In dueling memos, we are seeing President Trump in panic mode

Less than a week after delivering a State of the Union address extending an olive branch, the president of the United States has used it to try to bludgeon an opponent, this time tweeting a smear against Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.). Trump called the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee “Little Adam Schiff” (I guess we’re running out of original insults), followed by a veiled threat that he “Must be stopped!” (Full disclosure: Schiff and I are very close friends and I have supported his congressional campaigns.)’

The State of the Union might be strong, but the state of President Trump seems to be sheer panic. The tweet about Schiff, combined with his behavior around the release of the Nunes memo, reveals a president in relentless fear of facts, consumed with discrediting, defaming and distracting. Now, the president has boxed himself in a scenario where he must decide whether to declassify and release a countervailing memo by Schiff and other House Democrats. The president’s attack on Schiff is vintage Trump — damage the messenger, muddle the message.

{mosads}You don’t have to be a criminal profiler to see behavior that suggests Trump is acting, well, really guilty. He reminds me of comedian Martin Short’s character, Nathan Thurm, on “Saturday Night Live” years ago. Thurm was the chainsmoking, perspiring, laughably defensive character struggling for poise against irrefutable facts.

Thurm’s on-camera technique included these lines: “I’m not being defensive! You’re the one who’s being defensive! Why is always the other person who’s being defensive? Have you ever asked yourself that? Why don’t you ask yourself that?” Or, I think of that child who refuses to let you into his or her room, barricades the door and proclaims there’s nothing wrong inside. Chances are, you force open the door.

Until all the facts are in and various investigations completed, we should reserve judgment on whether the president colluded with Russians in order to protect his financial or other interests in Russia. Or whether he sought to change U.S. policy in illegal or inappropriate ways. Or whether he obstructed justice. But his approach to accusations that he considers baseless doesn’t exactly exude innocence.

To recap, the man who has nothing to hide. Trump fired the FBI director for meandering and contradictory reasons, first claiming that he did it because James Comey was too tough on Hillary Clinton, and then because of the frivolity of the Russia investigation (not to mention the next day telling Russian officials that the firing had relieved “great pressure” on him).

He fired Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, after making a series of highly unusual phone calls to Bharara following the election. He unleashed rage at his attorney general’s decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, impeding his ability to control it.

Trump asked the deputy attorney general, who is the top official in the Justice Department on the Russia investigation, if he was “on my team.” He routinely attacks the FBI, reportedly pressuring FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe to resign, which occurred last week.

He declassified and released the suspect “Nunes memo” (against the advice of his intelligence and Justice Department officials) and then immediately proclaimed it to represent his vindication, only to have his assertion rebuffed by many House Republicans. He now tweets that the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee “must be stopped.”

Do these seem like the actions of a man who has nothing to hide? No reason to fear? No. This is a president seeming to live in fear and loathing, one who is willing to go to extraordinary and even dangerous lengths to protect himself from an investigation he insists has no merit. This is a president who doesn’t simply try to sweep away inconvenient facts but, instead, uses the broom to club those pursuing the facts.

This is a president and a presidency in panic. Why? The question could probably be better answered by an unimpeded independent investigation running its course, rather than by a panicked early-morning tweet.

Steve Israel represented New York in Congress for 16 years. His next novel, “Big Guns,” will be published in April 2018.

Tags Adam Schiff Andrew McCabe Congress Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Investigation James Comey Justice Department Preet Bharara Steve Israel White House

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