Nixon’s Ghost Stalks the West Wing – Trump Thinks It’s the Concierge

Another working Saturday for Gretchen and me – booked solid from six in the morning until well into the evening. And on top of that, there was someone who had been calling to ask for an initial consultation since early Thursday morning whom Gretchen simply had not been able to squeeze in. We discussed it during a twenty minute lunch break, and I agreed to stay late, let Gretchen go at seven, and deal with the new client by myself. The fact that this individual wanted a telephone consultation made it easier, anyway. So there I was at my desk in the gathering dusk, the setting sun obscured by a dismal overcast, a strange, cold May drizzle wetting the picture window overlooking the White House, when the telephone rang.

Voice: Hello, is this Tom Collins?
Tom: Yes. Good evening. Could I ask who is calling?
Voice: This is… Melvin Purvis.
Tom: Why, of course it is. Mr. Purvis, tell me – do you think Charles Winstead deserved as much credit for tracking down John Dillinger as you got?
Purvis: Ah… er… um… just call me Melvin Purvis, okay? I’d rather not use my real name.
Tom: No problem, Mr. Purvis. You’re certainly not the first of my clients with that request.
Purvis: You have… a lot of anonymous clients?
Tom: Quite a few, actually.
Purvis: How do they… pay you?
Tom: Cash – up front, usually.
Purvis: But this appointment – it’s free, right?
Tom: Yes, As part of my marketing program, I offer initial consultations without charging a fee.
Purvis: Okay, just checking, you know.
Tom: Of course. Now – how may I help you?
Purvis: Well, as you know, President Trump is looking for a new FBI Director.
Tom: To replace James Comey.
Purvis: Who was fired last Monday night.
Tom: Correct.
Purvis: With no notice.
Tom: Again, correct.
Purvis: And Comey had to find out about it on television news.
Tom: True – not the most gentlemanly approach, to be sure.
Purvis: No, it wasn’t.
Tom: And the letter President Trump fired Comey with contained some very strange references to Comey assuring Trump that he is definitely not under investigation for acts of collusion which may have occurred between the Trump campaign and / or the Trump White House and the government of Russia.
Purvis: Yes – that was… definitely somewhat… off topic, to say the least.
Tom: Furthermore, since Monday, President Trump has offered three different explanations for why he fired Comey, starting with a statement that his decision was based on a memorandum he asked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to write, reviewing Comey’s job performance; changing that to saying he had been thinking about firing Comey for months but had been acting on recommendations made by the Department of Justice; and finally settling on the claim that he had been thinking about firing Comey for months anyway, regardless of what anyone at DOJ had to say about it. I think most prosecutors at DOJ would raise their eyebrows at the testimony of an individual who changed their story three times in as many days. What do you think?
Purvis: I’d rather not speculate on what most federal prosecutors would make of that situation, if you don’t mind.
Tom: Understandable, I suppose. And then, of course, we’ve witnessed Vice President Pence, Kellyanne Conway and Acting White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders offer conflicting versions of Trump’s story to the media, including an assertion by Sanders that Trump had met in person on Monday with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein to discuss firing Comey.
Purvis: All that was pretty confusing, no doubt about it.
Tom: And then, that public relations snafu was followed by an announcement by President Trump wherein he tried to explain that he’s so busy, his spokespersons can’t always be expected to tell the press the truth. Not the most compelling of arguments, would you say?
Purvis: Well… hardly the strongest argument I’ve ever heard, at any rate.
Tom: And when Comey told the media he had never made one – much less three – statements to Trump telling the president that he was not under investigation, Trump tweeted quote, “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” A lot of folks said that sounds an awful lot like a threat. What do you think?
Purvis: I think it’s perfectly normal for the president of the United States to make sound recordings of conversations with visiting foreign diplomats, anyway.
Tom: Certainly, but how about taping a dinner conversation with the head of the FBI?
Purvis: Uh, yeah, that could give a person pause, I guess.
Tom: Particularly if the FBI was engaged in an ongoing investigation which might involve, at the very least, close associates of the president, wouldn’t you agree?
Purvis: Um… well…
Tom: I am not a lawyer, of course, but what do you think – would taping the FBI director, firing him and then issuing a public threat to discredit his veracity and / or intimidate the former director from making further statements to the press amount to an attempt to obstruct justice?
Purvis: At the federal level? I’m not sure.
Tom: How about in combination with Trump’s statement that, when he decided to fire Comey, he used as a basis for his decision the idea that, quote “this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story,” which Trump reportedly “thought to himself” immediately before ordering Comey’s dismissal?
Purvis: I’d have to concede, Trump probably shouldn’t have said that.
Tom: Well, I think it’s 18 US Code Section 1512 that says obstruction of justice is a crime, described as being committed when a person, quote “… obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so.” What have we got there, then: an attempt to influence?
Purvis: I don’t know exactly it’s not clear.
Tom: An attempt to impede, perhaps?
