The full scope of Donald Trump’s basic corruption, not just as a politician but as a person who interacts with other people, really zooms into terrifying focus not via his decades-long history of stiffing contractors, or the wild, schizophrenic swings in his politics or appraisals of associates, but in the blinking, casual, appallingly guileless way he describes his own goddamn behavior.
The New York Times has the story of Trump sitting down for an awkward private dinner in January with then-FBI Director James Comey, during which the conversation turned to the professional relationship between the two men:
The president then turned the conversation to whether Mr. Comey would pledge his loyalty to him.
Mr. Comey declined to make that pledge. Instead, Mr. Comey has recounted to others, he told Mr. Trump that he would always be honest with him, but that he was not “reliable” in the conventional political sense.
Later in the dinner, Mr. Trump again said to Mr. Comey that he needed his loyalty.
Mr. Comey again replied that he would give him “honesty” and did not pledge his loyalty, according to the account of the conversation.
But Mr. Trump pressed him on whether it would be “honest loyalty.”
“You will have that,” Mr. Comey told his associates that he responded.
The Times notes that the White House disputes this characterization of the dinner, with Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying, apparently with a straight face, that President Trump “would never even suggest the expectation of personal loyalty, only loyalty to our country and its great people.”
But in another classic case of President Trump making his spokespeople look like bumbling jokers, the flabby orange mascot of late capitalism offered his own characterization of dinner with Comey, during his sit-down interview with Lester Holt. When asked by Holt why he included in Comey’s dismissal letter mention of “three separate occasions” when Comey informed Trump that he was “not under investigation,” Trump’s first and most vivid recollection is of one specific instance in which the topic was discussed.
Can you guess where it went down?
“I had a dinner with him. He wanted to have dinner, because he wanted to stay on. We had a very nice dinner at the White House.”
Do go on, Mr. President.
“He wanted to stay on as the FBI head. And I said ‘I’ll consider it, we’ll see what happens.’ But we had a very nice dinner, and at that time he told me, ‘you are not under investigation.’ Which I knew anyway.”
Later, Holt asks how the topic came up:
“I actually asked him, yes. I said, ‘if it’s possible, will you let me know, am I under investigation?’”
Now. Consider the important overlaps in these two recollections of the dinner in question: in one recollection, an appointee sits at a private dinner with the only person with the power to terminate him from his job, and during this dinner he is given the explicit message that his position is tied directly to his personal loyalty to his superior; in the other recollection, an appointee sits at a private dinner with the only person with the power to terminate him from his job, and during this dinner—in which the topic at hand is his job security—he is asked, point blank, whether an ongoing probe into possible illegal and treasonous collusion between a presidential campaign and a foreign power is specifically investigating his boss, by his boss, who is the President.
It’s that rare instance when you can go ahead and find Trump’s characterization of the exchange more plausible than the darker, more explicit alternative, because it describes virtually the same sequence of events. And what’s most remarkable about it is just how casually Trump offers this unprompted retelling: ah yeah I was having dinner with Jimmy, see, and he was going on and on about wanting to keep his job, and I says to him, I says, “Jimmy, baby, first you gotta tell me, you aren’t looking at your pal Donald Trump in that Russier investigation you got going on over there, are you?” And you know that’s when he told me, “o’ course not, Donny, baby! Me? You? Never!”
Watching it, I am almost tempted to believe our president is too dumb, and that his human interactions are too rooted in cynical dealmaking, for him to even understand the implications of the behavior he described.