The timing of Trump’s political grilling of Andrew McCabe is the most problematic of all

We just found out Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe received treatment from President Trump that has become oh-so-familiar to leading law enforcement officials: They are asked to do or respond to something with clear political and personal overtones, and are left uncomfortable about the whole thing.

The list of those who have similar stories is long, and it’s getting significantly longer this month. It includes James B. ComeySally YatesPreet Bharara and Jeff Sessions. And before the news about McCabe this week, there was yet another FBI director — the current one, Christopher A. Wray — who resisted Trump’s efforts to get him to push out McCabe. So just to sum up, that’s now all three of Trump’s FBI directors (including an acting one), along with both of his attorneys general (including one acting one). Noticing a pattern?

.. Trump asked McCabe about whom he voted for in the 2016 election and pressed him on his wife’s Democratic campaign for Virginia state legislature right after Trump dismissed Comey:

The Oval Office meeting happened shortly after Trump fired Comey following failed efforts by the president to get the FBI director to back off from the Russia probe. Before the May 9 dismissal, Trump had also sought a loyalty oath from Comey and was annoyed that the FBI director would not state publicly at the time that Trump was not personally under investigation.

If there was one moment in Trump’s presidency in which his apparent efforts to affect the Russia investigation came to the fore, the firing of Comey was it. The White House quickly struggled to explain the firing, giving conflicting signals. And then Trump told Lester Holt of NBC News that he fired Comey with the Russia probe on his mind.

.. It was at this juncture that Trump decided to invite McCabe, the man in line to serve as Comey’s temporary replacement, to the Oval Office and decided to do almost precisely what Comey said Trump did to him: Hint at the idea that an FBI director should be loyal to the president. The parallels are striking.

.. Legally speaking, it’s difficult to know whether asking who McCabe voted for or venting frustration about Jill McCabe is particularly damning when it comes to Robert Mueller’s investigation into potential obstruction of justice; we’re in uncharted legal territory here, and it’s not even clear what the standard is for a president obstructing justice. But it does fit with a clear and unmistakable pattern of Trump digging into whether top law enforcement officials would be loyal to him or otherwise asking them to do things that could benefit him personally in that investigation. And it suggests the effort continued almost immediately after Comey’s dismissal.
.. In the case of Comey and Sessions, Trump has been very upfront about how he desired such loyalty.
.. Trump fired Yates, Bharara and Comey, and he clearly wants to be rid of both Sessions and McCabe. The sixth — Wray — threatened to resign, according to some reports. All of them resisted Trump, and most of them have paid for that.
.. The McCabe situation is apparently of interest to Mueller’s investigation. And if nothing else, the timing of it fills out the picture of a president with a very consistent — and consistently problematic — stance toward his top law enforcement officials. The fact that Trump did this in the heat of the Comey firestorm suggests the pattern may be bigger than we know.

Preet Bharara Reads Bob Mueller’s Tea Leaves

A former top prosecutor gives his informed take on the special counsel’s investigation.

.. “Hard to tell, but the George Papadopoulos guilty plea tells us
  • (a) Mueller is moving fast,
  • (b) the Mueller team keeps secrets well,
  • (c) more charges should be expected and
  • (d) this team takes obstruction and lying very, very seriously,”
.. “I don’t talk about the things we were examining and investigating during that time I was U.S. attorney, including on the day that I left that job,” Bharara told me, in a separate interview for POLITICO’s Off Message podcast. “But there would be people who would know what we were looking at, including the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, because we provided summaries of significant and sensitive cases that we were working. And that’s all I’ll say.”
.. he thinks Trump enabled an environment of people busting through norms and boundaries, and looking out for themselves above all. He’s also happy to talk about the reaction he had to the meeting and two phone calls he had with the then-president-elect last fall and winter.
.. “This is a person who is a transactional player in the world—that’s how he did what he did in his business, and that’s how he thinks, I think, the justice system is supposed to work. And why not have people on your side, because like the Godfather says, the Godfather may come to you for a favor,”
.. Deeply political people, whether you’re talking about a governor of a state or a chief of staff to a president, think that everyone acts like they do.”
.. in his new office in Vanderbilt Hall at NYU School of Law, where the student lounge is named after presidential in-laws Seryl and Charles Kushner—whose big donations to the school coincided with their son Jared Kushner’s time getting a JD/MBA there.

