Alone in the White House in recent days, President Trump — frustrated and defiant — has been spoiling for a fight, according to his confidants and associates.
Glued even more than usual to the cable news shows that blare from the televisions in his private living quarters, or from the 60-inch flat screen he had installed in his cramped study off the Oval Office, he has fumed about “fake news.” Trump has seethed as his agenda has stalled in Congress and the courts. He has chafed against the pleas for caution from his lawyers and political advisers, tweeting whatever he wants, whenever he wants.
And on Thursday, the president will come screen-to-screen with the former FBI director he fired, James B. Comey, who has consumed, haunted and antagonized him by overseeing an expanding Russia investigation that the president slammed as a “witch hunt.”
Comey’s testimony is a political Super Bowl — with television networks interrupting regular programming to air it, and some Washington offices and bars making plans for special viewings.
Trump is keen to be a participant rather than just another viewer, two senior White House officials said, including the possibility of taking to Twitter to offer acerbic commentary during the hearing.
“I wish him good luck,” the president told reporters on Tuesday.
“He’s infuriated at a deep-gut, personal level that the elite media has tolerated [the Russia story] and praised Comey,” former House speaker Newt Gingrich said. “He’s not going to let some guy like that smear him without punching him as hard as he can.”
This account of Trump’s mind-set and the preparations of his team in the run-up to Comey’s testimony is based on interviews with 20 White House officials, Trump friends and other senior Republicans, many of whom spoke only on the condition of anonymity to offer candid perspectives.
The president’s lawyers and aides have been urging him to resist engaging, and they hope to keep him busy Thursday with other events meant to compete for his — and the news media’s — attention.
“The president’s going to have a very, very busy day,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said. “I think his focus is going to be on pursuing the agenda and the priorities that he was elected to do.”
As of now, Trump’s Thursday morning — when Comey is scheduled to start testifying — is open. He plans to deliver a 12:30 p.m. speech at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s conference in Washington, followed by a 3:30 p.m. meeting with governors and mayors on infrastructure projects.