Trump, McCabe and our Permanent Constitutional Crisis

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Trump’s conviction that being president means never having to say you are sorry, and being able to do whatever the hell you please, is likely to cause him legal trouble sooner or later.

His vindictive firing of deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe, just before McCabe could retire and qualify for his pension, is typical of this president. McCabe appears to have been passing on memos on his interactions with Trump to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and the firing may be related to these memos.

Trump is attempting to humiliate and discredit McCabe because he is a corroborating witness for James Comey, the FBI director whom Trump also fired last May. The Comey firing is far more serious, since it may constitute obstruction of justice.

Trump’s lawyer, John Dowd, more or less corroborated the political motive for firing McCabe in this mortifying way, by saying that it should form a precedent for firing Special Councel Robert Mueller, who Dowd implied was part of the same corrupt partisan gang irrationally hounding the president over the fake news Russia collusion story.

If Trump fired Mueller, that really would be obstruction, and could create a huge constitutional crisis of a sort not seen since the days of Reagan’s Iran-Contra or Nixon’s Watergate.

And unfortunately for Trump, the revelation that Cambridge Analytica, the data mining firm founded by his backer and part-time neo-fascist billionaire James Mercer, illicitly used 50 million voter profiles from Facebook Trump’s behalf, and that CA met with the Russians, kind of reduced the supposed fakeness of the story. Mercer was also behind building up white supremacist rag Breitbart, and appears, despite denials, to have been close to Steve Bannon, who was a vice president at Cambridge Analytica and the editor of Breitbart. Bannon, for a while White House chief strategist, has recently been in Europe urging French fascists to own their racism and boast of it, and praising Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, whose troops killed or wounded 300,000 American and British soldiers. That is what Trumpism, which Bannon championed, stands for.

Trump admitted in his interminable tweets that he got rid of the FBI director to stop the Russia collusion probe. Comey has also alleged that Trump attempted to obstruct the investigation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn over his undeclared and likely illegal contacts with Russia and Turkey.

If Mueller works up an obstruction case against Trump over the Comey firing, then it is possible that the McCabe firing could be seen as an action in furtherance of the original obstruction.

Trump also sees McCabe as a Democratic mole because his wife Jill ran unsuccessfully for office in Virginia in that party. Vox says Trump once asked McCabe to ask his wife how it felt to be a loser.

Apparently Trump is the only one in Washington who has never heard of the power couple James Carville and Mary Matalin (the former a Democratic strategist, the latter a Republican one). You don’t judge someone on ascriptive grounds (their inherited or family or other involuntary identity) but on those of actual personal behavior.

But then Trump’s entire life and his movement are based on judging people on ascriptive grounds rather than by the demonstrated content of their character. Perhaps he is blind to character because he has none of his own.

Trump knows that the FBI and special counsel Robert Mueller are coming for him over his many crimes, political and financial, and he is hoping to muddy the waters by creating a reputation for the FBI as corrupt and partisan, thus undermining public confidence in its finding.

Incidentally, one of the things Trump blamed McCabe for was letting James Comey fly back from LA to Washington on an FBI plane *after* Trump had fired him while he was in the field. Apparently Trump had wanted Comey to be forced to hitchhike home.

The petty-minded disgracing of his enemies speaks poorly of Trump. But if Dowd’s memo to CNN was a trial balloon for the firing of Mueller, we could pass beyond the realm of the petty to a huge societal explosion.

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Bonus video:

CBS Los Angeles: “McCabe Calls Dismissal Part Of Trump’s ‘War’ On FBI”

21 Responses

  1. The way Trump deals with his underlings speaks volumes about the character of the man, as well as the truth of the old truism that the last people who should be given power are those who want it. It says volumes to me that Trump is so focused on petty and/or cruel public dismissals of underlings who do not offer him their undying loyalty (not that it’s returned if they do). The president is a petulant man-child who has found a job that lets him kill, torture or imprison non-Americans on a whim, and degrade his own people into the bargain.

    Now Obama didn’t leave office with clean hands (show me a world leader who does though, politics being the art of the possible in an impossible world), but he had a moral code he stuck to. I am not saying it was a great moral code – after Yemen, whistleblowers, assassination of US citizens and their children without trial, drones etc it would be hard to claim that. But he was a moderate centre right neo-liberal, one who had the self-discipline Trump so patently lacks, to be well, quite classy.

    Trump vs Clinton truly was the choice from hell that the US was lumbered with by primary voters (link to theatlantic.com) but there’s potentially a silver lining with it being Trump who won, in that I could easily see Clinton lasting two terms, whereas at least with Trump, he’s such an arse that there’s a decent chance he’ll be impeached or fail to be re-elected. And given that eight years of Bush was followed by eight years of Obama, since Trump is a right-wing nut-case, there’s a decent chance the Democrats will finally be able to throw off the stranglehold of the Clinton donor-consultant class and embrace a relatively progressive economic candidate next time around. Whereas if it had been Clinton who won I predict the Dems would right now because facing a re-energised right-wing Tea Party style wave.

