In times of trouble, President Trump tends to comfort himself by opening up his Twitter account and shooting himself in the foot. For instance, several days into the scandal over James Comey’s firing, Trump tweeted that the FBI director “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” This sparked a new round of Nixon comparisons and congressional requests for any secret White House recordings. Just this week, Trump prepared for the Supreme Court to rule on his travel restrictions by tweeting that it is indeed a “travel ban,” undermining his own case.
There was every reason to expect an epic Twitter meltdown on Thursday, when Comey appeared before Congress to describe Trump’s potential attempts to obstruct justice during their private interactions. White House sources admitted that they were worried, saying they were purposely trying to keep the president occupied, “But if he wants to watch it, it’s not like we can say, ‘oh, the TV doesn’t work.’”
“He’s not going to take an attack by James Comey laying down,” teased Roger Stone, Trump’s former political adviser. “Trump is a fighter, he’s a brawler and he’s the best counter puncher in American politics.”
Then Trump remained quiet — for him, at least. As Comey was testifying, Trump told a ballroom full of conservative Christian evangelicals, “We are under siege,” but would wind up better than ever. “We know how to fight better than anybody and we never give up,” he said. “We are winners and we are going to fight.”
Trump left the counter-punching mostly to his personal attorney Marc Kasowitz. He read a scathing statement to the press in which he gloated about Comey’s confirmation that he told Trump he wasn’t personally under investigation and branded Comey as a “leaker,” suggesting he may have lied under oath.
According to the Washington Post, the president’s uncharacteristic restraint was the work of Kasowitz and several top White House advisers, including Chief of Staff Reince Preibus and Counsel Donald McGahn. Sources say they successfully argued that Kasowitz and the hastily assembled RNC war room would defend the president as vigorously as he’d defend himself.
“Kasowitz was able to persuade the president that he would not give a Washington-style, tepid defense,” said one top Republican who’s close to the White House. “Trump’s big charge with his staff is that they don’t defend him aggressively. And Kasowitz convinced him that not only will I defend you, but I will attack Comey where there’s room to.”
Trump went along with his staff’s efforts to keep him distracted from the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing. The New York Times reports that he only watched about 45 minutes of Comey’s testimony, mostly in the presence of Kasowitz and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Several Trump supporters praised him for not unleashing a string of self-destructive tweets.
“It shows the president understands the possible legal ramifications,” Sam Nunberg, a former Trump campaign adviser, told the Post. “Everybody was waiting for the tweets, but there was nothing to gain. It’s important that Kasowitz, who is rough around the edges, was guiding him. Trump trusts he’s not trying to settle, so he will listen.”
“He avoided any temptation to respond to what the Democrats were saying,” added Republican representative Peter King. “I think they convinced him there was no reason for him to say anything, to not get bogged down in the swamp. Be presidential, go out and do the job, and don’t take the bait.”
By early on Friday morning, Trump’s Twitter account had been silent since Wednesday at 8 a.m. According to the Post’s Philip Bump, this is the third-longest stretch without a Trump tweet since he declared his candidacy, and the longest since the inauguration.
But some aides doubt that the leader of the free world can control himself for an entire weekend. Per the Times:
The relief, they fear, might be short-lived. Aides were bracing for some kind of Twitter eruption on Thursday night or early Friday. Aides expected the president to either watch the full hearing later in the day on TiVo, or — potentially worse — simply skip to coverage on Fox News or CNN, where Mr. Comey’s most damaging comments were playing on a loop.
The Post noted, “Sometimes Trump takes hours or even days before launching tweetstorms, taking time to absorb and stew over how an event is being covered in the media before responding.”
So either Kasowitz has finally managed to rein in Trump’s Twitter habit, or this is just the calm before the tweetstorm.