The Morning Jolt

White House

James Comey Is Proving that He’s a Partisan

FBI Director James Comey attends a news conference on terrorism after speaking at the NYPD Shield Conference in the Manhattan borough of New York, December 16, 2015. (Darren Ornitz/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: former FBI director James Comey drops any pretense of being anything but a Democratic-party cheerleader these days, President Trump finds himself hunting for a chief of staff once again, a quick review of last week’s NR cruise, and a computer book to read before artificial intelligence takes over the world.

James Comey, Democratic-Party Cheerleader

Back when I reviewed former FBI director James Comey’s autobiography, I wrote:

The notion that everyone around Comey at the top level of the FBI hesitated to keep his promise to inform Congress because it could help Trump win the election doesn’t exactly dispel Trump’s claim of widespread bias against him. In Comey’s late-November private Oval Office meeting with the president, he blurts out to the outgoing Obama, “I dread the next four years.”

This is not a conspiracy of shadowy cigarette-smoking government men out of The X-Files, but it points to a disconcerting groupthink: Just about everybody at the top levels of the FBI, Department of Justice, U.S. national-security agencies, and the Obama administration thought Trump was a corrupt, deranged loon. No doubt Trump earned a lot of that criticism, but that groupthink meant the FBI’s top brass was ready to believe the worst about Trump, no matter the origin.

Around that time, I separately reported that retired FBI agents were . . . less than thrilled to see a former director becoming a hero of “The Resistance” and joking around with Stephen Colbert about the president. Other than Louis Freeh’s tempestuous relationship with Bill Clinton, most retired FBI directors retained nonpartisan reputations and largely stayed out of the spotlight after leaving law enforcement.

But that was then; today, Comey has become indistinguishable from the usual Democratic National Convention speakers. Here’s what happened at a speech he gave last night:

Former FBI Director James Comey asked American voters Sunday night to end Donald Trump’s presidency with a “landslide” victory for his opponent in 2020.

“All of us should use every breath we have to make sure the lies stop on January 20, 2021,” Comey told an audience at the 92nd Street Y on New York City’s Upper East Side. He all but begged Democrats to set aside their ideological differences and nominate the person best suited to defeating Trump in an election.

“I understand the Democrats have important debates now over who their candidate should be,” Comey told MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace, “but they have to win. They have to win.”

Wait, there’s more — lest you think that Comey is merely a fierce critic of Trump:

Speaking about the period before the 2016 election, Comey was unsparing of Republican congressional leaders who he said opposed making public intelligence-community concerns over Russian interference.

“To their everlasting shame, the leaders — (Senate Majority Leader Mitch) McConnell, (House Speaker Paul) Ryan — refused,” Comey said. “I think they’re going to have a hard time explaining that to history.”

Trump’s bad, McConnell’s bad, Ryan’s bad . . . What are the odds that Comey ends up speaking at the 2020 Democratic National Convention?

Is the Federal Bureau of Investigation a partisan institution? No doubt there’s a wide range of opinions throughout the rank-and-file agents and staff, and we certainly all hope that the nation’s premiere law-enforcement agency hasn’t succumbed to partisan groupthink. But the more that Comey sounds like an aspiring DNC chairman, the more he chips away at public faith in the institution. 

Who Wants to Be the Next White House Chief of Staff?

The president, who has made clear that he will not be managed by anyone, is having a hard time finding someone to step into the role of manager.

Trump-administration observers figured that Vice President Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, would be the next White House chief of staff. But much to everyone’s surprise, he’s not only not taking the job, but he’s leaving the administration entirely.

Nick Ayers, the main focus of President Trump’s search to replace John F. Kelly as chief of staff in recent weeks, said on Sunday that he was leaving the administration at the end of the year. Mr. Ayers, 36, the chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, is returning to Georgia with his wife and three young children, according to people familiar with his plans.

Axios reports that one of the new options to replace John Kelly is . . . the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus?