President Trump’s Really Weak Week

In his speech, Trump encouraged police brutality and said he was “the big, big believer and admirer of the people in law enforcement, O.K.?” He said that he’s protecting the backs of law enforcement “100 percent.” Except for Sessions, Sally Yates, Preet Bharara and Robert Mueller.

As two people close to Trump told The Times’s Maggie Haberman when asked why he was tormenting Sessions instead of firing him: Because he can.

.. And in his paranoid, aggrieved isolation, he’s even thinking about nixing Steve Bannon, nemesis of the Mooch, and mulling firing the one who could get him fired, Mueller, and pardoning himself for possible charges.

.. Trump learned his technique of publicly criticizing and freely firing from George Steinbrenner, one of the ruthless, towering characters he modeled himself on when he started hanging out at Yankee Stadium in the ’70s.

.. Trump had always resented Priebus for advising him to get out of the race after the Billy Bush “Access Hollywood” tape story broke — known as Priebus’s “scarlet A.H.,” according to The Washington Post — and for not understanding that Trump is not a mere Republican; he’s the head of his own “beautiful,” us-against-them movement, “the likes of which the world has never seen.”

.. As The Post reports, Trump’s delighted demeaning of Priebus included this incident: “At one point, during a meeting in the Oval Office, a fly began buzzing overhead, distracting the president. As the fly continued to circle, Trump summoned his chief of staff and tasked him with killing the insect.”

.. After torturing Reince for months, Trump happily gave him the final humiliating shove. As the tweets hit the White House cellphones, Priebus’s colleagues Stephen Miller and Dan Scavino jumped out of the Suburban they were sharing with Priebus, leaving the jobless man in a driving rain on the tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base, the weakest link tossed off the sled for the press wolves.

.. You’re a killer and a king or a loser, as Fred Trump liked to say. And anyone who doesn’t understand that Trump is more important than the G.O.P. or the institution of the presidency is, in his mind, a loser. Anyone who doesn’t get that the loyalty should be for him personally, rather than the country, is, to Trump, a loser.

.. With Priebus, The Post reported, the president obsessed on impotence. “The word was ‘weak’ – ‘weak,’ ‘weak,’ ‘weak,’ ‘Can’t get it done,’” an official told the paper.

.. But after all his bragging about being a great negotiator and closer, it is President Trump who can’t get it done. He couldn’t even close the deal on a pathetic, bare-bones health care bill, ineffectually bullying Lisa Murkowski, a Republican senator from Alaska, and failing to win over John McCain, who gleefully had his revenge for Trump’s mockery of him as being a loser because he was captured in war.

.. Trump can’t get it done for his pal, Putin, either. In fact, the biggest legislative accomplishment before Congress leaves for August will have been passing new sanctions on Russia because lawmakers don’t trust their own president. Talk about weak.

.. Congressional Republicans are losing their fear of Trump, making ever more snarky comments about him. North Korea is shooting off missiles and the White House is flustered. The generals are resisting Trump’s tweet edicts. The mortified leader of the Boy Scouts had to apologize for the president’s suggestive and partisan speech.

And what could be weaker than that?

Trump threatens to break the glass on DOJ succession plan

The little-noticed document is usually only applicable in the event of an attack or crisis.

That has legal experts closely examining the dry executive order to figure out who might be next up to bat, or, as Democratic lawyers and consultants view it, who might serve as Trump’s next sacrificial lamb.

