'Comey has no supporters': Conrad Black defends Trump after topsy-turvy week
Published Sunday, May 14, 2017 7:00AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, May 14, 2017 7:24AM EDT
U.S. President Donald Trump’s 17th week in the White House may have been his most unpredictable yet.
Tuesday: The president fired FBI director James Comey amid an FBI investigation into whether Trump’s campaign had ties with Russia’s interference in the U.S. election.
Wednesday: Three U.S. officials said Comey had requested more resources for the Russia-Trump investigation before he was fired.
Thursday: Trump told NBC News that he planned to fire Comey all along -- a statement that flatly contradicted earlier explanations from the White House that pegged blame on a Justice Department memo criticizing how Comey handled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.
And finally, Friday: Trump unleashed an early-morning barrage of tweets threatening to cancel future press briefings for “the sake of accuracy” and hinted at possible “tapes” of private conversations between Comey and himself.
The remarkable series of events prompted comparisons to Watergate and raised questions about how the White House was coping with the mounting scandal.
It also sparked heated debate.
Former media baron Conrad Black, who is friends with Trump, told CTV’s Question Period that James Comey has “no supporters” and that “there’s no comparison whatsoever with Watergate.” He railed against the White House press corps, calling the media “liars” and “enemies of the people.”
Here is an abridged transcript of the exchange on The Scrum:
CTV’s Question Period host Evan Solomon: We know the president has got the right to fire the FBI director. But what does it tell you that he fired the guy who’s in the midst of conducting a serious investigation into allegations that his campaign team had contacts with the Russians?
Conrad Black: Well, I don’t think the fact that that investigation is going on prevents him from firing him for cause. The acting director yesterday, speaking at Congress, made it clear there had been absolutely no attempt to interfere with that investigation.
He denied that there had been a request from the former director (James Comey) for increased funding for the investigation. He said squarely that there was absolutely no need for an independent prosecutor, which as you know, one requires a crime to have been committed, and there’s no evidence of that, and two, invariably under that law, turns into a ghastly witch hunt anyhow.
And we know perfectly well and indeed the former assistant national security director under (former president Bill) Clinton, Nancy Soderberg, conceded to me on the BBC last night that their aim chiefly was to immobilize the Trump government.
There is no case. It’s nonsense. It’s a fiction. No sane person could imagine that Donald Trump or any person of authority in his campaign colluded with the Russians. It’s just nonsense.
Solomon: Well you call it nonsense so –
Black: Wait a second, Evan. Everyone agrees, Republican and Democrat, that Comey had to go. (Congresswoman) Maxine Waters, that pillar of congressional equity and good sense and promoter of riots in Los Angeles from time to time, announced to MSNBC of all places -- the most anti-Trump network of all -- that Hillary should have fired him, but Donald shouldn’t.
I mean, Comey has no supporters.
Solomon: We know Comey didn’t have friends on a lot of sides of the House, Craig, but it’s not insanity to say that this Russia investigation is a fiction because security agencies have said this is a real issue, and the FBI is genuinely investigating it.
Black: The fact that there is an investigation isn’t a fiction. The idea that it ever happened is a fiction.
Craig Oliver: Mr. Black and I both were active in the reporting business during Watergate. And I think what Mr. Trump should be worried about now is remembering who Deep Throat was. It took us 30 years to find out who he was, but Deep Throat, the supplier of information that brought down Nixon, was assistant director of the FBI.
This is where the trouble will begin now. The establishment people who want to protect the American Constitution will begin to leak. That’s for sure. And this is why Mr. Trump passed something of a Rubicon, I think. His allies, his enemies, I think feel that they can no longer trust him.
Solomon: Stephanie, what are the consequences of all this?
Stephanie Levitz: Craig’s point about Watergate is well taken. And I think Trump’s tweet about the tapes, I don’t think that was an accidental tweet. I don’t think he just fired it off thinking I’m going to use the word “tapes” just for fun.
