Lazy Saturday Reads: Rats Abandoning the Trump ShipPosted: January 27, 2018
While Trump was preening in Davos, all hell broke loose back in the USA as current and former Trump staffers leaked to the media in efforts to save themselves from charges of obstruction of justice.
On Thursday night The New York Times reported that White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign when Trump ordered him to arrange the firing of Special Counsel Robert Mueller last June. Yesterday Murray Waas wrote at Foreign Policy that Trump urged his staff to attack individual FBI agents who could be witnesses against him.
In testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 8, recently fired FBI Director James Comey disclosed that he spoke contemporaneously with other senior bureau officials about potentially improper efforts by the president to curtail the FBI’s investigation of alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election….
Not long after Comey’s Senate testimony, Trump hired John Dowd, a veteran criminal defense attorney, to represent him in matters related to Mueller’s investigation. Dowd warned Trump that the potential corroborative testimony of the senior FBI officials in Comey’s account would likely play a central role in the special counsel’s final conclusion, according to people familiar with the matter….
Since Dowd gave him that information, Trump — as well as his aides, surrogates, and some Republican members of Congress — has engaged in an unprecedented campaign to discredit specific senior bureau officials and the FBI as an institution.
The FBI officials Trump has targeted are Andrew McCabe, the current deputy FBI director and who was briefly acting FBI director after Comey’s firing; Jim Rybicki, Comey’s chief of staff and senior counselor; and James Baker, formerly the FBI’s general counsel. Those same three officials were firstidentified as possible corroborating witnesses for Comey in a June 7 article in Vox. Comey confirmed in congressional testimony the following day that he confided in the three men.
In the past, presidents have attacked special counsels and prosecutors who have investigated them, calling them partisan and unfair. But no previous president has attacked a long-standing American institution such as the FBI — or specific FBI agents and law enforcement officials.
This morning Reuters has another story on Don McGahn’s efforts to control Trump: White House counsel was ‘fed up’ with Trump: source.
White House Counsel Donald McGahn threatened to quit last June because he was “fed up” after President Donald Trump insisted he take steps to remove the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters….
The person told Reuters on Friday that Trump asked McGahn to raise what he said were Mueller’s conflicts with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein because the president thought they were serious enough to remove Mueller.
Rosenstein appointed Mueller after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation and is the official overseeing the special counsel.
McGahn, who could not be reached for comment, did not discuss the issue with Rosenstein and threatened to quit when Trump continued to insist that he do so, the person said.
The lawyer did not issue an ultimatum directly to the president but told then White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and then chief strategist Steve Bannon he wanted to quit because he was “fed up with the president,” the person said.
The source added that it was possible Bannon and Priebus did not know all the details of the Trump’s discussions with McGahn about Mueller at that time.
Hmmm . . . Did Bannon or Priebus leak this to make it clear that they helped protect Mueller’s investigation? Or did McGahn himself leak the story? He certainly has strong motivation to protect himself–remember Nixon’s WH Counsel John Dean went to jail for participating in the Watergate cover-up.
Former White House Counsel to Obama Bob Bauer has a piece at Lawfare: McGahn’s Defense of the Office of the White House Counsel. Bauer notes press reports that at the time of the confrontation between Trump and McGahn:
…the president’s personal lawyer at the time, Marc Kasowitz, was considering establishing an office in the White House and was communicating with potential witnesses on the White House staff. Kasowitz appeared to be disregarding the difference between his personal representational role and those official responsibilities that properly fall to the White House counsel. Other lawyers recruited to help with the Russia probe reportedly declined out of concern that Kasowitz was “undermining” McGahn. Also in June, the press reported that the president was disaffected with McGahn. Trump apparently blamed his chief legal adviser for (among other grievances) Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal from the Russia investigation. Kasowitz’s stock was rising; McGahn’s was dropping fast.
By the time of the reported order to dismiss Mueller, it would appear that McGahn faced a president who was losing confidence in him and was moving toward a legal advisory arrangement well outside regular institutional order. The confrontation over Mueller may have been more than a struggle over the specific decision to fire Mueller. No less significant was the role and credibility of the Office of the White House Counsel. The circumstances surrounding the order to McGahn—Kasowitz’ ascent and McGahn’s fall from favor—would have increased the pressure on the White House counsel to assert the primacy of his position as legal adviser to the president on an official and highly consequential action.
Of course, McGahn would have had every reason to object to the peculiar, if not wholly specious, grounds that the president apparently asserted for a firing. What counsel would have wished to advise the Justice Department that Mueller’s fatal “conflict” arose out of his unwillingness to remain a member of a Trump golf facility that had raised its fees?