    • There is no silver lining in this or any other universe for Trump’s presidency, nor is there any real or alternative universe where Trump being elected is better than if Clinton had been elected in any way, shape, or form! Your otherwise excellent comment is spoiled by abject kneejerk autonomic both-siderism that muddies the water by gross exaggeration about how Clinton and the Democrats in the White House would have governed. There’s no comparison worthy of the word. Both-siderism kills.

    • I thought Larry’s reply was good, but, on further thought, decided that this requires additional detail. Some extreme leftists have this exaggerated sense of false equivalency. Ask yourself and answer the following questions. Would Clinton have appointed the most incompetent and corrupt cabinet in history? Would she have appointed close advisors like racist Steve Bannon and xenophobic John Kelly and others of similar ilk? Would Clinton have tried to eliminate Obamacare with no substitute, taking away healthcare from tens of millions of Americans? Would Clinton have shrunk the national monuments created by Obama? Would she have tried to seriously damage the environment and taken us out of the Paris Accord? Would she appoint a person openly hostile to consumers to head the CFPB? Would Clinton have pushed through a tax cut to benefit the corporations and top 1% more than any other group? Would Clinton have sought to seriously reduce regulations on all businesses, no matter what the need? Would Clinton have approved of the racists in Charlottesville and sought a Muslim ban? Or try to build a wall? Or done the bidding of the NRA? Or take away protections for DACA recipients? On every major issue, from a liberal or leftist perspective, Clinton was so much better than Trump, that to conflate them is not based in realistic thinking. And while Trump is so awful that he re-election now looks unlikely, so, too, did his election look unlikely. Then there is the question of how much damage will he do before he leaves office and how long will it take to repair that damage.

  2. As has been noted by many impartial and even anti-Trump people, there is still no (public) evidence of any collusion/crime on Trump’s part, and charges against his minions, like Manafort, were committed before joining him, or are relatively minor. It is also true that Mueller is indeed on a hunting (~fishing) expedition, originally empowered by only unsubstantiated suspicion and politics, like the frankly incredulous Steele Dossier with its Golden Showers. I mean, really…

    HAVING SAID ALL THAT, everything that Trump has been doing has virtually screamed Guilty As Hell. And not just of obstruction of justice, which makes the most sense, being so consistent with Trump’s ignorance, sense of entitlement and vanity.

    The smoke now pouring out of the White House, as the rats themselves flee or are thrown from what all the world looks like a burning boat, makes one wonder, OMG, what ugliness could possible be behind the curtain once fully lifted?

    The only scenario, it seems to me, that this does NOT all end in a Huge Scandal, so large and humiliating that it would transcend Trump’s shamelessness and account for the extent of his obstruction, is that this is all part of a brilliant put-on on his part, to actively bait into humiliation those who want so desperately to bring him down.

    Is this possible???

    • You are right, there is no public evidence of collusion, but going by how Robert Mueller is turning every stone, has widened the investigation, hired more investigators and prosecutors, I would say he is finding a lot of interesting nuggets to work on, than the public will know.

    • Are you aware of Malcolm Nance? Having been in military intelligence for a while myself, I appreciate his approach. In intelligence you don’t need prosecutorial level of proof to arrive at sensible and very likely conclusions. It was obvious to people like him (and me) almost 2 years ago that Trump was clearly compromised. The evidence was all around and has only been constantly confirmed by numerous revelations ever since. There were so many meetings between Trump campaign people and Russian connected people, that there has to have been some level of cooperation. What other plausible explanation exists for such meetings at those times? Now we have further revelations about Cambridge Analytics, who, you must think, had to have provided the targets and ideas for social media posts to Russian trolls. How else did the Russian trolls know what to write and whom to target and who else was using social media for that purpose? From what we know of Trump’s IT program, it was pretty barebones personnel wise. All the constituent parts point to one conclusion and that is collusion. Just because Mueller hasn’t yet presented solid evidence doesn’t mean he doesn’t have it or that it doesn’t exist.

  3. Would today’s Republican have half the integrity shown by the Republicans who confronted the last crooked president, Richard Nixon!

    • No evidence of collusion? You’ve been looking over Mueller’s shoulder? Please, you’re not omniscient. Otherwise, you’re right about Trump’s Guilty-as-Hellness.

  4. Alleging a “conspiracy so vast” in the tradition of Joe McCarthy is the point where you would almost have to follow up your firings with a larger purge just to appear credible, a la Erdogan against Gulen’s followers.