He knows people are accusing him of Watergate, and he’s worried about it. And I think Craig’s point is well taken that there are a lot of people in the administration, we see them now already talking to the press. You look at even the conflicting timelines that have been published around when Comey actually got fired, how he got fired, when did he find out, when was the decision made. Trump says one thing, his spokespeople say another thing, the leakers say something else.
It’s throwing such a fog of confusion into all this, and perhaps that’s the point at the end of it -- just discredit, discredit, discredit.
Solomon: Are these kinds of situations damaging his credibility and his ability to actually get anything done?
Black: It’s more complicated than that. Let us remember this was a war. Donald declared war on all factions of both parties, virtually all the media, all of Hollywood, all of Wall Street, all the bureaucracy. Every adult in the District of Columbia -- 96 per cent of them -- voted against him.
It’s a war. It’s a drain-the-swamp attack. And the war has gone on. For the first time in 25 years, there’s no Bush, Obama or Clinton in Washington, but the war goes on. And part of it is the media attacking him all the time.
He has to go to social media. He has to tweet, because that’s the only avenue he has. The press will not treat him fairly or honestly, except for Fox, the Wall Street Journal and a couple of others. That’s why he has to do what he does.
Levitz: [Speaking over Conrad Black] Attacking the press is misunderstanding the role of the press in a democracy.
Black: And by the way, there’s no comparison whatsoever with Watergate. Nothing. Mr. Nixon did not commit a crime, some people did, in the national committee and in the White House staff. Nixon didn’t. There were leakers all the time. But at least there was a crime there somewhere.
And there isn’t here. There is no evidence of any. Nothing. It’s a confection. A fabrication.
Levitz: When people pivot to attack the press, and they say things like “the media is attacking us all the time” -- no. The media is holding the government to account. That is the media’s job and that is the role of the media’s job in a democracy.
And when the leader of a government in the free world attacks the media regularly, what they’re doing is attacking democracy and saying they don’t care about democracy because they don’t view the media as holding them accountable. They don’t want to be held to account.
Solomon: He said to cancel all future press briefings and hand out responses for “the sake of accuracy.” Again, some people thought that was a threat.
Black: The press has no constitutional right to speak to him, and he’s right when he calls the White House press the enemies of the people. That’s what they are. They’re liars.
Solomon: Conrad Black, you as a former press owner, I’m going to give you a chance to clarify. An enemy of the people is a traitor. This is a democracy, sir. You know it, I know it. That’s a bridge too far, no?
Black: It’s admittedly flamboyant but it’s been invited by their treatment of him. But not “enemy of the people” in the sense of a totalitarian state where you’re shot as a result of it. Merely misinforming the people. You don’t get shot, you don’t get fired, nothing happens. It is what it is.
Oliver: Where is the accountability then? If we’re going to end this period, that’s what I want to know. Whereabouts in America is somebody going to stand up and say, “We’ve got to stop this guy,” even though he’s the President of the United States and all of the power and influence that includes? He is becoming more authoritarian by the day. He’s knocking down every opposition to his presidency.
Black: Craig, he’s not violating his constitutional oath. You’re not going to stop him. Why do you want to stop him? He’s just doing his job. What are you trying to stop?
Oliver: I’m trying to stop him becoming increasingly authoritarian, knocking down one by one all of the checks and balances, if he can, that stand in the way of his presidential power.
Black: What are you talking about? He hasn’t knocked down any checks -- look, Craig, please. As we’ve discussed, we are experienced observers of these things. The Democrats went judge-shopping for some flaky left-wing Pacific-coast judges to claim an authority to countermand his constitutional authority over immigration. They wanted him to ignore the judge like Andrew Jackson did, so they could start talking about impeachment.
He went through due process. The Supreme Court is going to toss it out. It’s all nonsense. He isn’t attacking the system of checks and balances, he’s been absolutely faithful to the constitution.
And you shouldn’t be contributing to this poisoned atmosphere that there’s something of a Frankenstein’s monster about this guy. He has a mandate to clean up that sleaze factory in Washington.
Watch the full conversation on CTV's Question Period.