The Corner

White House

Trump’s Instincts, and His Aides’

President Trump speaks during a meeting of the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council, April 4, 2019. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Many, many people have observed that the Mueller report offers example after example of Trump’s aides saving him from bad decisions by ignoring them. It’s an accurate generalization, and I’ve made it myself. But it seems to me that the report also offers details about one big exception to this rule.

The report suggests that Trump wanted to fire James Comey because he kept refusing to say in public what he was telling Trump in private: that Trump wasn’t the subject of an investigation. (See, e.g., Volume II, p. 75, of the Mueller report.) Trump wanted to say so, but multiple underlings including White House counsel Don McGahn and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus repeatedly objected (see Volume II, pp. 65-9 of the Mueller report for details).

Instead the official story was that Trump had fired Comey on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s recommendation, and that recommendation was based on Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton, including his unfairness to her. That story was false: Trump wanted Comey gone before, and for different reasons than those mentioned in, Rosenstein’s memo. The president quickly contradicted it.

The multiplicity of the explanations for the firing, and the dishonesty of some of them, added to the suspicions that it had been done to harm an investigation into Trump and his associates and contributed greatly to the appointment of a special counsel to look into that question among others.

It is hard to resist the conclusion that Trump would have been better off going with his initial instincts and explaining the real reasons for the firing. On this occasion, his aides got him into a heap of trouble rather than saved him.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

Most Popular

Film & TV

A Film for All Christians

‘The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts,” wrote George Eliot in Middlemarch, “and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” The passage provides the title ... Read More
Film & TV

A Film for All Christians

‘The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts,” wrote George Eliot in Middlemarch, “and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” The passage provides the title ... Read More
Law & the Courts

The FBI’s Corrupt Cops

White-collar criminals should hope for one thing this Christmas: that they get to live under the Horowitz rules. Michael Horowitz has testified that he found no evidence of political bias on the part of the decision makers who, under the Obama administration, relied on hilariously implausible “evidence” ... Read More
Law & the Courts

The FBI’s Corrupt Cops

White-collar criminals should hope for one thing this Christmas: that they get to live under the Horowitz rules. Michael Horowitz has testified that he found no evidence of political bias on the part of the decision makers who, under the Obama administration, relied on hilariously implausible “evidence” ... Read More
White House

The Horowitz Report and the Power of Inertia

The best thing I've read about the report is by Julian Sanchez. An excerpt: The heart of the Horowitz report deals with the Carter Page FISA application, and documents a progression that ought to sound familiar to anyone who’s studied the history of the intelligence community: An investigation begins with a ... Read More
White House

The Horowitz Report and the Power of Inertia

The best thing I've read about the report is by Julian Sanchez. An excerpt: The heart of the Horowitz report deals with the Carter Page FISA application, and documents a progression that ought to sound familiar to anyone who’s studied the history of the intelligence community: An investigation begins with a ... Read More