Comeytose in Washington

Photo by thierry ehrmann | CC BY 2.0

So our Mountebank-in-Chief, Donald Trump, has finally fired James Comey. Good riddance. I’ll shed no tears for our vain Inspector Javert. But once again Trump, the Master of the Self-Inflicted Wound, has done the impossible. In a single stroke, he has transformed the almost universally loathed Comey into a sympathetic, if not heroic, figure.

Trump, who once fired people for a living on TV, bungled the termination of the director of the FBI director so badly that he also succeeded in reigniting a scandal that had started to cool to a slow simmer–and, not incidentally, may have committed the impeachable offense of “obstruction of justice,” motivated  primarily by personal pique. (See Article One for the Impeachment of Richard Nixon.)

One might be tempted, like Voltaire’s Dr. Pangloss, to assess the fallout from Trump’s slow-motion purge of the prosecutorial state (Sally Yates, Preet Bharara and Comey) as the best of all possible worlds: Comey is gone, the Department of Justice is implicated, the FBI is internally splintered and Trump is wounded, perhaps mortally.

Yes, all very good–except, naturally, for the intervention of the liberals, who have adopted Comey as a martyr in their Russian witch hunt and have started praising the FBI–an agency literally engineered to prosecute (if not invent) the Red Scare–as a “beacon of integrity and independence.” A few minutes after the news broke, even Michael Moore panted: “COMEY FIRED! Dirty, corrupt things afoot.”

Comey is a self-righteous prude, whose preening sense of rectitude is more than “mildly nauseating.” It’s not surprising he is despised by many on his staff, who feel Comey sucked up all the oxygen in the dark chambers of the J. Edgar Hoover Building. Comey’s awful tenure at the FBI, though brief, was cruelly destructive to basic liberties. Comey’s counter-terrorism record consists largely of having his FBI agents fabricate plots and then entice mentally disturbed misfits, druggies and loners to join them.

Let us also recall that James Comey was one of the leading propagandists for the phony War on Cops, a smokescreen to hide the carnage inflicted by the police’s pitiless war on black street kids. This spring Comey ordered the FBI’s terrorism task force to investigate Standing Rock protesters. How can you repress your revulsion to lavish praise on such a man?

Trump’s welcome cashiering of Comey has been called Nixonian, the go-to metaphor for any executive temper tantrum. Yet this comparison demeans Nixon, who at least had the sense to fire Archie Cox on a Saturday. (In Trump’s defense, perhaps the president had a weekend tee-time he couldn’t break.)

Trump could have dismissed Comey for almost any reason or no reason at all. But the president couldn’t resist the temptation to create a cover story for Comey’s firing that proved as flimsy as a Kendell Jenner fashion shoot.

By all accounts, Trump became enraged with Comey after he learned that the FBI man had requested additional resources from the Department of Justice to expand his investigation into the Trump team’s ties with Russia. The FBI is apparently hot on the redolent trails of lucre left by Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort, which confirms my suspicion that the real scandal isn’t Russian meddling in the 2016 elections but shady financial dealings by Trump’s dubious ensemble of associates. It always comes down to money, especially with people, and Team Trump is filled with them, who are stimulated by any opportunity for self-enrichment. Mannafort and Flynn are both vulnerable on these counts and thus are likely targets for being squeezed by the Feds until they squeal on Trump and his inner circle to save their own asses.

So Trump went on the offensive. He told Jefferson Beauregard Sessions that he wanted Comey’s head on a platter and Sessions, a nasty but dull piece of work who had already perjured himself before Congress, wasn’t smart enough to simply advise Trump that he had the power to can Comey without cause. Instead, Sessions instructed newly-minted Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to prepare a brief against Comey based on the G-Man’s buffoonish mishandling of Hillary’s email entanglements. Rosenstein was viewed as the perfect patsy in this scenario, because he had recently been lauded by many Democrats (useful idiots in almost any grifter’s game) as a “man of principle and integrity” and had been robustly confirmed by the Senate in a vote of 94-6.

The key element in this charade was that Rosenstein’s bill of indictment against Comey had to sedulously avoid any mention of RussiaGate© in order to keep Sessions–who vowed to recuse himself from such matters–in the loop.

