Donald Trump and James Comey had dinner at the White House on January 27, just the two of them together. Quite an unusual tete a tete, wouldn’t you think—the President of the United States entertaining a lowly FBI Director at the official residence? Unless the two men were close buddies going way back, which they aren’t. Would it surprise you that we have two very different versions of this get-together?
The Trump version, which comes from the president himself, is that Comey requested the dinner, basically in order to make a pitch for him to keep his job. Trump tells us that during the conversation, the president asked the FBI director if the president was under investigation. The reply was negative.
The Comey version comes not from the FBI director himself but from Comey associates who were pledged to confidentiality for as long as Comey remained FBI head. By this account, it was Trump who asked for the dinner meeting. The president’s main objective, it seemed, was to assess Comey’s loyalty to the president. Comey pledged his honesty, but stopped short of pledging loyalty. The White House denies that the president asked for Comey’s loyalty.
So, we have two conflicting accounts and no witnesses, a classic “he said but he said” situation. How can we know which account is the more truthful? The answer, of course, is that we can never know for sure, but we can attempt a reasonable assessment of the relative credibility of the two accounts. On the question of relative credibility, even if we ignore the two men’s respective reputations for integrity, there really is no contest. The idea that an FBI director would be so presumptuous as to request a private White House dinner invitation from the President of the United States is nothing less than ridiculous. So, we can conclude with near certainty that Trump is lying about who initiated the dinner meeting.
We can’t be quite as certain as to the relative truthfulness of the two accounts with regard to the conversation that evening, but once again, the more credible version is Comey’s. First, the fact that Trump almost surely lied about who initiated the meeting strongly inclines us to doubt the veracity of the rest of his account. We also know that Trump tends to be obsessed with the loyalty of his associates, and that it would be highly irregular, if not ethically prohibitive, for Comey to inform Trump of an ongoing investigation involving him. Also, the FBI director normally serves for a term of 10 years; an incoming president never has replaced the incumbent, so unless specifically informed otherwise, Comey had no reason to fear for his job. The relative credibility of the Comey version is also supported by the fact that it comes not directly from Comey, but from Comey associates, who heard it privately from Comey before the current controversy over his dismissal. The Trump account, by contrast, is a publicly stated rationale by the president for the dismissal.
So, Trump’s account of the dinner meeting is very likely a string of lies. But we’ve come to expect nothing less from our president.
Our Twitter in Chief, seeking to bolster the credibility of his accounts of his conversations with Comey, has warned that Comey had better hope that there are no tapes of their conversations. Of course, if there are such tapes, Trump could produce them forthwith. The puerile, transparent phoniness of this warning poses no problem for the man-child in the White House.