A Closer Look: Trump’s Optics in the Past Hours Have Been Disastrous

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This morning, President Donald Trump, in a warning to his fired FBI director, has gone out on a new tirade of tweets, this time towards James Comey alerting him in case he had “tapes” of their conversations. Trump’s tweet came the morning after he asserted Comey had told him three times that he wasn’t under FBI investigation.

As Seth Meyers put it in his recent A Closer Look on Thursday night, when a president makes a decision as controversial as this might be, you would expect him to explain it in public to the American people. But he didn’t until a recent interview with Lester Holt that has given everyone a different reason to reflect upon breaking news flashes, headlines and controversy ensued until that moment.

In this episode, Seth Meyers reflected how Trump’s optics about his decision to fire Comey has been causing so much damage to his administration in the past hours.

Inaccurate statements

Since the news broke earlier this week the White House has been claiming that Comey’s firing had nothing to do with the Russian investigation, but this is what we heard Trump himself say to NBC’s Lester Holt:

“I said, ‘If it’s possible, would you let me know, am I under investigation?’ He said you are not under investigation,” Trump said in an interview Thursday with NBC News. He said the discussions happened in two phone calls and at a dinner in which Comey was asking to keep his job.

Comey has not confirmed Trump’s account. Late Thursday, The New York Times cited two unnamed Comey associates who recounted his version of a January dinner with the president in which Trump asked for a pledge of loyalty. Comey declined, instead offering “honest.” When Trump then pressed for “honest loyalty,” Comey told him, “You will have that,” the associates said.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders disputed the report and said the president would “never even suggest the expectation of personal loyalty.” Officials did not immediately respond to questions about whether Trump recorded his discussions with the FBI director.

The president’s morning Twitter comments again raised the specter of Richard Nixon, whose secretly taped conversations and telephone calls in the White House ultimately led to his downfall in the Watergate scandal. Trump’s firing of Comey already has left him with the dubious distinction of being the first president since Nixon to fire a law enforcement official overseeing an investigation tied to the White House.

Meanwhile, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, said Friday that Trump was “dangerous” and that “his credibility has been destroyed.”

Durbin, while on “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, suggested that the president’s move to fire Comey amid an investigation of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election and possible ties to Trump’s own campaign was “dangerous because he may be obstructing justice.” And he said he feared the world would no longer take Trump at his word.

Even before Trump’s provocative tweet, the White House was scrambling to clarify why Comey was fired. Trump told NBC he had planned to fire Comey all along, regardless of whether top Justice Department officials recommended the stunning step.

After watching this recent closer look episode, we can think deeply and carefully about the reasons for various shifting accounts of the decision to fire Comey, whom Trump derided as a “showboat” and “grandstander,” added to a mounting sense of uncertainty and chaos in the West Wing, as aides scrambled to get their stories straight and appease an angry president. Not even Vice President Mike Pence was spared the embarrassment of having told a version of events that was later discredited by Trump.

What we learned? We knew the firing was not because the director had done a disservice to Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign.

What did you learn?

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Watch a recent episode of Seth Meyers’ a Closer Look where he reflects about how Trump’s optics in the past hours have been disastrous due to Comey’s firing.