Apr 20, 2018 - Politics & Policy

What the Comey memos tell us about Trump

James Comey memos

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

A gift from the journalistic gods ... Adding to our unprecedented real-time visibility into this presidency, Capitol Hill last night leaked 15 pages of memos that fired FBI Director James Comey had written in real time about his contacts with the White House.

What's new: President Trump had immediate doubts about his own national security adviser, Mike Flynn, who was later fired and is now cooperating with Mueller: "[T]he president pointed his fingers at his head and said 'the guy has serious judgment issues.'"

What the memos tell us about Trump:

  • Conversations can be mostly one-way exchanges:
    • "The president spoke an overwhelming majority of the time. He never asked me an open-ended question or left it to me to choose a topic of conversation."
  • He's obsessed with one particular passage in the dossier about his connections with Russia:
    • "I said, the Russians allegedly had tapes involving him and prostitutes at the Presidential Suite at the Ritz Carlton in Moscow from about 2013. He interjected: 'there were no prostitutes; there were never prostitutes.' He then said something about him being the kind of guy who didn't need to 'go there' and laughed (which I understood to be communicating that he didn't need to pay for sex.)"
    • "He said '2013' to himself as if trying to remember that period of time ... He said he always assumed that hotels he stayed in when he travels are wired in some way. I replied that I do as well."
    • "He then started talking about all the women who had falsely accused him of grabbing or touching them (with particular mention of a 'stripper" who said he grabbed her) ... "
    • "The President said 'the hookers thing' is nonsense but that Putin had told him 'we have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world.'"
    • "He said he thought maybe he should ask me to investigate the whole thing to prove it was a lie."
  • He eschews propriety, and traditional constraints of office:
    • "He touched on my future at various points."
    • "He [said] that he needed loyalty and expected loyalty. I did not reply, or even nod or change my facial expression, which he noted because we came back to it later."
  • Once he gets spun up, the obsession can last:
    • "[H]e returned to what he called the 'golden showers thing' ... He repeated that it was a complete fabrication and 'fake news.' ... He said it bothered him if his wife thought there was even a one percent chance it was true."
    • "The conversation then swerved into a long discussion of the email investigation ... He knew the sequence of events extremely well, breaking them down in his lexicon into Comey One, Comey Two, and Comey Three developments."
  • He speaks bluntly and likes gossip:
    • "[H]e asked me to compare [Obama's Attorney General Eric] Holder and AG [Loretta] Lynch."
  • He still uses "Art of the Deal" schmooze mode:
    • "As we got up, he said we should have my family back to dinner. When I didn't reply, he added, 'or a tour, whatever you think is appropriate."
  • He's preoccupied by press and leaks:
    • "He began by joking that I was getting more publicity than he. I replied that I hate it."
    • "He asked whether the FBI leaks and I answered ... of course."
    • “The president ... [returned] to the issue of finding leakers ... I said something about the value of putting a head on a pike as a message. He replied by saying it may involve putting reporters in jail. 'They spend a couple days in jail, make a new friend, and they are ready to talk.' I laughed."
  • He loves perks:
    • "[H]e talked about the inauguration and crowd size, the campaign and his effective use of free media ('earned media'), the extraordinary luxury of the White House (which he favorably compared to Mar-a-lago [sic]), his many activities during the day and week, his young son's height ... "

Be smart: One of the biggest takeaways is how much presidential mindshare goes to grievances, distractions and worries about investigations:

  • Comey quotes the president as saying that he "is trying to do work for the country, visit with foreign leaders, and any cloud, even a little cloud gets in the way of that."

Go deeper: See the memos.

Go deeper