After Comey Firing, Trump's Hour of Reckoning

President Donald Trump attends a National Day of Prayer event at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on May 4, 2017. Carlos Barria/Reuters

The lights were burning unusually late in the West Wing last night, as the Trump family and advisers faced an inevitable hour of reckoning. It was always only a matter of time before the judicial branch caught up with the public dossier of investigative reporting on Donald Trump's long history of dubious business deals with Russia—his ties to Russian mobsters laundering money through New York real estate deals, the foreign bank loans to the multinational octopus of the Trump branding business—and connected it to Trump's personal appeal to the Russians last summer to hack Hillary Clinton.

Related: Why firing FBI Director James Comey could create major problems for President Donald Trump

Thanks to his lifetime of skirting, euphemistically, norms, the president has been living on borrowed time ever since his inauguration. He's no doubt more than dimly aware of this, but he probably thinks he can beat the clock, as he always has, with a mixture of bullying and luck. So he recently celebrated his first 100 days in office with vicious attacks on journalists (setting such a chilling tone that a journalist was jailed in West Virginia for shouting a question to the health and human services secretary), and then marked Day 110 with a "You're fired" message to FBI Director James Comey, in the form of a letter in a manila envelope delivered by Keith Schiller, the Trump Organization's personal ex–New York Police Department skull-cracker.

The accomplishments of Trump's first 100 days can be boiled down to what little work could be done while fretting over a scandal that has been ratcheting up to DEFCON 3, what with the congressional hearings regarding Russia, election hacks, Flynn, et al. The president strong-armed House Republicans into voting for what for some will probably be a career-killing health care bill just under the symbolic 100-day wire, paving the way for the "massive tax cuts" he has promised the billionaires who support him. He took steps toward Steve Bannon's dream of "deconstructing the administrative state" by leaving thousands of government positions unfilled, and by pushing through Cabinet secretaries whose sole aim seems to be to kill their agencies. He personally "saved" a couple hundred air-conditioned manufacturing jobs in Indiana. Took credit for it, anyway.

But while he was padding around the White House with the TV remote in hand, an insomniac roaming from a newly installed small refrigerator stocked with the Rocky Road ice cream he loves and then back to steam at the cable networks' coverage of his campaign's Russia connections, the legal branch of the government was beavering away night and day.

G-men don't sleep.

They don't need ice cream to keep going.

And they were closing in.

Just after the Comey firing, CNN reported Tuesday that a federal grand jury had been empaneled in the Eastern District of Virginia to look into the Russian connections. That news had actually been broken some weeks earlier by a Washington Democrat named Claude Taylor, whose tweets about the grand jury were dismissed, even by the liberal news site Daily Kos. Taylor, who once worked for the Clinton White House, was tweeting Tuesday night about a scenario that could be even more dire: "A source with knowledge of the investigation says that nine sealed indictments came down in one case with sixteen more expected in others." He also passed along rumors that the Trump family was moving money offshore—a completely un-checkable but wonderful image, redolent of "Baby Doc," Muammar el-Qaddafi, Saddam Hussein and all the other tin-pot family dictatorships. No one ever imagined such types would set up camp in the White House.

Is Taylor a broken clock, correct two times a day only accidentally? Or a well-sourced gadfly? Time will tell.

To be sure, a grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia is a long way from perp walks of one or more Trump associates in handcuffs. If Trump, as was rumored Wednesday morning, appoints Rudy Giuliani to head the FBI, that day will be delayed. But Congress must vet the former New York mayor, who has his own ethics issues. Giuliani hasn't been on TV much lately—either because his lawyers told him to keep his head down, or because he was waiting for this moment. Perhaps both.

If Giuliani is appointed, the fox will be running the henhouse. Giuliani was personally involved in setting up Comey to take this fall: Back in October, the former U.S. attorney gleefully predicted that something big was coming that would put Hillary Clinton out of business. "You'll see, and I think it will be enormously effective," he crowed.

When Comey dropped the last-minute Anthony-Weiner-laptop bombshell that arguably turned the election, Giuliani was coy. "I did nothing to get it out. I had no role in it," he told Fox & Friends. "Did I hear about it? You're darn right I heard about it, and I can't even repeat the language that I heard from the former FBI agents. I had expected this for the last, honestly, to tell you the truth, I thought it was going to be about three or four weeks ago, because way back in July this started. They kept getting stymied looking for subpoenas, looking for records."