Then the President, in true Trumpian style, undermined the whole plot by writing in his dismissal letter this damning sentence: “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.” Damning to Trump, Sessions and Rosenstein that is, because Trump couldn’t resist revealing that the real motive was to bury the Russia investigation. Trump’s letter is a kind of forensic IED, detonating legal shrapnel toward anyone who had a hand in it: Trump, Sessions, Rosenstein, Doug McGahn and Mike Pence.

When the affair immediately blew up in the face of the White House, Trump’s team reflexively tried to pin the blame on Rosenstein, saying the Deputy AG’s memo was the sole reason for the firing of Comey. After Rosenstein got wind of these reports, he called White House counsel Doug McGahn and threatened to quit unless the White House clarified that the impetus to fire Comey came from Sessions and Trump not him. According to the Wall Street Journal, Rosenstein told McGahn that “he couldn’t work in an environment where facts weren’t accurately reported.” Which begs the question, what administration did he think he was joining two weeks ago? In the end, Rosenstein’s threats were idle ones. He lacked the courage and character of Elliott Richardson and Bill Ruckelshaus. Threatening to quit and not following through is more ethically deficient than just quietly serving as a compliant Trump tool.

The blending of hubris and stupidity on display in the Comey affair is a recipe for political comedy and legal disaster. By concocting a false story for Comey’s expulsion, the Trump team, including the President and the Attorney General, have exposed their consciousness of guilt and laid the groundwork for charges of obstruction of justice against them–if there’s anyone left in the Justice Department or the Congress with the guts to bring it. Perhaps Ralph Nader will sue, as he did in 1973, when he won a seminal verdict in federal court that Nixon’s firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox was illegal. (The torrent of bullshit Ralph has had to endure from Democratic Party crybabies since 2000 has largely eclipsed public knowledge about the profound service Nader has done to protect the lives and rights of American citizens over the last six decades.)

So here we are adrift in uncharted waters. No president has ever fired an FBI director on a personal whim. The only other termination occurred in 1993, when Bill Clinton gave William Sessions the boot for using FBI funds to install a new security system in his home and for travel to see his daughter at college. Even then Clinton treaded cautiously, relying on a 161-page report on Sessions’s improprieties compiled by George HW Bush’s Justice Department. Still it took Clinton six months to summon the courage to send Sessions packing. Clinton said he moved so slowly to evict Sessions because he feared “politicizing” the FBI. This is laughable. The notion that the FBI is somehow an “apolitical” enterprise is one of the most preposterous, if enduring, fantasies of the Beltway.

FBI directors have largely remained immune from executive meddling out of fear of reprisals from the agency, a practice of bureaucratic blackmail perfected over the decades by J. Edgar Hoover himself and passed on to his administrative descendants. As Lyndon Johnson once said of Hoover, “It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.”

Did Trump somehow miss the news that Deep Throat was revealed to be FBI agent Mark Felt, who turned into Bob Woodward’s snitch because he was irked at being passed over by Nixon to become FBI director after the death of Hoover? (Perhaps when Trump hears the phrase “Deep Throat” his mind fixates on other images.)

Comey still has friends in the agency, many of them whose pumps have now been primed to leak. Remember most leakers, like Felt, are not acting out of selfless concern for the integrity of the democratic system. They’re out to settle scores. Blood, piss and semen will flow, Donald, most likely yours. Surely, vendettas are something Trump understands at a visceral level.

Chaos politics is Trump’s calling card. But invariably Trump’s distractions end up creating bigger and more enduring messes than the one’s he is trying to flush down the memory hole. Four months into his administration, I think we can safely say that Trump’s learning curve is flatter than Kansas. He repeats the same blunders over and over. There’s almost no need for FOIA with Trump. His shadiest maneuvers are completely transparent.  And if you don’t pick up on them at first, just wait awhile and Trump will Tweet you a trail of clues. And if you still don’t get the message, he’ll drive it home in a meeting with the Russian ambassador (and alleged spymaster) Sergey Kislyak and a photo-op with Henry Kissinger–a sure sign that someone will be bombed in the coming days.

Equally predictable, and perhaps more disgusting, is the risible response of the Left, which is congealing in defense of the fallen head of the American Police state. Grandstanding aside, Comey’s main objective during his recent appearances before Congress has been the reauthorization of the wiretapping provisions of the Patriot Act, the sinister legislation which Comey helped to shape and enforce during his time in the Bush Administration. Now liberals are protesting his firing outside the gates of the White House.

Who says the center will not hold?


