He Said, He Said

By

Leonard Zwelling

No one is quite sure what to believe about the one-on-one meeting between President Trump and James Comey at which Mr. Trump “hoped” out loud that Mr. Comey would go easy on Michael Flynn, his just resigned Director of National Intelligence. It is reasonable that Comey took the hope as an order. It is equally reasonable that Trump simply expressed a preference. That difference will be up to Robert Mueller, the Special Prosecutor, to sort out.

Have you ever been in a he said, he said? Or he said, she said? Or she said, she said? I have.

Early in the DePinho reign, the slides from a faculty meeting made it to the Cancer Letter pages. I can’t even remember what the slides were about. Perhaps it was faculty unrest which had yet to peak at that point of the DePinho years.

Dr. DePinho invited me and the chair and vice chair of the Faculty Senate to his office to regale us with what institutional loyalty is and to single me out for castigation for leaking the slides.

I said something like, the editor of the Cancer Letter is my friend. And is going to stay my friend. But I didn’t leak anything to anyone. I didn’t even have copies of the slides and had missed the faculty meeting. Now I had witnesses that day to the rudeness with which I was met by the then president and his false accusations. Thus, it wasn’t a he said, he said in the standard sense, but I surely felt backed into a corner by the uneven power distribution in the room. By then I had faced far meaner guys than Ron DePinho—on Capitol Hill. To be honest, I blew him off, but I also pissed him off. Not a great career move.

Such encounters have not been at all rare for me. In administration, you are always in confrontational situations. I learned early to try to not be in them alone. That does not preclude people assuming what you did or said, but at least when I had to say or do something unpleasant, I tried to have a witness.

Genie wisely took a similar strategy into a meeting she feared was to fire her. She was correct. She brought Dr. Kripke with her and when Drs. Dmitrovsky and Buchholz did put a letter of resignation in front of her for her to sign without giving any reason, Margaret had the presence of mind to ask for a time out, ask the Bobble Heads to leave, and to develop a strategy for a peaceful exit for Genie.

The country is about to go through a similar he said, he said moment. If there are tapes, which I doubt, they will be revealing, I suspect, and the president’s remarks in the Rose Garden news conference on Friday June 9 suggests to me, that no tapes exist and prosecutor Mueller may have a tough time discerning the intent of the president’s words to Director Comey.

When a past president, Nixon, said things in the Oval Office that led to his resignation, it was the tapes that sealed his fate. If there are no tapes this time, it may be tough to prove obstruction of justice unless Comey’s dismissal itself and an email trail about it reveals what the president or his men were thinking.

Similarly, there is little doubt that people working for Mr. Trump may have had inappropriate contact with the Russians before Mr. Trump was in office that could have undermined the effectiveness of sanctions put into place in the waning days of the Obama Administration. Is this a crime? Was Trump aware of said actions?

All of this is likely to play out over the coming weeks and months. And in the interim, Congress may get absolutely nothing done. What a shame!

Leonard Zwelling