On Tuesday, Trump's Department of Justice used the excuse of that October surprise announcement about Weiner's laptop and Huma Abedin's emails as part of its rationale for firing Comey.

But why did Comey make such a perilously bad judgment call back in October in the first place?

Look no further than the New York office of the FBI, where a bunch of Giuliani's buddies since his days as U.S. attorney had their hands on Weiner's laptop. It was their obsession and their leakiness that gave Comey reason to believe that if he did not take the essentially meaningless "new evidence" to Congress, he would be roasted on a spit by the same Republican congressional committees and their privately funded right-wing Freedom of Information Act machines, like Judicial Watch.

One question to ask: Who told Comey that Abedin had forwarded "hundreds of thousands" of State Department emails to Weiner's laptop? Where did he get that number and that idea, which the FBI had to formally correct Tuesday and ostensibly preceded his firing?

The director of the FBI—especially a Boy Scout like Comey—doesn't just invent that kind of minutiae for Congress. Someone handed him a briefing paper on it.

Thanks to the security state we are now living in, we will probably never know who did so, unless a very brave and foolhardy someone decides to step up and risk criminal charges for leaking.

Which brings us full circle back to the issue of the moment: The judicial branch of the U.S. government is closing in on Donald Trump. We, the public, have been watching Kabuki theater (or a Punch and Judy puppet show), the government blasting us with song, dance and zany script. Now, the hand is being revealed.

Here's what we can see, today, on the other side of the Oz-like spigot of denials and magical thinking:

In addition to the CNN story on the grand jury, we know that the FBI is actively investigating ties between Trump officials and the Russian hackers. Comey revealed as much to the House Intelligence Committee in March. Beyond that, we know that the active investigation also pertains to Trump's explicit call for Russian hacking help, thanks to FOIAs filed by two investigative journalists.

We also know that Trump, who entered office engaged in no less than 3,500 pieces of litigation, will try to use lawyers and the courts to stifle questions about his business deals with Russia. Hours before he fired Comey, he put Senator Lindsey Graham—who had been looking into his Russia connections—on notice that he had hired a D.C. attorney to put an end to such questions.

It's possible that threat will intimidate the mild-mannered Graham. He told reporters on the Hill yesterday: "This is nothing new here. I'm not a prosecutor. But if you ask me if I want to know if there are any Trump business ties to Russia that are inappropriate, the answer would be 'yes.'"

Graham also expressed interest in Trump's tax records but did not say he would be willing to subpoena them, according to CNN.

In addition to hiring the lawyer, Trump had his White House spokesman, Sean Spicer, telling reporters Tuesday: "He has no business in Russia; he has no connections to Russia."

Move along, people. Nothing to see here.

The trouble is, there is so much to see here, even when obscured by the national security classifications shrouding the FBI, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and the congressional intelligence committees.

Last week, it was revealed that Eric Trump in 2014 bragged to a golf writer that Russians were financing the family golf courses. The younger Trump promptly denied the report, calling the writer, in effect, a liar.

But then what to make of Eric's brother Donald Jr., who famously marveled in 2008: "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia."

And what to make of the 63 Russian billionaires who have invested $100 million in Trump properties in Florida?

And what to make of the web of ties to Russian mobsters and oligarchs revealed in the tour de force of financial forensics by the journalist James Henry, titled "​The Curious World of Donald Trump's Private Russian Connections"?

Until quite recently, the Trumps themselves casually revealed their Russian connections, in the sons' boasts and in Donald Trump's own "joke" when he asked for Russian hacking help.

It has always been only a matter of time before the system—the hated, cumbersome system, the administrative state with all of its regulators and its subpoena powers—caught up with the family banter and with the great, dogged investigative journalists who have tracked down the knowable facts.

It's hard to imagine how Giuliani can put all that back in the magician's black box and replace what evidence is in the grand jury record with alternative facts. But one imagines Trump sat up late Tuesday night, suckling on Rocky Road, forcing himself to believe Rudy, or whoever he puts in charge of the FBI, can do it.