May 18, 2017

"AH BARTLEBY! AH HUMANITY!":

JAMES COMEY AND THE REVENGE OF WASHINGTON'S PROFESSIONAL CLASS (Benjamin Wallace-Wells, May 17, 2017, The New Yorker)

Washington is a lawyer's town, built on protocols and rules. If this tends to make happy-hour conversation in the city a little more pedantic than the American norm, then it also has its advantages, among them a fanaticism for records. James Comey, the fired F.B.I. director, began his career as an associate at the powerhouse law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. Later, during his years of government service, he routinely documented conversations with his superiors as a method of self-preservation. During the Bush Administration, he documented his resistance to the use of torture, which helped extend his career from a conservative epoch to a liberal one. "A showboat," President Trump called Comey, last week, in defending his decision to fire the man. Perhaps, but one with the daily routines of a clerk.

The conversation between Trump and Comey in the Oval Office in February--whose details the F.B.I. director circulated in a memo at the time, and which became public this week after a source close to Comey read it to Michael S. Schmidt, of the Times--was an extraordinary one. The two men were discussing Michael Flynn, who had briefly been Trump's national-security adviser before being forced to resign over his failure to disclose pre-Inauguration contact with the Russian government, and was now a focus of F.B.I. investigators. "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go," Trump told Comey. This declaration, in which the President seemed to lean on the F.B.I. director to cut short an investigation into an associate, was the part that, by Tuesday night, had Senator John McCain comparing the current situation to Watergate "in size and scale." But the rest of the exchange was interesting, too, in the clues it offered about how the President saw his own relationship to Comey. Trump said of Flynn, "He's a good guy."

Consider the scene. The President has already asked his own Attorney General and chief of staff to leave the room, so that, instead of a formal meeting, Comey and Trump were now in the kind of informal, one-on-one negotiation in which Trump's supporters believe he thrives. Perhaps he sensed in Comey--towering, earnest, self-regarding--a familiar type, and so the President sounded a bit like the son of a Queens developer talking to the grandson of a Yonkers cop, which both was and wasn't the situation. Surely the President misunderstood Comey, who took the opportunity to agree that Flynn was "a good guy" and then rushed off to write a memorandum about the episode. But Trump may also have misunderstood the kind of city he was in.

One way to understand the events of the past ten days is to see them as the revenge of the capital's professional classes.

Posted by at May 18, 2017 4:52 PM

  

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