According to another leak from the White House, President Donald Trump told top Russian officials he was happy to be rid of FBI Director James Comey during a questionably-timed meeting in the Oval Office.
Given all the talk about Trump and Russia and collusion, some observers found it pretty odd that the president had a meeting with Russian officials the day after Comey’s firing.
Things got even murkier Friday, after The New York Times reported it obtained information from a document detailing the president’s comments during that meeting.
The Times reported:
President Trump told Russian officials in the Oval Office this month that firing the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, had relieved “great pressure” on him, according to a document summarizing the meeting.
“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
Mr. Trump added, “I’m not under investigation.”
The conversation, during a May 10 meeting — the day after he fired Mr. Comey — reinforces the notion that Mr. Trump dismissed him primarily because of the bureau’s investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and Russian operatives. Mr. Trump said as much in one televised interview, but the White House has offered changing justifications for the firing.
That’s a pretty dumb thing for the president to have said within earshot of anyone he doesn’t fully trust.
But there’s also plenty of room to question a paper that Trump has criticized relentlessly and which (surprise!) doesn’t have any real documentation of its claim.
The paper sort of buried the lede on that, continuing:
The White House document that contained Mr. Trump’s comments was based on notes taken from inside the Oval Office and has been circulated as the official account of the meeting. One official read quotations to The Times, and a second official confirmed the broad outlines of the discussion.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer, however, didn’t deny that Trump made the statement.
In fact in a statement to the NY Times, he came pretty close to verifying the account outright.
“By grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia’s actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia,” he said. “The investigation would have always continued, and obviously, the termination of Comey would not have ended it. Once again, the real story is that our national security has been undermined by the leaking of private and highly classified conversations.”
Leaks are great for transparency… but without a proper source or any form of documentation at all, leaks like this are merely gossip. The unintended consequence of the small potato “look! Trump! Russia!” stories is that an increasingly irritated White House– and one that already has low regard for the fourth estate– is going to seriously crack down on whistleblowers and begin harshly restricting press access. And dealing with an administration as unpredictable as Trump’s, the last thing serious journalists ought to be doing right now is working to make their jobs harder in the years ahead.