I think some of the timeline laid out in James Comey’s prepared remarks for Thursday’s hearing is interesting in light of recent reporting about the Trump administration’s so-far abortive efforts to ease US sanctions on Russia.
Michael Isikoff reported for Yahoo News last week that top White House officials started working on plans to ease sanctions on Russia almost immediately after Trump took office, but that the effort flagged after national security adviser Michael Flynn’s firing in February, in part because the broadening scandal around Flynn and Russia would make such a move politically problematic.
And Kimberly Dozier reported for The Daily Beast that, in late March, a National Security Council official asked the State Department for an analysis about lifting oil-related sanctions on Russia.
Consider, in that context, what Comey describes Trump as having complained about to him on March 30 (emphasis mine):
“He described the Russia investigation as ‘a cloud’ that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country. He said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia, and had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia. He asked what we could do to ‘lift the cloud.’ … He finished by stressing ‘the cloud’ that was interfering with his ability to make deals for the country and said he hoped I could find a way to get out that he wasn’t being investigated.”
Comey also says that Trump reiterated on April 11 that “‘the cloud’ was getting in the way of his ability to do his job.”
So, what “deals for the country” was Trump hoping to make that he felt that he could not make in light of the ongoing Russia investigation? Were those deals perhaps related to the feelers his staffers had reportedly been making about easing sanctions on Russia since the early days of his administration?
For that matter, why was Trump so fixated on what people thought he might have been doing with “hookers in Russia?” In addition to seemingly bringing it up unprompted on March 30, Comey said the president also protested about it to him over dinner on January 27:
“During the dinner, the President returned to the salacious material I had briefed him about on January 6, and, as he had done previously, expressed his disgust for the allegations and strongly denied them. He said he was considering ordering me to investigate the alleged incident to prove it didn’t happen.”
The matter Trump and Comey were discussing here is colloquially known as “the pee tape,” an alleged item of Russian kompromat most of us have assumed is too absurd to actually exist. Its mention was contained in an unverified dossier of claims about Trump’s ties to Russia.
Presumably, the president is in a position to know that there cannot be any documentary evidence of anything he did with hookers in Russia because he did not do anything with hookers in Russia. Maybe he will instruct the next FBI director to look into it.
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