McGahn just as likely understood the high stakes for his office and for his credibility within the administration. The president was asking that McGahn carry out an order with which he strongly disagreed—an order perhaps designed in the first instance in consultation with Kasowitz, his personal lawyer. McGahn would then be acting as mere messenger for an action certain to plunge the White House into controversy and further legal difficulty. McGahn would have shared in the blame but not the actual responsibility. He would have obeyed Trump’s command in an institutionally weakened state, suffering more weakness as the predictable result.
Read more interesting theorizing at Lawfare.
Charlie Pierce is more to the point: Mueller Bombshell Proves Republicans Are Running Out of Time.
The major scoop in The New York Times that has shaken up the world can be read in a number of different ways that all lead to the same conclusion. Right from jump, the president* has been scared right down to his silk boxers of what Mueller would discover regarding his campaign’s connections to Russian ratfcking and regarding his business connections to freshly laundered Russian cash. This conclusion does not change even if you think that White House counsel Don McGahn leaked this story to make himself the hero or to cover his own ass. This conclusion does not change even if you think the ratlines off the listing hulk of this administration are thick with fleeing rodents. This whole thing remains a product of the president*’s guilty mind….
The story does explain the curious frenzy over the last week: the president*’s saying that he’s “looking forward” to a chat with Mueller, and that he might even deign to have the chat under oath; the apparent rush to present the Congress with a half-baked “compromise plan” on immigration that has no chance of passing the House of Representatives; and the fact that the president* took every member of his inner circle except his wife to Switzerland. I suspect those folks heard the baying of the hound even before Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman did. More ominous is the possibility that McGahn—or whomever—leaked this story because the president* is thinking about firing Mueller now, or in the near future, and whoever the leaker was understands very well what a monumental calamity that would be for all concerned.
So where are the Republicans? They’re silent. Pierce:
History will brand them as cowards and as traitors to the country’s best ideals. History’s not going to be kind to a lot of people who are living through these insane times.
Meanwhile, First Lady Melania Trump cancelled her plans to accompany Trump to Davos and reportedly spent time in expensive DC hotels and visted the Holocaust Museum before taking a quick trip down to Palm Beach. The Daily Mail reports that she flew back to the DC the next day to meet her
boss husband on his return to the White House. Even though it’s a loveless marriage, it has to be humiliating to read the gossip about her husband’s affairs with porn stars.
At AOL, Lisa Belkin notes the lack of public outrage over Trump’s sexual misbehavior:
In the swirl of news over the last week, Melania’s defection — which was announced on the couple’s 13th wedding anniversary — didn’t get much public attention. (Yahoo News White House correspondent Hunter Walker asked the White House how the Trumps celebrated, but got no answer.) To the many rules that Mrs. Trump’s husband has rewritten in the past two years, add one more — that the public will always care how a politician’s wife reacts to news of his infidelities.
Until Trump changed everything, the public was insatiably interested in what the wronged spouse thinks. When Bill Clinton was accused of Oval Office dalliances, for instance, Hillary Clinton at first became his fiercest defender, blaming the charges on a “vast right wing conspiracy.” She also became the subject of endless speculation about whether she would stay in the marriage or leave. The photo of the couple walking forlornly toward the presidential helicopter, with Chelsea between them holding each of their hands, ran with countless stories about the tense state of their marriage.
It’s probably because everyone knows that the Trumps’ marriage is a financial arrangement.
There has been, to be sure, much speculation about the Trump marriage: The way he left her behind when the couple arrived at the White House on Inauguration Day; how her smile turned to a frown during the ceremony; how she didn’t move to the White House for months, and swatted his hand away when he reached for hers on a tarmac; and, most recently, how the photo she chose to tweet on the first anniversary of his taking office was of herself not with her husband but with the military escort who accompanied her to her seat.
But the public reaction to the news that weeks before Election Day Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, set up a shell corporation to pay Daniels shows the fundamental rulebook for public reaction to sex scandals no longer applies. (Cohen has denied that Trump and Daniels had an affair but has not denied the payment nor said what it was for.)
There was no “stand by your man” statement, no public display of support. While Melania did travel to Florida with her husband immediately after the allegations were first published in the Wall Street Journal, she did not attend any events with him there that weekend. The closest she came to signaling her feelings was canceling her trip to Davos, and while it appeared to speak volumes it was not accompanied by the headlines and speculation that would previously have been de rigueur in such circumstances.
Frankly, I have to hand it to Melania for declining to perform the “stand by your man” routine.
There is plenty of other news. For one thing there has been a lot more fallout on the USA gymnastics scandal. I’ll post some links on that in the comments. What stories are you following today?