News & Politics

Trump Unchained: After McCabe Firing, He Thinks He Can Do Whatever He Wants

Trump’s puerile assault on McCabe suggests he’s feeling a rush of power—and road-testing a Mueller firing.

Photo Credit: C-SPAN

Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe over the weekend, and President Trump couldn't have been more thrilled. In a characteristic display of puerile mendacity, he tweeted out his glee for the world to see:

These tweets were so full of lies that they required a full fact check by The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler. The short version? The investigation started well before there was a Steele dossier, after one of Trump's national security advisers got drunk and spilled to an Australian diplomat that the Russians claimed to have dirt on Hillary Clinton. There's no reason to believe the FISA court did anything improper, and there has been a boatload of indictments and guilty pleas of Trump associates. That's not to mention that the Trump campaign and transition were crawling with more Russians than the annual Red Square May Day parade, and nobody can adequately explain it.

Michael Isikoff and David Corn's new book "Russian Roulette" gives one possible explanation as to why Trump insists on telling all these lies about the Russia investigation. Recall that on Jan. 6, 2017, the heads of the intelligence agencies gathered to tell the president-elect about the Russia investigation. After the meeting was over, FBI Director James Comey had the unpleasant task of meeting with Trump alone to tell him about the contents of the Steele dossier. After Comey left, Trump apparently exploded and told members of his staff that this meeting was an FBI shakedown aimed at blackmailing him. In other words, all the Fox News fulmination over the Deep State being out to get Trump started with Trump himself.

His paranoia runs so deep that anyone in government who isn't a loyalist cannot be trusted, especially Democratic career law enforcement employees who are all obviously in on the plot:

It is against the law for Mueller to ask the political affiliation of anyone he hires, but such things are of interest to Trump, who proved that last spring when he asked Andrew McCabe if he voted for him and told him, "Ask your wife what it feels like to be a loser."

If there is any question about where Trump is headed, his lawyer John Dowd (who belatedly claimed he was only speaking for himself) came out after the announcement of McCabe's firing and said:

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.

Let's just say that if Dowd was speaking for himself, he seemed to be channeling the thought process and phraseology of his client with perfect precision. This was meant to be an offer Rosenstein couldn't refuse.

As agitated and manic as Trump's tweets were over the weekend, it seemed clear that he was testing the waters. The New York Times' Maggie Haberman explained:

She wrote a fuller analysis for the paper, explaining that Trump is brimming with self-confidence now, because he sees that there have been no dire consequences for his actions, despite all the warnings to the contrary. So he feels himself getting stronger and taking control. Based on the quotes from Republicans in her story, his allies in Congress and elsewhere are impressed with his new take-charge attitude.

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., for instance, says he thinks the president is more relaxed now but also that he's been "frustrated by the fact that he feels like a lot of what he didn’t succeed at, or what hasn’t worked, is that he wasn’t allowed to be Trump." So he's decided to be Trump.

In this instance, what Trump has realized is that if he humiliates a member of his cabinet, tweets that someone should be fired and makes it clear that he wants someone gone, at some point he will simply wear down institutional resistance. Recall that he humiliated Comey by making sure the FBI director only found out he'd been fired by seeing it on TV. Just last week, Rex Tillerson was totally demeaned as he was shown the door, with John Kelly even telling the press he informed Tillerson he was fired while the latter was on the toilet. By taunting McCabe about his scheduled retirement, and then waiting until just a day before that to fire him, Trump demonstrated to everyone else in the bureau that they'd better not cross him.

We don't know whether there will be any significant fallout from the McCabe firing among congressional Republicans. But if there is and it goes the way every other Trump assault on presidential norms has gone, it won't last. Still, there were a few more antagonistic comments than usual.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said that if Trump fires Mueller "that would be the beginning of the end of his presidency." He also called for public hearings to explain the firing and allow McCabe to defend himself. Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said the Mueller probe should continue and responded positively to Graham's request for public hearings. Those two seem to be working in concert toward ends that are not entirely clear, what with their attacks on Christopher Steele and calls for a second special prosecutor, but perhaps this is on the up and up.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., took the position that McCabe should have been allowed to retire, echoing the analysis in this article at Lawfare which points out that while nobody can say whether the charges against McCabe are reasonable until the report is released, this process appeared overly punitive and vindictive.

Surprisingly, the scourge of Benghazi, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., had the most stinging criticism, telling Trump what millions of Americans are thinking every day:

If the allegation is collusion with the Russians, and there is no evidence of that, and you are innocent of that, act like it. ... If you've done nothing wrong, you should want the investigation to be as fulsome and thorough as possible.

House Speaker Paul Ryan put out a tepid statement stating that Mueller and his team "should be able to do their job," but there was no word from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. That's about it from the Republicans. It was hardly a stampede of outraged elected leaders rushing to do their duty.

Trump is on a roll and he's not likely to care what anyone thinks, in any case. Congressional Republicans have already shown their hand. Unless they're willing to impeach him, he now believes he can do whatever he wants.

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.