    • This is precisely what I’m thinking: Either there is a gargantuan scandal looming, big enough to pierce Trump’s teflon shamelessness, OR, this is all a brilliant ploy to substantiate exactly the sort of wide ranging purge to which you allude.

      The question becomes, if it’s the first case, would the republican establishment, having found someone that will sign whatever Mitch McConnell puts in front of him, then do the right thing? Makes you wonder just how low would Trump have to have gone before Pence would become an acceptable alternative.

      The way this games out, however, is that short of that moment Mueller gets axed with the GOP congress presumably holding Trump’s back. This firing seems to be anticipating just that, and in practical terms Trump is clearly threatening Mueller. If Trump should pull that particular trigger we would indeed have to have a serious constitutional and societal reckoning.

      On the other hand, whomever may be pulling Trump’s stings (which would have to be the case, because we have to assume he’s personally just not that smart) may have the guile for the latter scenario. In that case, Trump would continue to build the drama as we now see, but allow for his eventual exoneration by Mueller, at which point he makes his move to consolidate control as you describe.

      Call me paranoid, but don’t call me crazy. Events have been shaping up over the course of months to break one way way or the other.

      • Can not help but to think that “Trump’s stings ” is Freudian.

        Does any intelligent and sane person think that Trump will be exonerated by the Mueller investigation?

        Or that today’s Republican legislators will have the moral fiber to follow the Nixon Republican Congress and disavow Trump!

        • This is the logic leading to what would be the inevitability of a Pence presidency. If this scandal were so egregious that Trump, in all his shamelessness, felt compelled to fire Mueller, would the GOP countenance that level of corruption? Only if there were no other choice to implementing their agenda. But there is the one very slick option available, and they would own Pence, body and soul.

  5. “Trump’s conviction”
    I like the sound of that! Okay, I know that isn’t what the sentence goes on to say, but… Let’s say it again, for luck: Trump’s conviction!

    The “obstruction of justice” cases (protecting Flynn, shutting down the Russia investigation) are slam dunks; Mueller could have had him on those almost a year ago. What’s taking so long is the intricate, vast web of other illegalities, most of which seem to involve Russia/Putin and money, as well as the 2016 campaign. Mueller has been rolling up the co-conspirators, layer by layer, working towards the top.

    If Robert Mueller himself were fired, chances are the investigation would continue. Trump has made himself zero friends in the FBI or intelligence community. In fact, were Robert Mueller to be told to walk, he undoubtedly already has numerous indictments all ready for filing just before he exits the building, as well as detailed incriminating information for various state Attorney Generals so they can file charges in state courts against Trump’s associates and Trump himself.

    Mueller and the FBI have had their eyes on the Trump Crime Family for literally decades, and have brought them to court – and won – often.

  6. Just when you couldn’t imagine he could be even more vindictive, Trump proves himself to be small beyond belief. I’m hoping that the contemporaneous notes McCabe submitted to the special prosecutor’s office contain some juicy material. But I have to again say that it’s not going to matter to the Trump base – or the gutless Republicans who will hold their noses and still vote GOP in 2020. I’d love to believe Trump is a traitor and doing Putin’s bidding because of a pee tape and that he colluded with the Kremlin through Assange. But I’m not holding my breath. Maybe one or more of the hole-in-the-wall advisors got their hands dirty. Only if Mueller is able to get a hold of Trump’s tax records and follow the money trail – to the point where he uncovers clear evidence of corruption – will any of this tip the balance in favor of impeachment. Of course, if our fake president fires Mueller, that would peel off some of his support in Congress. But how many? In the end, we’re going to have to focus on finding a strong candidate and also get out the vote – both this November and again, two years from now. Otherwise, Trump’s right: He could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and his base would still support him.

  7. Well, the Fox populi has really spouted us a trump. The use of mirroring, as honed and perfected for the sake of a sixth-grade level of comprehension by Fox. And just so your slowly enfeebled mind shrinks further from fright and disgust, they remind you with different voices. A ‘spectrum’ of accounts will help as well. They pull it all off.

    We have to fail to become alarmed, while living in a blaring red alert system. For when we become alarmed, the physiological psychology kicks in.

    We must always look twice before we leap. Internal disunity is an expected and preferred outcome. The security status we enjoy has a brilliant byproduct of ensuring dragnet surveillance.

  8. Shortly, Americans will become convinced that Russia is on their border and that Iran is close to nuking them. North Korea will legitimize Trump.

    • Far be it for me to assume I know the wiles and guiles of Russia. The North Korea feint put on by our own il douche already could burst apart without decent concessions from the ‘West.’ Besides, like everything about this admin, it is an empty suit.

  9. Not sure why we are still debating this. It is proven that Trump is a stooge and anti-American when he invited Russians to hack American e-mails and servers. The fact that people still voted for him is a testament to their stupidity and shallowness. Read this review from today: link to theguardian.com

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