The New York Times Editorial Board speaks up:
It is often at moments of crisis that Americans get the clearest glimpses of a president’s character, and this week they had the chance to learn a good deal about the true Donald Trump after his abrupt decision to fire James Comey, the F.B.I. director.
Mr. Trump’s actions and the disclosures by those close to him revealed this president to be an insecure, fearful man who can’t eat or place a phone call without a backdrop of fawning aides. Rather than cultivate experienced, strong-minded advisers who might challenge his views, Mr. Trump prefers to govern by impulse and edict, demanding absurd pledges of “loyalty.”
Americans learned that Mr. Trump gave his bodyguard’s opinion on the Comey matter as much weight as any adviser’s, if not more. They saw that he was comfortable humiliating aides by flatly contradicting their accounts of his decision-making.
They saw, as many of them had no doubt suspected, that he has a limited understanding of, or respect for, the constitutional responsibilities of public officials. During a January dinner in the White House, in which Mr. Trump apparently tried and failed to extract a vow of loyalty from Mr. Comey, the president gave no sign of grasping the federal statute binding both men: “Public service is a public trust, requiring employees to place loyalty to the Constitution, the laws and ethical principles above private gain.” To Mr. Trump, “loyalty” meant abandoning an investigation into foreign interference in the last election.
Americans were also presented with a president obsessively watching cable television news and attacking imagined enemies. On the day before he fired Mr. Comey, according to Time magazine journalists who were in the White House with him, Mr. Trump surfed through recorded clips of Senate testimony about the Russia investigation, playing and replaying segments that he insisted backed up his false claims of Obama administration wiretapping, as Vice President Mike Pence and several aides stood by silently. Scouring testimony by Sally Yates, the acting attorney general he fired, and James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, Mr. Trump gloated that they were choking “like dogs.” Later, over a dinner in which he got two scoops of ice cream to everyone else’s one, he marveled without irony at his critics’ “meanness.”
Americans read about Mr. Trump ranting at his big-screen TV, demanding that reporters stop focusing on Russia and that the F.B.I. focus not on foreign meddling but on leaks to the media. On NBC, they watched Mr. Trump belittle Mr. Comey as a “showboat.” They witnessed his bizarre effort to silence Mr. Comey by threatening to release “tapes” of their White House dinner — this from a man who has railed about imagined efforts by the Obama administration to “tapp” him.
And Americans were treated to yet another portrait of ineptitude so surreal as to qualify as a kind of performance art, or maybe slapstick. What other White House would schedule a visit by the Russian foreign minister and ambassador on the day after Mr. Trump fired the man in charge of investigating his campaign’s ties to Russia? What other White House would bar the American media while admitting a Russian state photographer? What other White House would be astonished that the Russians would then distribute photos of their officials backslapping the grinning Mr. Trump inside the Oval Office?
It was a potent demonstration that Moscow has this president’s measure. Let’s hope that’s all it’s got on him.
This Editorial was originally published at the New York Times.