Roaming Charges

+ Apparently Jeff Sessions confused the term “recuse” with “rescue.” He blames his dyslexia.

+ HRC’s new PAC is called Onward Together, which is Newspeak for Lemmings United.

+ 69 new cases of cholera were registered at a state-run hospital in Yemen’s capital of Sanaa last week. Cholera is a form of biological warfare by proxy, which the Saudis and their US allies are now inflicting on Yemen, as the US has done on Haiti and across Indigenous America….

+ Overheard on the bus: “I’m bracing for Trump’s next round of bombing a Muslim country so the media can go back to declaring him ‘presidential.'”

+ Meet the real Enemy of the People: Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, who fired off a memo to federal prosecutors this week ordering them to seek the maximum charges and sentences for all drug crimes. The diktat overturns one of the most humane acts of the Obama administration, the so-called Holder Rule of 2013, which advised prosecutors to avoid charging drug offenses that would trigger long, racially-biased minimum mandatory sentences. We are returning, step-by-step, to the Age of Cruelty.

+ A rare victory. The lush 82,000-acre Ellliott State Forest, which the state of Oregon wanted to sell off to a timber company, will remain in public hands after a 3-0 vote by the state land board.

+ When in trouble, bomb Afghanistan.

+ Trump is putting up a color-coded map of his “amazing” electoral victory in the Oval Office. It shows most of the country bathed in red, including the unpopulated National Monuments, which all seem to have gone for Trump. So why’s he want to get rid of them?

+ In the dark of night, the City of New Orleans pulled down a statue of Jefferson Davis, the Kingpin of the Confederacy, which is a small step for mankind and a giant leap for the Deep South. The removal has its obvious parallel in Baghdad, with the made-for-TV toppling of Saddam Hussein’s monument to his own vanity. But the greatest flying statue is surely that of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov in “Goodbye Lenin,” the funniest film on that brief interlude of time known as the Post-Cold War Era:

Now if someone could find a way to hoist Gen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions off of his pedestal. (Don’t worry, General Sessions, flying by crane is the safest form of air travel these days.)

Back with my wife in New Orleans,
when one day she called to me:
“Virgil, quick come see,
uh, there goes Jefferson D”
Now I don’t mind pumping oil
and I don’t care if there’s dioxins in the soil
You grab what you need and you piss on the rest,
But they should never have hoisted away the very best….
The night they tore old Dixie down,
And the people were singing…

+ It’s a bracing epiphany when you realize that Trump is far from the most insane person in the room. Consider Tulsa lawmaker Mike Ritze, who said this week that he wants ICE to round up 82,000 non-English speaking students attending Oklahoma’s schools as a cost-saving measure. “Identify them and then turn them over to ICE to see if they truly are citizens,” Ritze said. “Do we really have to educate noncitizens?”

+ It turns out that there was no “Comey Effect” on the election, only the Mother of All Political Bombs, the Hillary Effect.

+ The moment you realize just how weak the Paris Climate Accords really are…


+ Trump warps your sense of time. I recently told my friend the environmentalist Marnie Gaede that it seems like we should be about halfway through Trump’s first term by now, but in reality the shitstorm hasn’t even started yet on the ground. Like the news coming in this morning that the EPA has reversed course and is giving the go ahead for the colossal Pebble gold mine near Bristol Bay in Alaska, one of the most pristine salmon-estuaries in the world.

+ Word is that Trump is now itching to fire HR McMaster, the belligerent National Security Advisor who Washington elites hope will stabilize the White House. Maybe they can bring in someone even crazier than Michael Flynn, like James Woolsey, who still believes that Iran and Iraq were behind 9/11.

+ The conservative-in-exile George Will has a new gig with MSDNC. Maybe Rachel and George will co-star in the network’s remake of “The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming!

+ Apparently no one sees the irony in Trump going to extreme measures to force the “TransCanada” Pipeline down people’s throats….The environmental movement was brain dead for ever calling it something as innocuous as “Keystone” or anodyne as “KXL.”

+ Conservative fumerole Charles Krauthammer predicted last week that “we’ll be in a single-payer system in seven years.” A delay of seven years in adopting single-payer means that Krauthammer would be willing to swallow at least 250,000 deaths (See this Harvard study on annual deaths attributed to lack of health insurance). How much more suffering and death will the Democrats countenance?