.. “We know Rachel Brand is the next victim,”

.. “For those of us who have high confidence in Rachel — the more confidence you have in someone in this role, the less long you think they’ll last,”

.. Typically, the solicitor general would be next in line after the associate attorney general, followed by the list of five assistant U.S. attorneys, the order of which would be determined by the attorney general. But none of those individuals have been confirmed by the Senate, and they would be unable to serve as acting attorney general without Senate confirmation.

.. Because of that, the executive order comes into play — one that puts next in line after Brand the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Dana Boente.

  1. .. Boente, who was briefly thrust into the no. 2 spot at the Justice Department after Yates was fired, was also tasked with phoning Preet Bharara, then U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, to deliver the unexpected news that he was fired. At the time, Boente also vowed to defend Trump’s travel ban in the future.
  2. .. Eastern District of North Carolina, John Stuart Bruce; and the U.S. attorney for the
  3. Northern District of Texas, John Parker.

.. Trump’s desire to rid himself of Mueller, at potentially any cost

.. The president, who friends said does not enjoy living in Washington and is strained by the demanding hours of the job, is motivated to carry on because he “doesn’t want to go down in history as a guy who tried and failed,” said the adviser. “He doesn’t want to be the second president in history to resign.”

 

Donald Trump’s Craven Republican Enablers

Authoritarian leaders in foreign countries seize and maintain power this way. And, despite his bungling start, this is the project that Donald Trump appears to have embarked upon. Since the end of January, he has appointed one of his closest political allies, Jeff Sessions, to run the Justice Department; fired an acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, who had warned the White House that the national-security adviser was compromised; and axed forty-six U.S. Attorneys, one of whom, Preet Bharara, had jurisdiction over Trump’s business empire. Now the head of the F.B.I., James Comey, has been ousted, at a time when the agency is conducting an investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s election campaign and the Russian government.

.. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader

.. claimed, falsely, that it was not Trump but Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, who removed Comey. McConnell curtly dismissed calls for the appointment of an independent prosecutor to take over the Russia investigation, saying that such a move would “only serve to impede the current work being done” on Capitol Hill

.. He has long demonstrated an unwillingness to look beyond partisan concerns

.. Ryan said that he would no longer defend Trump, who was then the Republican nominee. But since Election Day those words have turned out to be empty. “The President lost patience, and I think people in the Justice Department lost confidence in Director Comey himself,” Ryan told Fox News on Wednesday evening. He also said, “It is entirely within the President’s role and authority to relieve him, and that’s what he did.”

.. After Trump won in November, they made a political deal with him. As long as he pursues their legislative agenda—gutting Obamacare and other government programs, axing regulations, cutting taxes on the wealthy—they are likely to stick with him under almost any circumstances, even as their pact gets ever more Faustian.

.. Senator Susan Collins, of Maine, issued a statement that said, “Any suggestion that today’s announcement is somehow an effort to stop the FBI’s investigation of Russia’s attempt to influence the election last fall is misplaced.”

.. Senator Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, who has criticized Trump on other matters, said, “I believe a fresh start will serve the F.B.I. and the nation well.”

.. And he fumed that Comey was giving too much attention to the Russia probe and not enough to investigating leaks to journalists.”

.. It would be flattering Trump’s capacity for advance planning to claim that he has a blueprint for abrogating the Constitution and seizing more power. But throughout his career he has exhibited a willingness to push things as far as he can on an opportunistic basis, running roughshod over competitors, business partners, ordinary people, rules, and regulations. As the history of the high-pressure sales scam that was Trump University showed, he only backs off when he is forced to.

.. Trump’s willingness to say and do things that most people would shy away from because they are constrained by social norms, or ethics, helped carry him to where he is today. “He gets an idea in his head and just says, ‘Do it,’ “ Barbara Res, a former vice-president in the Trump Organization, told Politico’s Michael Kruse. Artie Nusbaum, one of the managers of the construction firm that built Trump Tower, said, “This is who he is. No morals, no nothing. He does what he does.” That is who the Republicans are enabling. Until they stop doing it, they will be complicit in the erosion of American democracy.