lawyer of his choice, and having the FBI Director of his first choice, the President has made the correct decision to go with the lawyer. At this time he needs a good lawyer he knows and trusts more than he needs his first choice as FBI Director.
Appointing Kasowitz as the President’s private counsel should however be no more than a first step. The President should not stop there.
Whilst getting a good lawyer is essential, the President should follow that up by getting himself a tough and experienced political professional to run his political operation at the White House, since quite obviously the President’s current advisers – Preibus, Bannon and Kushner – are too inexperienced to do the job.
The need for this is urgent. Now that he has a lawyer the President should do it without further delay.