Former FBI Director James Comey says he could hear something familiar when he met with President Donald Trump, and it wasn’t nice.
“I had a flashback to my days investigating the Mafia, La Cosa Nostra,” he told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos in a special edition of 20/20 focusing on the former G-man’s new memoir.
That caught my ear because I, too, had noticed a striking similarity between Trump and his inner circle to mob bosses I have covered or, more often, seen in movies and television shows.
Maybe organized crime is too convenient a metaphor for Trump’s leadership style. The world that Trump has constructed for himself is secretive, autocratic and tough-minded with him at the top as the chief tough guy.
Stephanopoulos: “How strange is it for you to sit here and compare the president to a mob boss?”
Comey: “Very strange. And I don’t do it lightly. I — and I’m not trying to, by the way, suggest that President Trump is out breaking legs and — you know, shaking down shopkeepers.
“But instead, what I’m talking about is that leadership culture constantly comes back to me when I think about my experience with the Trump administration,” Comey continued. “The — the loyalty oaths, the boss as the dominant center of everything, it’s all about how do you serve the boss, what’s in the boss’ interests. That’s why it reminds me so much and not, ‘So what’s the right thing for the country and what are the values of the institutions that we’re dealing with?’”
That L-word, loyalty, resonates with Comey. He was fired by Trump last year, with the administration saying the firing stemmed from Comey’s handling of the investigation into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Two days later Trump turned that message on its head by telling NBC’s Lester Holt that he was planning to fire Comey anyway, which sounds to many ears like a deliberate obstruction of justice.
Yet, even as various scandals have unfolded in and around Trump’s inner circle, we hear more about the importance of loyalty from some of his own team than we do about whether Trump is innocent of wrongdoing. Asked by NBC’s Katy Tur if there’s “any chance” that Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen would end up cooperating with federal investigators who recently raided his office and home, former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci said no, because Cohen “is a very loyal person.”
You might think that a Trump spokesperson would argue for presuming Trump’s innocence. But, no, in Trumpworld, it’s more significant that his aides and advisers are loyal to him — as if they followed the “omerta” vow of Mafia secrecy described in Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather.”
Cohen is a pivotal figure who has taken center stage in the investigations surrounding Trump. Known as Trump’s fixer, Cohen has called himself the president’s personal “Tom Hagen,” the consigliere (counselor) to boss Don Vito Corleone and played by Robert Duvall in the movie version of “The Godfather.”
But now he has his own problems to fix. He is under federal investigation for possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations.
That last suspicion arose after reports that Cohen paid adult-film star Stormy Daniels $130,000 just before the 2016 presidential election to clam up about an affair she allegedly had with Trump in 2006. She recently has tried to void that agreement.
Gangster style has surrounded Trump’s affairs for a long time. Federal investigators looking into Russia’s meddling in our 2016 elections and now the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, which led the raids on Cohen’s home and office, may shed some new light on how much the Trumpian gangster style is just style and how much might be the real thing.
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Writes for Tribune Content Agency.