Since President Trump's surprising firing of FBI director James Comey on Tuesday, the media have been abuzz with questions of Trump's motives, comparisons to Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre, and speculation that this might herald Trump's downfall. But is Comey's firing the only reason we're reminded of the Nixon administration?
Bob examines the conflicting narratives put forward by Trump's surrogates as to why Comey was fired -- and makes an argument that, despite the media frenzy, there are no signs that this will be 'Trump's Watergate.'
The Glass House - Marjane's inspiration by David Bergeaud The Glass House - End title by David Bergeaud
BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. I’m Brooke Gladstone
BOB GARFIELD: And I’m Bob Garfield. And then the unreality unraveled. This was the week when Donald Trump’s reflex to fabricate, conceal, attack and deny finally overwhelmed his own White House. The firing of FBI Director James Comey, premised on a transparent lie about Hillary Clinton's emails, forced presidential surrogates into an elaborate but flimsy fiction.
Vice President Mike Pence.
VICE-PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: We have a president who’s willing to provide the kind of decisive and strong leadership to take the recommendation of the Deputy Attorney General and the Attorney General to remove an FBI director…
BOB GARFIELD: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, with ABC's Jonathan Karl.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: Sean Spicer insisted the president fired Comey solely because of the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and the Justice Department.
JONATHAN KARL: So the White House had no involvement in this decision, in this decision to write this letter by the Deputy Attorney General?
PRESS SECRETARY SEAN SPICER: That’s correct.
BOB GARFIELD: Here’s Spicer again, cornered by the press as he literally took refuge in the West Wing hedges.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: The president made the decision today?
PRESS SECRETARY SPICER: Yes.
BOB GARFIELD: That statement was swiftly inoperative.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: They were…
LESTER HOLT/NBC: Because your letter, you said, “I, I accepted, I accepted their recommendation,” so you had already made the decision.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Yeah, well they also - oh, I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.
LESTER HOLT: So there was –
BOB GARFIELD: It wasn’t the Justice Department’s recommendation. It was Comey’s “grandstanding.” Yeah, that’s the ticket, grandstanding!
PRESIDENT TRUMP: He’s a showboat, he’s a grandstander. The FBI has been in turmoil. You know that, I know that. Everybody knows that.
BOB GARFIELD: Throughout the week, a kaleidoscope of justification. It was the emails, it was the Deputy Attorney General, it was Comey’s congressional testimony. It was his loss of trust within the FBI. It wasn't about Russia, it definitely wasn't about Russia. Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY SANDERS: There's nothing there. It’s time to move on and it’s – frankly, it's time to focus on the things that the American people care about.
BOB GARFIELD: Except that one person turns out to really care a lot about Russia
PRESIDENT TRUMP: When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election.
BOB GARFIELD: With Trump under siege over, to coin a phrase, a third-rate election hacking, comparisons to Watergate were everywhere, notably on the matter of obstruction of justice, the first article of impeachment that did, in fact, undo the presidency of Richard M. Nixon. Thus ended what John Dean famously diagnosed as a “diseased administration.”
JOHN DEAN: We have a cancer within, close to the presidency, that's growing. It's growing daily. It's compounding, it grows geometrically now because it compounds itself.
BOB GARFIELD: Whatever may be facing the Trump administration, it cannot get its story straight, a problem which can be addressed in two ways. One is for the president and his retinue to simply tell the truth. This is altogether unlikely for a White House press office that from literally day one has been little more than an alibi machine, and a very bad one, at that.
Then there is Trump’s idea.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: Then this morning President Trump, tweeting, defending his staff and threatening to cancel all press conferences.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: He says, “As a very active president with lots of things happening, it’s not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy. Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future press briefings and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy.”
BOB GARFIELD: Yes, Donald Trump’s fix for not lying to the press – is to stop answering questions altogether. And here we enter a reality more surreal than any in the history of our Republic. Yes, John Dean’s words resonate, but the diagnosis, not quite, not cancer. Rather, there is a dementia on this presidency, characterized by memory lapses, personality changes, impaired reasoning, paranoia and spontaneous eruptions, not just from within the Oval Office but the entire administration. On Friday afternoon, Sean Spicer wondered aloud why the White House's words aren't accepted as gospel.
WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY SPICER: I think he’s a little dismayed, as well as a lot of people, that we come out here and try to do everything we can to provide you and the American people with what he's doing on their behalf. And yet, we see time and time again an attempt to parse every little word and, and make it more of a game of gotcha, as opposed to really figure out what the policies are, why, why something’s being pursued or what the update is on this.
BOB GARFIELD: Dismay at the whole world for not accepting their lies as truth. Here's the real problem. For this disorder, there is no cure.