Purvis: Okay, I’d say on the face of it, there might be some… tenuous reason to suspect the crime, but suspecting obstruction of justice and proving it are quite different things.
Tom: So, in your opinion, the firing itself was not an attempt to impede?
Purvis: Well, I’d say there’s no way to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the firing was an attempt to impede.
Tom: At the moment, anyhow.
Purvis: Circumstances could change, yes. The president has offered some pretty compelling reasons for letting Comey go, you know. He’s pointed out that Comey did a terrible job of managing the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s misused of classified information on her private email server, for example.
Tom: That’s not what he said during the campaign, though, is it? During the campaign, he praised Comey’s investigation of Clinton, didn’t he?
Purvis: My point there is, he’s offered multiple explanations of his motives for the firing, and a prosecutor would have to conclusively demonstrate that he had corrupt intentions, as defined in the statute, for the alternate theory of the motive, which is to say, obstruction, to be provable.
Tom: Well, as I said, I’m not a lawyer, but judging from that last remark, it sounds like you definitely might be one.
Purvis: I’m afraid I’ll have to respond with “No comment” to that, Mr. Collins.
Tom: Yes, I figured you would. So – what is the purpose of your call? How can I help you this evening?
Purvis: Uh… well, you see, I’m one of the individuals under consideration to replace Comey as Direct of the FBI.
Tom: Really? Congratulations!
Purvis: Um… thanks, I guess.
Tom: Mr. Purvis, if I may speak frankly, it seems to me that you don’t sound all that pleased.
Purvis: Well, ah, I would admit… I do have some concerns.
Tom: I can imagine. Tell me, what do you think of reports that Trump demanded Comey come to the White House and swear loyalty to him?
Purvis: I think that the FBI Director’s loyalty should be to the American people, not the president.
Tom: Trump is interviewing prospective replacements for Jim Comey today. He says he will continue the interviews tomorrow. Have you spoken with President Trump yet?
Purvis: I would prefer not to answer that question, if you don’t mind.
Tom: Okay, then, can you say for certain that, in a hypothetical interview with President Trump for a position as FBI Director, you would tell him what you just told me – that the FBI Director’s loyalty should belong to the American people, not to Donald J. Trump?
Purvis: Of course I would.
Tom: And yet, you have concerns about being appointed FBI Director?
Purvis: Yes.
Tom: Whatever for? Donald Trump will never appoint anyone who would give such a direct response to his paranoid, megalomanic demands for absolute, unquestioning feudal loyalty.
Purvis: So you’re recommending that, if I want the job, I should … rephrase… my response somewhat?
Tom: That might advisable, yes.
Purvis: What would you… recommend?
Tom: Tell Trump that, as president, he is the principal defender of the Constitution and the FBI Director’s loyalty should also be to the Constitution.
Purvis: You think that will work, then?
Tom: Sure – it sounds like whoever says it is swearing loyalty to Trump, plus it flatters him, and as a narcissistic egotist, he’s a complete sucker for flattery. And, of course, it says nothing about the American people – Trump hates hearing about them.
Purvis: Okay, I’ll take that as a sort of template for my response, then. In my opinion, it needs a little… wordsmithing, though.
Tom: By all means, be my guest – take the thought and make it your own.
Purvis: I will.
Tom: Good. What other concerns do you have?
Purvis: Yes, well, obviously, if I do get the job, I’d like to keep it.
Tom: FBI Directors are appointed for a term of ten years. You can’t get much better job security than that, this side of being appointed a federal judge.
Purvis: I realize that, but the president can’t fire a federal judge, and as President Trump just demonstrated, he can fire the Director of the FBI. What’s more, Comey has responded, in writing, that he’s perfectly okay with that, and he agrees that the president has an absolute right to fire the FBI Director at any time, for any reason whatsoever.
Tom: So let me cut to the chase here – if you are appointed FBI Director, you will have a responsibility to continue the investigation of Russian meddling in US elections and Russian ties to the Trump campaign and administration. Trump has told Lester Holt, in a public interview, that he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation. Ergo, you are worried that, on one hand, if you knuckle under to Trump and soft soap the investigation, the media will crucify you and the Democrats will be howling for your resignation. But on the other hand, if you move forward with the investigation in the expected honest and vigorous manner which is traditional in the FBI, Trump will… you’ll excuse the expression… trump up some absurd rationale for kicking you out and fire you. And furthermore, you realize that it will not matter if the investigation finds something or not, because if Trump sees that you are actively pursing the investigation instead of ignoring it, he will perceive that alone as sufficient disloyalty to get rid of you.
Purvis: Very good, Mr. Collins. In a nutshell, those are my concerns, should I, in fact, get the job.
Tom: Well, in that case, Mr. Purvis, you are looking at the situation completely bass-ackwards.
Purvis: What? Could you explain that, please?
Tom: Sir, consider this – aside from the hopeless rustbelt retards and clueless suburban social pariahs who constitute Trump’s base, everybody else thinks Jim Comey is a martyr. You know that, right?
