President Donald Trump hasn’t taken questions from the White House press corps since May 18. That’s 22 days ago. That will change later today when he holds a joint press conference with Romanian President Klaus Iohanni.
Typically in these sorts of joint pressers, the American media gets two questions and the foreign press gets two questions. But I’ve got a lot more than just two questions that Trump really needs to answer.
Below are the 9 questions Trump could — and should — be asked this afternoon.
1. “Did you record anything? Are there tapes?”
Back on May 12, Trump tweeted: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” That was just 72 hours after he had fired the FBI director in a move that rocked Washington. Between that tweet and today, the White House has offered no additional confirmation or denial of a secret taping system. None.
“Well, that I can’t talk about,” Trump said of the possibility of a recording system at the White House. “I won’t talk about that.”
Given that he and Comey, who was under oath, are now painting very different pictures of their interactions, Trump simply refusing to answer questions about a secret taping system isn’t really an option.
2. “Do you regret that May 12 ‘tapes’ tweet? Or any tweet you have sent?”
The May 12 tweet backs Trump into a corner. If he is secretly recording conversations, it’s going to be very difficult for those tapes not to be released. If he isn’t recording meetings and phone calls, then why did he float the idea that he might be? To intimidate Comey or keep him from talking? Trump’s Twitter feed is the tip of the spear when it comes to his self-inflicted wounds. He has been urged to stop tweeting by almost every Republican in the country. Nevertheless, he persists. Why? And can he acknowledge that some of the tweets he sends — like the “tapes” one or the one alleging President Obama wiretapped him — are simply ill-advised or wrong?
3. “Do you have confidence in Attorney General Jeff Sessions?”
Earlier this week, a series of stories emerged portraying the relationship between the President and his top cop as decidedly strained. Sessions even offered to resign. In Comey’s testimony on Thursday, he ran down Sessions on several occasions — once suggesting he couldn’t in a public session explain why he knew the AG would recuse himself on the Russia probe and also noting that Sessions did nothing to stop Trump from repeatedly reaching out to him about the Russia probe. Asked this week about whether Trump has confidence in Sessions, White House mouthpieces have offered pap like “the President has confidence in all of his Cabinet.” So …
4. “Do you believe in global warming?”
Trump has a long record — as a private citizen and as a presidential candidate — of expressing deep skepticism of global warming. He famously/infamously tweeted in 2012 that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” In the wake of his decision last week to pull the US out of the Paris climate accords, administration officials were repeatedly quizzed by reporters about whether Trump’s views on climate change have, um, changed. With the exception of UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, who told CNN’s Jake Tapper that “President Trump believes the climate is changing and he believes pollutants are part of the equation,” there have been precious few allies of the president willing to speak up. Now is Trump’s chance to clear up his views once and for all.
5. “You responded ‘no’ when asked if you asked Comey to end the Flynn investigation. Did you say you ‘hoped’ he could end it? And is there a difference?”
The Trump White House — and Republican elected officials who continue, generally speaking, to stand by the President — are pinning a whole lot on the fact that Trump said he “hoped” Comey would find a way to end the investigation into the former national security adviser. Here’s Idaho Sen. Jim Risch making that point in his questioning of Comey on Thursday: “(Trump) said, I hope … Do you know of any case where a person has been charged for obstruction of justice or, for that matter, any other criminal offense, where they said or thought they hoped for an outcome?” Comey responded that regardless of the words Trump used that it was clear his intention was to ask for the investigation to be closed. Why doesn’t Trump agree?
6. “British Prime Minister Theresa May has been one of your staunchest foreign defenders. In the final days of the UK election, you became an issue for her due to your comments about the London attacks. What message do you take from May’s setback?”
May was the first foreign leader to visit the Trump White House — despite the fact that the American President is deeply unpopular in the United Kingdom. Trump became a much more problematic figure for May as the UK campaign wore on — and as he attacked London Mayor Sadiq Khan as “pathetic” in the wake of the London terror attacks. Trump has been more than willing to claim credit for past election results — he called Brexit, remember! Would he throw May under the bus? Or own a part of her loss?
7. “When you praised Saudi Arabia for severing all ties to Qatar due to allegations that the country finances terrorism, were you aware that Qatar also houses the largest US base in the region?
On Tuesday morning, Trump sent two tweets. “So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding…,” read the first. “…extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!,” he continued. The tweets followed hard on the decision by several Arab nations to cut diplomatic relations with Qatar due to suspected terrorist financing ties. By Wednesday, Trump appeared to reverse course. He spoke to the Qatari Emir and offered to broker peace between the nations. So, which is it? Did Trump simply change his position? Or did he not know about the US interests in Qatar when he tweeted?
8. “Speaker Paul Ryan defended your meetings with Comey by saying, ‘he’s new to this.’ Is Speaker Ryan accurate in that assessment?”
Ryan’s comments on Thursday are the latest attempt by Republican establishment types to grade Trump on a curve. He’s an outsider! He’s never been president before! He’s learning on the job! While that strikes me as a less-than-convincing explanation — Trump ran for the job and got elected to the job so it’s not unreasonable to think he would do the legwork to do the job — it’s also one that could help Trump wiggle out of what looks like a very tight spot in regards what he told Comey. At the same time, Trump is a very proud guy, who does not like to admit, ever, that he doesn’t know exactly what he is doing. So, which road would he take?
9. “You and your attorney, Marc Kasowitz, said that Comey falsely testified under oath about his conversations with you. Will you testify under oath about your conversations with Mr Comey?”
It’s one thing to accuse someone else of lying. It’s another to accuse them of lying under oath, which is what Trump and Kasowitz have done. Lying under oath means you could wind up in jail. Remember, too, that Trump and Comey are not playing by the same rules. Comey has testified under oath about his meetings and interactions with Trump. Trump has done done the same in regards those same meetings.