Donald Trump is too inept to conduct a successful coverup

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(David Horsey / Los Angeles Times)

Donald Trump built his overblown image as a brilliant boss on a TV show where he fired contestants in a televised game. His real-world firing of FBI Director James Comey, though, is a demonstration of the obtuse ineptness that is the true hallmark of his executive style.

Many pundits and politicians are making comparisons between Comey’s dismissal and Richard Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre on October 20, 1973, when Nixon ordered the firing of the Watergate special prosecutor, Archibald Cox. Nixon was trying to derail the investigation that would, within less than a year, lead to his resignation. The big question is whether Trump is emulating Nixon by axing the FBI director who was heading an investigation into Trump campaign connections with Russia.

That is certainly not the reason the White House gave for the surprise sacking. Trump’s team offered various generalities about Comey having lost the confidence of the people he oversaw at the FBI (without giving proof of that contention), but the key justification offered was Comey’s botched handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. In particular, they pointed to his controversial decision to publicly announce the reopening of that inquiry shortly before election day in November.


Democrats have been livid about what Comey did. Clinton herself blames Comey’s action as a key reason she lost the election. At the time, however, candidate Trump heaped praise on Comey for his courage. Are we supposed to believe that Trump has now had a change of heart and is punishing Comey for being mean to Hillary?

It seems a wee bit more likely that Trump developed a jaundiced opinion of the FBI chief after Comey appeared before a congressional committee and dropped the bombshell news that the bureau is trying to find out if there was collusion between Russian agents and key people in the Trump campaign.

Trump has repeatedly characterized reports of Russian links to his associates as “a hoax,” “a charade” and “fake news.” He has also refused to accept the unanimous verdict of U.S. intelligence agencies that the Russians conducted a serious, multifaceted attack to undermine the 2016 presidential election. He has sent out his minions to loudly proclaim that it is time to move on from all this old news about Russia. Pretty much everything Trump has done suggests that, even if he is not hiding some impeachable offense, the Russia questions are really getting under his skin.

Even his letter telling Comey to pack his bags confirmed his agitation with the issue. In a sentence that has gotten everyone talking, Trump wrote, “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.” Why did Trump need to insert mention of the Russia investigation into the letter if that is not a factor in Comey’s dismissal?

The White House is contending that the decision to remove Comey was urged on Trump by Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein, but an alternative scenario is coming out that describes an annoyed president who tasked Rosenstein with finding excuses to dump Comey.

It is significant that Trump sent his own private bodyguard to deliver the dismissal letter to Comey at FBI headquarters — that shows how personal it was to him. Unfortunately, nobody bothered to check on Comey’s whereabouts. As it turned out, the director learned he was out of a job when he looked up at a TV screen while talking with FBI staff in Los Angeles.

That little detail alone shows the ineptness of Trump and his team. Their amateurishness is further evidenced by their apparent surprise that Comey’s firing sparked a firestorm of criticism. Apparently, they thought Democrats would be happy to see Hillary’s nemesis depart and did not expect Republicans to care much at all. Maybe they believed no one was actually serious about the Russia investigations. But, just as Nixon’s attempts to stifle the probe into his coverup led to congressional investigations, Trump’s ham-fisted actions have only enhanced chances that a special prosecutor will be appointed to look into the shadowed corners of the Trump campaign.

It is entirely possible Trump is completely innocent, but he appears unable to stop doing dumb things that make him look as if he’s got something to hide.

Follow me at @davidhorsey on Twitter