How Did Don McGahn Threaten to Quit without Telling Trump?

There’s something funny about the story — first broken by NYT tonight, then confirmed by WaPo — that Trump wanted to fire Robert Mueller last June but backed off after White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to quit.

Oh sure, the NYT version has all the trappings of the classic principled stand. McGahn threatened to quit which led Trump to back down.

After receiving the president’s order to fire Mr. Mueller, the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, refused to ask the Justice Department to dismiss the special counsel, saying he would quit instead, the people said.

But the WaPo lays out something that’s only hinted at in the NYT version: McGahn never told Trump himself he was going to quit.

McGahn did not deliver his resignation threat directly to Trump, but was serious about his threat to leave, according to a person familiar with the episode.

[snip]

Trump decided to assert that Mueller had unacceptable conflicts of interest and moved to remove him from his position, according to the people familiar with internal conversations.

In response, McGahn said he would not be at the White House if Trump went through with the move, according to a senior administration official.

Described that way, it sounds more like McGahn wasn’t going to take yet another action that exposed him, personally, to obstruction charges. After all, McGahn had already nudged close to that line on several occasions, though it’s not something foregrounded in either of these stories.

While the NYT admits that McGahn was just months off of trying to persuade Jeff Sessions to ignore DOJ ethics advice and not recuse, it doesn’t mention that McGahn helped orchestrate getting Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein to provide cover for a Jim Comey firing that he knew, because he had insisted Trump rewrite his firing letter, was ultimately an effort to end the Russian investigation.

The other funny thing about both these stories is how they obscure one of the known sources of tension that led to John Dowd replacing Marc Kasowitz. Both stories describe Kasowitz’ efforts to discredit Mueller to make claims of partisanship — an effort that continues today, albeit largely though not entirely outsourced to the more venal Republican members of the House.

Around the time Mr. Trump wanted to fire Mr. Mueller, the president’s legal team, led then by his longtime personal lawyer in New York, Marc E. Kasowitz, was taking an adversarial approach to the Russia investigation. The president’s lawyers were digging into potential conflict-of-interest issues for Mr. Mueller and his team, according to current and former White House officials, and news media reports revealed that several of Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors had donated to Democrats.

But it doesn’t explain what Michael Wolff, at least, reports to be the precipitating cause of Kasowitz and Mark Corallo’s departure: their own concern that Trump’s July 7, 2017 lies about the June 9, 2016 meeting itself amounted to obstruction of justice.

An aggrieved, unyielding, and threatening president dominated the discussion, pushing into line his daughter and her husband, Hicks, and Raffel. Kasowitz—the lawyer whose specific job was to keep Trump at arm’s length from Russian-related matters—was kept on hold on the phone for an hour and then not put through. The president insisted that the meeting in Trump Tower was purely and simply about Russian adoption policy. That’s what was discussed, period. Period. Even though it was likely, if not certain, that the Times had the incriminating email chain—in fact, it was quite possible that Jared and Ivanka and the lawyers knew the Times had this email chain—the president ordered that no one should let on to the more problematic discussion about Hillary Clinton.

[snip]

In Washington, Kasowitz and the legal team’s spokesperson, Mark Corallo, weren’t informed of either the Times article or the plan for how to respond to it until Don Jr.’s initial statement went out just before the story broke that Saturday.

[snip]

Mark Corallo was instructed not to speak to the press, indeed not to even answer his phone. Later that week, Corallo, seeing no good outcome—and privately confiding that he believed the meeting on Air Force One represented a likely obstruction of justice—quit.

If this story is correct, then it wasn’t, just, the plan to attack Mueller that caused the break (and as I said, that plan has just been outsourced to people protected by Speech and Debate clause protections). Rather, it was also a subsequent incident of clear obstruction, one done in the wake of a meeting with Vladimir Putin.

Where was McGahn the principled attorney threatening to quit rather than permit obstruction to occur for that?

Several things may be contributing to the nonsensical parts of these stories. First, it may be that a number of these people are at some risk of obstruction charges themselves. To the extent they’re all trying to spin their activities in the best light (assisted, in McGahn’s case, because he shares a lawyer with Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon), they may have to blame others for their actions.

Add in the fact that some of this testimony might be surprising to others. While McGahn, with John Dowd and Ty Cobb, presumably has the most knowledge, it’s possible he didn’t know about Sessions’ testimony (and Sessions reportedly didn’t share details of his testimony with Trump).

So I don’t know what the truth is.

I do know, however, that threatening to quit but not telling Trump about it is a funny way of changing his behavior.

Update: The CNN confirmation of this emphasizes, like the WaPo does, that McGahn didn’t threaten to quit directly. It also quotes Anthony Scaramucci saying that the attempt to fire doesn’t matter because Trump backed off the decision — so it may be that’s how the leakers (all represented by the same lawyer, William Burck — spun this).

