If President Donald Trump isn’t planning to fire special counsel Bob Mueller, he sure is doing a good job of faking it.
Consider the last 48 hours alone:
- Attorney General Jeff Sessions fires FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe late Friday night, less than two days before McCabe was set to retire from the bureau – where he had worked for 20+ years – with full pension.
- Trump celebrates the firing via tweet even later Friday night. He writes: “Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI - A great day for Democracy. Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!”
- On Saturday morning, Trump attorney John Dowd released a statement calling for an end to the Mueller investigation. “I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt dossier,” said Dowd. Although he originally told the Daily Beast that he was speaking for the President in that statement, Dowd recanted and told CNN later he was only speaking a personal capacity.
- On Saturday evening, Trump tweeted that “the Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime,” adding: “It was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC, and improperly used in FISA COURT for surveillance of my campaign. WITCH HUNT!”
- Trump, on Sunday morning, tweets this: “Spent very little time with Andrew McCabe, but he never took notes when he was with me. I don’t believe he made memos except to help his own agenda, probably at a later date. Same with lying James Comey. Can we call them Fake Memos?”
- He tweets again minutes later: “Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans? Another Dem recently added…does anyone think this is fair? And yet, there is NO COLLUSION!”
That series of events – and tweets – taken in a vacuum, would send a very clear message that Trump is sick and tired of Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s meddling into the 2016 election and the possibility of collusion with the Russians.
The President wants this whole thing over with. Now.
But, the context is even more damning in that regard. Trump has, for months, attacked the Mueller investigation as a “hoax” and a “witch hunt.” He celebrated the end of the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian meddling despite the fact that two of the Republicans on the committee seemed to undermine its conclusion within days. (Not to mention the fact that none of the Democrats on the committee were consulted about the decision to end the investigation.)
Then there is the lying. Because Trump purposely changes the accepted facts, let’s go through some of them.
1. Mueller, McCabe and fired FBI Director James Comey were Republicans. Mueller was appointed FBI director by George W. Bush. Comey has said under oath that he was a registered Republican his entire life – until very recently. McCabe has said he voted for Republicans for president in every election prior to 2016.
2. Mueller was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a man put into his job by Sessions – Trump’s pick to lead the Justice Department. Sessions’ decision to recuse himself – because he was a surrogate for Trump during the 2016 election – is why Rosenstein is overseeing the probe.
3. Trump is right that there is no collusion – yet. Remember (as he doesn’t) that the Mueller investigation and the Senate Intelligence Committee are ongoing. That doesn’t mean they will find collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. But, it does mean that Trump can’t definitively say no collusion has been found. What he could say – but won’t – is that no evidence of collusion has been made public to date.
4. Whether or not any collusion is found, it’s impossible to describe the Mueller investigation as a witch hunt. Three former aides to Trump’s campaign – including Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser – have pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and are cooperating with the investigation. Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, faces more than 300 years in prison due to a series of charges of financial malfeasance Mueller has brought against him. More than a dozen Russians have been charged by Mueller with building and executing a broad-scale strategy aimed at influencing the 2016 election. That’s not a hoax. Or a witch hunt. Or a media-created controversy.
5. There are four members of Mueller’s team who have made donations to Democrats in the past. But, they are also undisputed experts in a variety of fields related to the investigation. And, Rosenstein has already said these donations are not disqualifying.
6. Whether or not Trump saw McCabe writing memos is totally immaterial. The memos, which document what Comey told McCabe of his conversations with Trump, have been turned over to Mueller, who has also interviewed McCabe about the firing of Comey last spring.
Even if you believe the Dowd statement was a case of mistaken attribution, why did Dowd choose to say it fewer than 24 hours after McCabe was fired and amid a tweetstorm by Trump about Mueller, Comey and McCabe?
That’s one hell of a coincidence, right?
“If you have an innocent client Mr. Dowd, act like it,” scolded Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican and former federal prosecutor, on “Fox News Sunday.” “Russia attacked our country. Let special counsel Mueller figure that out. If you believe as we have found there is no evidence of collusion, you should want special counsel Mueller to take all the time, to have all the independence he needs to do his job.”
Trump’s lawyers have repeatedly insisted that the President has no plans to fire Mueller. But, everything coming out of the White House in the wake the firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is that only Trump knows his mind. And that anyone who makes predictions about what Trump is thinking or will do is guessing.
Yes, firing Mueller would likely be political suicide by Trump.
“If he tried to do that, that would be the beginning of the end of his presidency,” predicted South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, who appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday. “The only reason that Mr. Mueller could be dismissed is for cause. I see no cause when it comes to Mr. Mueller.”
But, the idea Trump wouldn’t do something solely because it might be bad politics is belied by virtually his entire political career in which he has taken pride in doing exactly the thing everyone says he shouldn’t.
There is no more sacred cow in our current politics than Mueller. Which may well mean that Trump is getting ready to take him down.