+ According to The Hill, there are at least 43 politicians and celebrities (assuming there’s a difference) considering running against Trump…and still not one worth voting for.

+ Trump’s chief virtue is his unerringly bad taste. Only John Waters should be allowed to direct the bio-pic.

+ The F-35: useless in combat (fortunately), but great at terrorizing American neighborhoods and wild lands…(Thanks Bernie!)

+ Best news of the week. Faux-philosopher BHL gets pied–for the 9th time……..

+ Poor Marcel Proust seems to have been sequestered for years in his garret at Number 102 Boulevard Haussmann, haunted by sex, apparently unable to recover from a single horribly botched encounter with a prostitute in the Pigalle district of Paris, which saw the young Marcel get so prematurely agitated that he broke a chamber pot and fled the room.

This frustrating experience launched Proust into a period of compulsive masturbation, his vexation exasperated by the sounds of sex seeping through those famous cork-lined walls. “Beyond the partition,” Proust wrote in a letter to a friend, “the neighbours make love every two days with a frenzy of which I am jealous.” Ultimately, Proust was determined to try cure his “awful habit” by risking another assignation in a Parisian brothel. Lacking the funds for such a transaction, Proust had to write his grandfather with a request for 13 francs confident that “it cannot happen twice in one lifetime that a person is too flustered to screw.”

If only Freud had found the opportunity to record Proust’s erotic reveries, as he reclined on a couch nibbling on Madeleines.

+ Stephen Fry came under investigation for blasphemy by Irish police after saying in a TV interview from 2015 (news travels slow to Éireann) that God, if he existed, was “totally selfish” and “quite clearly a maniac.” The case against him was bollocks, naturally. Fry should have been put under investigation for his deplorable portrayal of Mycroft Holmes in the execrable “Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows!”

+ When Uday whines….Eric Trump is complaining about how “mean” people are on Twitter.

+ Clarification from Trump on the origins of the term “priming the pump:” “‘Priming the Pump’? Well, I may not have come up with the term, exactly, but you know I did have a walk-on in the movie. The one with Jenna Jamison. Ever seen it? Amazing film, especially the golden shower scene, after the pump was fully primed. Wow.”

+ Remember when Town Hall meetings would feature one obligatory Code Pinker getting hauled away in a costume they bought from Wavy Gravy’s Outlet Store? I was sure glad they were there when no one else was, but today’s episodes of genuine popular outrage are so much more fun.

+ Why study history, Paul Street asked in his excellent CounterPunch column from last week. This was the exact question I asked myself while trying to burrow my way through Braudel’s The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip 2 in time for the notoriously sadistic final exam, which was based almost entirely on a deep understanding of the thousands of footnotes to that sprawling, at times impenetrable, text that makes Samuel Beckett’s “The Unnameable” read like a dime novel….

+ In the wake of Trump’s Very Bad Week, the president said that he may cancel all future White House briefings because his press office staff can’t keep up with his rapidly changing thoughts on the various issues of the day. This will come as a huge blow to Saturday Night Live and, of course, to Sarah Huckabee & Sean Spicer. What other jobs could they possibly be qualified for after these auditions?

+ When there’s a bustle on your hedgerow
Don’t be alarmed now
It’s just Sean escaping from the White House lawn

+ Here’s a little spiritual music from Horace Tapscott, the Maestro of Watts, whose effort to create a community music scene for South Central LA after the jazz and blues clubs were shuttered is briefly featured in the terrific series “Bosch,” based on Michael Connelly’s novels. Tapscott’s band was a West Coast version of Sun Ra’s Arkestra. But hear for yourself….

Sound Grammar 

What I’m listening to this week…

Let It Go by Norman Brown
Late Nights, Early Mornings by Niji Adeleye
Cultural Capital by SexMob
Tributary Tales by Gerald Clayton
Middle of the Road by Eric Gales

Booked Up

What I’m reading this week…

The Case for Impeachment by Allan J. Lichtman
An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business by Elizabeth Rosenthal
An Outlaw and a Lady: a Memoir by Jessi Colter

The Invader’s Fear of Memories

Mahmoud Darwish: “We have on this Earth what makes life worth living: April’s hesitation, the aroma of bread at dawn, a woman’s point of view about men, the works of Aeschylus, the beginning of love, grass on a stone, mothers living on a flute’s sigh and the invaders’ fear of memories.”

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (with Alexander Cockburn). He can be reached at: or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3