Purvis: Yeah, no doubt about it – everywhere I go, that’s essentially what they’re saying.
Tom: Well, let me assure you sir, if you are appointed FBI Director and Trump fires you, the vast majority of the public with not consider you to be a martyr.
Purvis: They won’t?
Tom: No, they will consider you to be no less than a sanctified holy being, a legal angel. Your story will become a Profile in Courage, a saga of heroism to be repeated over and over again through generations of American school children.
Purvis: Oh, my God, really?
Tom: Sir, my recommendation is, you should go down to the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and light a dozen candles, praying to the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost, the Virgin Mary and all the patron saints of attorneys and law enforcement that, if Donald Trump makes you FBI Director, he should fire you.
Purvis: Um… well… I guess I’ll take that under advisement.
Tom: No, sir, your problem isn’t the consequences which would ensue should President Trump fire you from the post of FBI Director, on the contrary, what you should be wringing your hands in anxiety about is what will happen if he appoints you and doesn’t fire you. Let me assure you, should you be appointed FBI Director, only if you are extremely lucky, will you not be confronted with a terrible dilemma.
Purvis: Extremely lucky? How?
Tom: If, Number One, Trump appoints you FBI Director, and, Number Two, he displays sufficient restraint of his inherent lunacy not to imagine you are out to get him with the Russia investigation; and, Number Three, that investigation does, in fact, completely exonerate him; and, Number Four, the FBI can conclusively prove it, then you will be the luckiest person ever to hold federal office in the entire history of the United States.
Purvis: Hmph. In other words, not frigging likely, huh?
Tom: Well, if it happens, I would suggest you go out an buy a DC PowerBall ticket, because you will have just beat the odds on that by a country mile.
Purvis: So what do you think is really going to happen if Trump appoints me FBI Director?
Tom: And you don’t completely sacrifice your integrity, turn into his slathering lap dog, conspire with him to cover up high crimes and misdemeanors and get arrested, prosecuted and sent to jail yourself, like one of Nixon’s Watergate cronies?

Purvis: Oh, Jesus… yeah, assume I don’t do that, sure.
Tom: Okay, then, in that case if you become FBI Director, the most likely scenario is that the Russia investigation will implicate Trump in some shady, reprehensible, slimy conduct that is, nevertheless, not an impeachable offense.
Purvis: Then what?
Tom: Then you will have to break the news to Donald Trump in such a way that the doesn’t go completely off the rails, because he’s expecting you to support his internal fantasy of his complete and utter innocence of any wrongdoing, no matter how he behaves.
Purvis: And how will I do that?
Tom: I would recommend you be sure to emphasize that the Bureau’s legal team has determined that there is absolutely no way the things he did add up to an impeachable offense, and then kiss his butt purple, reminding him how the American people love and depend on him so much, telling him how brilliant and courageous he is, and even if his businesses are going to have to pay some fines, even if some of his henchmen are going to jail, none of that matters, because he, himself will remain in the Oval Office, fearlessly leading the USA into a bright and promising future.
Purvis: All right, I can do that. But what if the Russia investigation proves Trump’s guilty of an impeachable offense?
Tom: In that case, you’re going to have to tell him what the investigation found and then let him know there are only two options – either he resigns, or you do.
Purvis: And then he fires me and I’m golden, right?
Tom: Right – there’s no way Trump’s leaving the White House short of being dragged out kicking and screaming. But you’ll be more than golden – you’ll be pure platinum. If he fires you after your investigation finds him culpable of impeachable offenses, it will totally supercharge your image as staunch, righteous crusader for truth, justice and the American way. You’ll go down in history as the greatest FBI Director since J. Edgar Hoover, maybe even greater.
Purvis: Wow – I guess this proves, like the ancient Chinese proverb goes, “Every problem is an opportunity.”
Tom: Actually, there’s no ancient Chinese proverb like that, but yeah, you’ve got the idea – opportunities will abound – prestigious appointments, professorships, well-compensated lectures, lucrative book and motion picture deals – the list is practically endless. Approach this situation correctly and the absolute worst that could happen to you is that you’ll have to put up with being FBI Director under Donald Trump for seven and a half years.
Purvis: I have to confess, the thought of that does make my skin crawl a bit, but… duty calls.
Tom: So it does, Mr. Purvis, so it does. And don’t forget – you could always totally luck out if DOJ appoints a special counsel.  Then whoever gets that job will have to take over the Russia investigation and that lady or gentleman will be stuck with all the problems you’re fretting about at the moment, not you.
Purvis: Yeah, there is that possibility, however remote.  Well, thanks for your free advice, then, Mr. Collins.
Tom: You’re welcome. Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s been a particularly long day.
Purvis: Yeah, sure, I understand.
Tom: And accept my best wishes, should you be selected as chief G-man.
Purvis: Oh, thanks again, Mr. Collins.
Tom: Have a nice day, Mr. Purvis. Goodbye.