Trump has asked confidants what they think about the idea of installing Congressman Mark Meadows, the chairman of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, as John Kelly’s permanent replacement, according to these three sources. Trump has also mentioned three other candidates besides Meadows, according to a source with direct knowledge. I don’t yet have their names.

If you’re Meadows, do you want that job? You’re the leader of one of the most powerful factions of House Republicans, although you’ll be in the minority starting in January. You represent a district where you won 59 percent in a bad year for Republicans, so you’ll have that job in Congress for as long as you like, as long as you avoid scandal. Trump could serve another six years, or maybe just another two years. And both Reince Priebus and John Kelly seemed perpetually frustrated, aggravated, and exhausted in the job.

And that was during the good times! The next White House chief of staff will be stepping into the eye of a hurricane. The Democrats will run the House and stymie just about any major legislation. (Democrats have spent the past two years telling the country that Trump is an unholy amalgamation of Mussolini, Gordon Gecko, Nero, Caligula, and Beelzebub; they can’t turn around and tell their grassroots supporters, “But we worked out a really great deal on infrastructure with him.”)

At some point presumably soon, special counsel Robert Mueller will submit his final report to the Department of Justice, and it’s likely to paint an ugly portrait contending that  A) the Russian government reached out to figures around Trump, if not Trump himself, and those figures were eager to work with Moscow against Hillary Clinton’s campaign; B) Trump-campaign officials met with Russian intelligence agents throughout 2016; C) Trump conspired with Michael Cohen to send money to Stormy Daniels, which they’ll argue was a campaign-related expense; D) the firing of James Comey amounted to obstruction of justice; E) who knows what about Trump’s past financial ties to Russian entities; F) any financial crimes; and G) God knows what else. One way or another, House Democrats are extremely likely to push for impeachment.

Another figure who appears uninterested in the job . . .

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is one of the advisors to President Donald Trump under consideration to be the next White House chief of staff, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter.

Yet Mnuchin has indicated to his inner circle that he feels best served as the head of Treasury, according to these people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the privacy of the ongoing discussions.

Traditionally, the position of White House chief of staff is one of the most desired in Washington, with enormous access to the president and a great deal of behind-the-scenes sway over the president’s schedule, priorities, and communications. Under Trump, there’s little to no ability to sway the president or steer the agenda, and you’re just a scapegoat-in-waiting.

High Spirits and Elevated Discourse on the High Seas

If you were on the NR Cruise this past week, it was great to see you. I learned a heck of a lot about the conservative philosopher Russell Kirk from a panel that featured Lee Edwards, Daniel Mahoney, and George Nash.

Pollster Scott Rasmussen reminded us that there’s still actually a wide consensus about the American dream (and more than a few contradictions in the thinking of those socialism-curious respondents) and shared some wild stories from the very first days of ESPN, which he co-founded. Somehow I ended up doing my Ted Cruz impression during a panel discussion of the evangelical vote and 2018 — sometimes our dialogues take some unexpected paths. This past week featured a lot of legal talk from Andy McCarthy and John Yoo, and a lot of cultural analysis from first-timers Nick Adams, Kyle Smith, and Alexandra DeSanctis. The dates and destination of the next cruise, probably in late summer 2019, will be announced here.

ADDENDA: You may have missed this report that, if true, marks a stunning breakthrough in the development of artificial intelligence: “It quickly became apparent AlphaZero had an intuition of its own. It is also capable of learning from its own mistakes and previous experiences first and foremost, which could give the AI a leg up over some of its human counterparts. Improvisation is no longer a trait unique to mammals and the animal kingdom, but rather something that anyone  — and anything — can develop of its own accord.”

Computers and technology are among those topics I wish I knew and understood more. My friend Rachel Grunspan and her co-author Simson Garfinkel have just published The Computer Book, a fascinating walk through 250 milestones in the history of computer science, from the  Sumerian Abacus in 2500 B.C. to speculative concepts like quantum entanglement. Trust me when I say that this is a delightfully layman-friendly, jargon-free, lavishly illustrated history book that covers everything from slide rules to Metropolis to Isaac Asimov to Pong to Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan to the world’s first spam message — in 1973!

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