I teach on Mondays. I’m knee-deep in academic work. So, I figured, today seemed like a good day to avoid the news. Turns out that, in the Trump era, today is never a good day to go offline.
I mean, the FBI’s Deputy Director, Andrew McCabe, is being forced out. This comes less than a week after media reports that the FBI Director threatened to resign when ordered to fire him, and with the president publicly attacking him on Twitter.
Of course, now that McCabe’s gone, the crazy stories are leaking like some kind of bad metaphor. Consider this one, which is batshit.
The day after he fired James Comey as director of the FBI, a furious President Donald Trump called the bureau’s acting director, Andrew McCabe, demanding to know why Comey had been allowed to fly on an FBI plane from Los Angeles back to Washington after he was dismissed, according to multiple people familiar with the phone call.
McCabe told the president he hadn’t been asked to authorize Comey’s flight, but if anyone had asked, he would have approved it, three people familiar with the call recounted to NBC News.
The president was silent for a moment and then turned on McCabe, suggesting he ask his wife how it feels to be a loser — an apparent reference to a failed campaign for state office in Virginia that McCabe’s wife made in 2015.
McCabe replied, “OK, sir.” Trump then hung up the phone.
Did I say batshit? That’s nothing. Have you been over to right-wing social media? Because, if you dare, you’ll find out that McCabe is about to be implicated by “the memo,” a document so sensitive that even ranking Senate Republicans aren’t allowed to see it. That’s just how Secret Squirrel David Nunes, a man of total integritude, is.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration is trying its best to avoid the impression that something weird is up with Trump and Russia. And by “trying its best,” I mean, not even bothering to try.
Is that fair? Who knows. No time to digest. There’s even more lunacy.
Trump’s outburst capped a week where Trump and senior White House officials personally reproached Attorney General Jeff Sessions and asked White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to speak to others — episodes that illustrate Trump’s preoccupation with the Justice Department, according to two of the people.
Trump warned Sessions and others they need to excel at their jobs or go down as the worst in history, the two people said.
The incidents — and the extraordinary level of Trump’s personal involvement with Justice Department officials on the matter — are the latest signs of the growing pressure on Trump as a federal investigation into him, his campaign and his administration stretches into its second year.
Trump met with Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray at the White House last Monday to discuss missing text messages sent between two FBI agents who had expressed anti-Trump views. One of the agents later left his investigation and Mueller removed the other after learning of the texts.
Kelly held separate meetings or phone calls with senior Justice Department officials last Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to convey Trump’s displeasure and lecture them on the White House’s expectations, according to the people. Kelly has taken to ending such conversations with a disclaimer that the White House isn’t expecting officials to do anything illegal or unethical.
In his defense, perhaps Kelly is just trying to thread the needle between total politicization and preservation of the rule of law? I don’t think it really matters. It’s all terrible.
The defense of [Assistant Attorney General] Rosenstein represents an imperative for everyone who is concerned about the Trump administration’s predations against the independence of law enforcement…. Let me explain: As I write this, on a plane with a spotty internet connection, NBC has reported that Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe is stepping aside—weeks earlier than expected. Only days ago it was reported that FBI Director Chris Wray threatened to resign rather than remove McCabe before his scheduled retirement in March. What’s more, CBS reports that McCabe was forced out. I’ll have more to say on this as the story of McCabe’s departure becomes clearer.
The McCabe news also follows a flurry of reports, first from CNN and then from the Washington Post, that Trump was upset with Rosenstein and thinking of firing him over the “memo” being hawked by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes. And it comes the same day the New York Times reported that that memo specifically targets Rosenstein for approving an FBI request to the FISA court to extend the monitoring of former Trump adviser Carter Page that began in the fall of 2016. Trump has previously voiced frustration with Rosenstein over the deputy attorney general’s appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel, and the Post writes that the president views the memo as an excuse to fire Rosenstein or ratchet up pressure on him to leave.
Let’s be clear about the significance of the current New York Times story—and about why the defense of Rosenstein has become so crucial. The Times story strips away the nonsense that L’Affaire Russe exists in some cloud of original sin owing to some origins in the dossier compiled by former British intelligence operative Christopher Steele. The Times is reporting that what Trump calls “the Trump Justice Department”—for all the president’s lies about the FBI and law enforcement—believed in spring 2017 that there was still probable cause to conduct surveillance against Page.
In other words, to believe—as so many Trump defenders seem to—that there is something defective about the Mueller investigation, one has to believe not merely that the Obama administration conducted inappropriate surveillance against the Trump campaign based on laundered opposition research from the Democratic National Committee. You also have to believe that the Trump administration itself is still doing it. You have to believe—or have to choose to believe—that Rosenstein is a corrupt actor out to get the president.
That belief is a political choice. It is a political choice to accept a big lie that the president and his defenders have been peddling for months about federal law enforcement and intelligence.
This is the time when I usually write something like “it is increasingly clear that a majority of Republicans aren’t just willing to let Trump burn it all down, they’ll happily bring gasoline and s’mores to the institutional bonfire.”
But, you know, this has been obvious for at least a year.
Meanwhile, concerned onlookers are waiting for the “Saturday Night Massacre (2018).” Which raises an interesting question? What if Trump were to remove an FBI director in an effort to block an investigation, but accidentally made things worse for himself? Oh, right. That already happened.
Well, I guess it’s not like Trump has put on an actual Nixon mask and fired his own special prosector. If he does, he’ll do it without the Nixon mask. So it will be totally different.
And even if Trump goes there, what are the odds that Senate Republicans follow through on their stern warnings? If you haven’t noticed, right-wing media—and plenty of elected GOP officials—are working overtime to prime the base for the president to remove not just Mueller, but anyone who even occasionally hints that the Department of Justice isn’t actually Trump’s personal legal defense team.
Hell, the base is demanding it. They want blood. They think that the vast deep-state conspiracy shall soon unravel. Trump will purge the conspirators in a fire of righteousness. The country shall be delivered from evil.
Trump may believe all of this himself. After all, he gets his information from the same places that they do.
So let’s say that Trump crosses some line in the sand and, in doing so, turns a signifiant number of GOP officials against him. Or that the Democrats ride a wave in 2018 and, in a coalition with the vertebrate-curious caucus, hold Trump to account. As a friend once put it, Trump’s not going to go quietly into the night. We’re going to have to thread some serious needles for this moment in American history to end well.
UPDATE: Transparency for me, but not for thee. What a scam.