Jun 5, 2017

Trump's Comey conundrum

AP

White House officials convey a sense of gloomy doom when they talk about fired FBI Director Jim Comey's public testimony on Thursday. They know his aw-shucks rectitude, combined with real-time written recollections, guarantee riveting testimony. Their hope is that it'll be more atmospherics than substance — how he felt, as opposed to any new facts about what President Trump said or did.

Here's the problem with that hope: Even if Comey didn't have a single new thing to say (unlikely, given his habit of writing memos about his conversations with the president and perhaps his aides), the rat-tat-tat of already-reported, tough-to-explain facts is astounding:

  • During a Valentine's Day briefing in the Oval Office, Trump asks other national-security officials — including Vice President Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions — to leave the room before saying of the investigation into Michael Flynn, the national security adviser Trump had let go the day before: "I hope you can let this go."
  • That meeting, by itself, could be fodder for years of investigations. But then, three months later — after talking for weeks about firing Comey, with several aides warning of the dire dominoes that the move could touch off — Trump does it anyway, taking many top aides by surprise.
  • That decision, by itself — with its echoes of Watergate's "Saturday night massacre" firing of a special prosecutor — might dog Trump for the rest of his presidency. But the next day, Trump meets in the Oval Office with two top Russians, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. U.S. media are barred, but a Russian camera is allowed, and Trump's guests quickly release the astonishing shots of Trump and the burly Russians appearing to yuk it up.
  • That, by itself, would be jaw-dropping, but then Trump is reported to have revealed highly classified information during the meeting. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had a notetaker at the meeting, cheekily offers to release a transcript.
  • All that might, by itself, might be hard enough to believe or explain. But then Trump sits down with NBC's Lester Holt and says that when he was pondering the firing of Comey, "I said to myself -- I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story." Holt and his NBC News colleagues had war-gamed all kinds of ways to try to get Trump to say Russia was a factor, but he just said it — no cajoling required.

Be smart: Comey's testimony may add logs, but the fire is blazing.

Key concession ... Sen. Mark Warner (Va.) — top Dem on the Senate Intelligence Committee, where Comey will testify — to CNN's Jake Tapper on "State of the Union": "We have no smoking gun at this point."

Go deeper: Trump and Russia: What we know, what we don't

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Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 1,094,068 — Total deaths: 58,773 — Total recoveries: 225,519Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 6 p.m. ET: 273,880 — Total deaths: 7,077 — Total recoveries: 9,521Map.
  3. Public health latest: The CDC is recommending Americans wear face coverings in public to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.
  4. 2020 latest: Wisconsin's governor called for a last-minute primary election delay. "I think a lot of people cheat with mail-in voting," President Trump said on the 2020 election, as more states hold primaries by mail.
  5. Business updates: America's small business bailout is off to a bad start. The DOT is urging airlines to refund passengers due to canceled or rescheduled flights, but won't take action against airlines that provide vouchers or credits.
  6. Oil latest: The amount of gas American drivers are consuming dropped to levels not seen in more than 25 years, government data shows. Trump is calling on the Energy Department to find more places to store oil.
  7. Tech updates: Twitter will allow ads containing references to the coronavirus under certain use cases.
  8. U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt: Senators call for independent investigation into firing of Navy captain.
  9. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  10. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Government will cover uninsured patients' coronavirus treatment

Azar at Friday's briefing. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The federal government will cover the costs of coronavirus treatment for the uninsured, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said at a White House briefing Friday.

How it works: The money will come from a $100 billion pot set aside for the health care industry in the most recent stimulus bill. Providers will be paid the same rates they get for treating Medicare patients, and as a condition of those payments, they won't be allowed to bill patients for care that isn't covered.

More states issue stay-at-home orders as coronavirus crisis escalates

Data: Axios reporting; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a stay-at-home order on Friday as the novel coronavirus pandemic persists. The order goes into effect Saturday at 5 p.m. and will remain in place through April 30. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson also issued a statewide social distancing order on Friday.

The big picture: In a matter of weeks, the number of states that issued orders nearly quadrupled, affecting almost 300 million Americans.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 2 hours ago - Health