Imagine you are the president of the United States. Now, imagine you have just fired the director of the FBI, for a nonsensical rationale. You are being accused of firing the director in order to stifle an investigation into your campaign’s ties to Russia, in a move a wide range of critics are calling Nixonian. What do you do?
If you are Donald Trump, the answer is clear: You make sure the first people you’re seen with are a pair of Russian officials and Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s former right-hand man.
In a crisis, a president has several options. He can act contrite. He can go on the offensive. He can simply hunker down and try to let it blow over. But Trump’s favorite option is often simply to troll.
How else to interpret his moves Wednesday? The meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was long planned, of course, but Trump chose to fire Comey on the eve of the meeting, and could have done it at another time. Joining them in the Oval Office was Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergei Kislyak. It’s not surprising that the ambassador would be present, but his presence adds some depth to the proceeding. Trump’s first national-security adviser, Michael Flynn, was fired in February for lying about his conversations with Kislyak. He had spoken with the diplomat in December about new U.S. sanctions on Russia, but Flynn lied to Vice President Pence about what they’d discussed. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, meanwhile, had to recuse himself from investigations into Russian interference after acknowledging that he had failed to disclose a meeting with Kislyak to Congress during his confirmation process.