President Trump went on national television Thursday and openly admitted that he committed an impeachable offense.
In an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, Trump said, “When I decided to [fire Comey], I said to myself, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.”
Let’s put aside the fact that the FBI’s focus on possible collusion by Trump and Russian officials began in the summer of 2016 (well before the election); the real story here is that Trump is acknowledging that the Russia investigation was the key factor in his decision to fire Comey. That’s a clear admission that the president of the United States actively sought to interfere in a criminal inquiry and thus obstruct justice. That this investigation is one that touches directly on Trump’s actions makes it that much worse, but even if it didn’t presidents simply cannot seek to stop the FBI from conducting a criminal inquiry. Even were this not an indictable crime, it is certainly grounds for impeachment.
Indeed, it’s worth remembering that when Richard Nixon was eventually forced to resign the presidency, in 1974, he did so because of the release of White House tapes that recorded him telling his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, to get the CIA to pressure the FBI to stop its investigation of the Watergate break-in. But in that case, bipartisan congressional pressure, an independent special prosecutor, and federal court decisions that forced Nixon to turn over White House tapes made clear his law-breaking.
In Trump’s case, he went on television and brazenly volunteered the information.
What’s perhaps most remarkable about Trump’s comments is that they directly and unambiguously contradict his own White House staff, and even his vice president. For two days, Trump’s willing accomplices and professional enablers stood before the American people and lied. They claimed that Trump fired Comey because of a recommendation from the Department of Justice related to his handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation. No one with half a brain actually believed that, and if there is any solace to be taken from Trump’s admission, it’s that we can at least stop pretending that the firing of Comey had anything to do with something other than Russia.
As if all this wasn’t bad enough, Trump woke up Friday morning and spewed out a remarkably unhinged (even for Trump) tweetstorm, capped off by a clear threat against Comey: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”
James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
This now appears to be the second time this week that Trump has taken to Twitter in order to intimidate a possible witness against him.
Let’s be clear: None of this is remotely normal. The president’s behavior is erratic and deeply unstable. He has no understanding of, or respect for, the rule of law, basic democratic norms, or even common decency. His continued presence in the White House is a black mark of shame for this country.
In nonbizarro America, Congress would be in the process of drafting articles of impeachment against him. Instead, gutless and enfeebled congressional Republicans can’t muster up the political will to push for a nonpartisan, independent investigation of Trump’s Russia connections. They won’t even subpoena Trump’s tax records, which would shed important light on his financial connections to Russia. Instead, from alleged moderate Susan Collins to libertarian Rand Paul and chief water carriers Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, Republicans seem intent on doing nothing as Trump degrades and diminishes America.
Over the next several days, the cable news networks will feature wall-to-wall talking heads parsing the president’s latest statements. The White House press secretary will head to the briefing room and once again try to turn the sow’s ear of this presidency into a silk purse. Members of Congress will be renewing calls for an independent investigation of Trump, seeking to block one or expressing their crocodile-tear “concerns.”
The conveyor belt of routinized outrage, analysis, and enabling will continue.
But here’s the only thing that we should be talking about: What is the process for removing Donald Trump from the nation’s highest office? That we’re not focused exclusively on this question is turning May 2017 into one of darkest moments in American history.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.