As Bill O’Reilly learned earlier in the season, you can be a naughty boy for only so long (sometimes, for very long, as long as your ratings are the highest on cable). But when the big sponsors get jittery, upset even, about “newly discovered” “bad behavior” that threatens their public image and their bottom line—even though that same unscrupulous and nugatory behavior might have accounted for most of your “sex appeal” in the first place and, even now, still excites a large number of diehard fans and rubberneckers who keep watching in lurid fascination—the jig is up.
Because when the sponsors are done, you are too, no matter how high up you’ve flown in the ratings, or in your own mind.
In the days following Sally Yates’ stunning testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee on May 8, and Trump’s subsequent firing of FBI Director James Comey the following day, the mainstream media—most notably the Washington Post and The New York Times—have proudly dropped one bombshell news report after another. On Monday, the Post reported that Trump had disclosed “highly classified information” to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during a closed-door meeting in the Oval Office, one to which only the Russian news agency TASS was invited to attend.
The President, National Security Adviser HR McMaster later explained without irony, had not been briefed about the source and therefore did not know any better.
The United States, we learned soon after, had received that intelligence from a “partner,” reportedly Israel, who had not authorized the sharing of that intelligence. Nevertheless, McMaster described Trump’s conversation with the Russians as ‘wholly appropriate.”
In a series of tweets early Tuesday morning, Trump confirmed the Post story, claiming that as President, he has an “absolute right” to share any information he wishes, regardless:
These were followed closely by this tweet, which surely names the true source of the President’s psychic pain and primary motivation for dismissing Comey: to stop the Trump-Russia investigation dead in its tracks.
But The Times blew those tweets right out of our collective consciousness with an even more shocking report later the same day, which asserted that President Trump had personally asked Director Comey to close the investigation of his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn while the two were left alone in the Oval Office. Apparently, Comey had detailed the meeting in a Memorandum of Conversation, or memcon, which was shared with senior FBI officials and then with Times’ reporter Michael Schmidt by Comey associates.
Several other news organizations, including NBC, CNN and Reuters, have confirmed details of that explosive memo since The Times first published its report.
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump said to Comey, The Times and NBC News later reported. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
Flynn, you may recall, is currently under FBI investigation for lying about multiple meetings with Ambassador Kislyak as well as his potential ties to Russian spies, oligarchs and strongmen. Flynn is just one of several Trump campaign aides, including Paul Manafort and Carter Page, who are currently under investigation by the Bureau.
This week’s reporting comes, of course, on the heels of Trump’s own impulsive and stunningly self-destructive interview with NBC News‘ Lester Holt last Thursday, in which the President openly admitted that he’d really wanted to fire Comey long before Rod Rosenstein’s recommendation. Comey’s refusal to close the Bureau’s investigation into “this Russian thing” had, Trump confessed, certainly helped him make up his mind about the FBI director once and for all.
These startling admissions were soon followed by other news in The Times and elsewhere that Trump had asked for a pledge of loyalty from Comey at a private dinner during Trump’s first week on the job—apparently the same day Acting Attorney General Yates told the White House its national security adviser, Flynn, was vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians.
Which brings us to Wednesday…
Up until now, President Trump has been the GOP’s best hope, a signer-in-chief who’s willing to finally make their wildly unpopular, corporate-driven agenda the law of the land.
At the start of this year, Republicans, in control of both chambers of Congress as well as the White House, were sure they would finally pass two major pieces of legislation: a repeal of Obamacare as well as a massive overhaul of the tax code. In other words, Republicans were sure they would simultaneously make good on many of the promises they’d been making to their donors and to their base: to deliver massive tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans, all while placing more limits on women’s access to abortion and reducing limits on corporate greed and Americans’ access to guns. And they thought they would do so without a hitch.
“Obviously they’re in a downward spiral right now and they’ve got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that’s happening,” said chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), immediately following the Post report. Or as Bill Maher put it, “Welcome to ‘Apprentice, Nuclear Edition.’ “
“The White House has got to do something soon to bring itself under control and in order,” Corker added, according to Bloomberg. “It’s got to happen.”
Several key Republicans have themselves been forced to come to grips with the White House’s “downward spiral,” and their own rapidly fading fortunes. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee and dogged pursuer of Hillary Clinton’s emails, sent a letter to the FBI on Tuesday requesting “all memoranda, notes, summaries and recordings relating to all communications between Comey and Trump” and has indicated that he is willing to subpoena the FBI, if necessary.
Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain described the growing controversy surrounding the alleged ties between President Trump’s campaign and Russia as reaching epic proportions.
“I think it’s reaching the point where it’s of Watergate size and scale, and a couple of other scandals you and I have seen,” McCain said at a dinner being held in his honor Tuesday night.
The senior senator from Arizona also reiterated his call for a select committee to investigate “all aspects” of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, according to CNN. But McCain, like many Republican leaders who are beginning to waver as the Trump-Russia scandal, and its coverup, threatens to swallow up an entire legislative session along with it, still talked more about wasting time than about getting to the bottom of the President’s high crimes and misdemeanors.
“The way Reagan was able to overcome Iran-Contra was he got everything out so there were no more questions so the country could move on,” McCain told CNN. “That’s what we need to do now… move forward.”
That seems to be the tack senior members of the GOP are taking, for now at least. But as the leaks continue and Comey’s memos become public, the pressure will quickly build—especially when the former director himself testifies under oath—and Republican donors, who are already jittery, will suddenly grow privately and publicly upset about all the newly discovered “bad behavior” on the part of Trump and his team.
Whether he knows it or not, Donald Trump, just like his celebrity soulmate at Fox, is approaching the final episodes of the first and only season of the primetime spectacular and bloodsport known as “The Trump Presidency.” As soon as its spinoff, “The Coverup,” becomes the only show Americans are talking about, Republican donors—already impatient with a GOP that can’t seem to govern at all despite having control of both chambers of Congress—will jump ship and Republican lawmakers will, of course, follow the money or sink. Rumor has it, Trump’s big show is about to be canceled. Blame it on the “bad” press.
– Danielle Bizzarro