Trump’s Instincts, and His Aides’

President Trump speaks during a meeting of the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council, April 4, 2019. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Many, many people have observed that the Mueller report offers example after example of Trump’s aides saving him from bad decisions by ignoring them. It’s an accurate generalization, and I’ve made it myself. But it seems to me that the report also offers details about one big exception to this rule.

The report suggests that Trump wanted to fire James Comey because he kept refusing to say in public what he was telling Trump in private: that Trump wasn’t the subject of an investigation. (See, e.g., Volume II, p. 75, of the Mueller report.) Trump wanted to say so, but multiple underlings including White House counsel Don McGahn and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus repeatedly objected (see Volume II, pp. 65-9 of the Mueller report for details).

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Instead the official story was that Trump had fired Comey on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s recommendation, and that recommendation was based on Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton, including his unfairness to her. That story was false: Trump wanted Comey gone before, and for different reasons than those mentioned in, Rosenstein’s memo. The president quickly contradicted it.

The multiplicity of the explanations for the firing, and the dishonesty of some of them, added to the suspicions that it had been done to harm an investigation into Trump and his associates and contributed greatly to the appointment of a special counsel to look into that question among others.

It is hard to resist the conclusion that Trump would have been better off going with his initial instincts and explaining the real reasons for the firing. On this occasion, his aides got him into a heap of trouble rather than saved him.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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