Also consider the possibility that NewsMax CEO Chris Ruddy, who is a Mike Schmidt source and who floated Trump’s plan to fire Mueller contemporaneously as a way of trying to get him to back down, is a key source for this. It may mean that Ruddy’s stance, far more than McGahn’s, is what led Trump to back down.

The Politico version of this emphasizes Ruddy’s June stance.

In mid-June, Chris Ruddy, a close Trump friend and Mar-a-Lago member, said after a visit to the White House that he’d overheard discussion about the president considering firing Mueller.

“It could trigger something well beyond anything they ever imagined,” he told POLITICO at the time. Later that day, Ruddy told PBS NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff that Trump was “considering perhaps terminating the special counsel.”

Ruddy added during the interview he thought it would be “a very significant mistake” to oust Mueller. He noted Mueller had interviewed with Trump to succeed Comey as FBI director, though the president later went on to appoint former Justice Department official Chris Wray to the job.

Mueller should invite Ruddy in for a chat.

Politico also quotes an attorney representing someone else suggesting that it reflects an all-man-for-himself attitude among Trump’s associates.

“It’s one more brick in the wall,” said a Washington lawyer representing another senior Trump aide in the Russia probe who added that the most interesting aspect of the Trump-Mueller story to him was that “people are leaking this shit.”

“That is a sign to me people perceive this ship has sprung a leak and it’s time to make themselves look good,” the attorney said. “To some extent I think the fact of the leaking is almost the most significant, that we’ve reached an inflection point where people at the center of things feel the need to redeem themselves at the expense of the president.”

I do think the leaking of this is significant — and may have as much to do with news of Bannon or Sessions’ testimony as anything else — but given that at least two of the people involved here (McGahn and Reince Priebus) share a lawyer, it may only represent that particular lifeboat abandoning ship.

Update: The updated WaPo version of this makes it clear that Reince Priebus and Steven Bannon were both in the loop on this.

Trump’s ire at Mueller rose to such a level that then-White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon and then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus grew “incredibly concerned” that he was going to fire Mueller and sought to enlist others to intervene with the president, according to a Trump adviser who requested anonymity to describe private conversations.

Both of the men were deeply worried about the possibility and discussed how to keep him from making such a move, this person said.

Priebus and Bannon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In one meeting with other advisers, Bannon raised the concern that if Trump fired Mueller it could trigger a challenge to his presidency based on the 25th Amendment, which lays out the process of who succeeds a president in case of incapacitation.

Despite internal objections, Trump decided to assert that Mueller had unacceptable conflicts of interest and moved to remove him from his position, according to the people familiar with the discussions.

In response, McGahn said he would not remain at the White House if Trump went through with the move, according to a senior administration official.

The president, in turn, backed off.

So it seems this leakapalooza stems in part from Burck, the lawyer representing them all.

Update: As this Politico piece (linked by PINC below) notes, McGahn hired Burck in the wake of obstructing justice in the Comey firing, way before Mueller came calling.

So it wasn’t that McGahn took a principled stand in June. It’s that his lawyer told him to stop obstructing justice.

Update: CBS tells what feels like the real story. First, as noted, McGahn’s threat didn’t really make it to Trump. Indeed, the firing wasn’t really even an order. The response was more of an eye roll. And, as predicted, the other people involved were fellow Burck clients Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon.

Two sources directly involved in the deliberations tell CBS News chief White House correspondent Major Garrett that McGahn’s threat was not communicated directly to Mr. Trump, but adjudicated by senior staff, principally then-chief of staff Reince Priebus and then-chief strategist Steve Bannon.

Garrett reports that while Mr. Trump talked about firing Mueller, he never issued a direct “order” to do so in any written form, although he did say he favored it in the presence of senior staff.

[snip]

White House senior staff viewed Mr. Trump’s talk of firing Mueller skeptically, as he frequently mentioned firing people in his administration, but often quickly forgets about it.

In the Mueller instance, as in other potential firing cases, senior staff acknowledged the president with nods, but did not take action, in hopes Mr. Trump would simmer down or forget, sources tell Garrett.

Because of this, discussion of firing Mueller was not acted upon or elevated from the White House to Department of Justice.

Moreover, McGahn’s threat went beyond the Mueller firing to his own compromised position.

McGahn threatened to resign over an accumulation of stresses and frustrations with the president, rather than leaving for issues related to Mueller’s potential firing.

McGahn’s primary stress was being a “no” voice for Mr. Trump.

Suddenly, this looks not so much like McGahn heroically defending the Constitution as McGahn trying to fix a shitty work situation.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

119 replies
  1. Domye West says:

    If Mueller interviews Bannon in the next couple of days, and McGahn recognized there was a possibility for conflicting stories, isn’t this how he would share his side of the story? I am assuming the person McGahn told he would quit was Bannon. McGahn needs Bannon to know what he told Mueller, so his team tells the NYT that he was told to fire Muller, and they paint him as the hero of the story. Now Bannon knows he can’t lie.

    • pseudonymous in nc says:

      As EW says, McGahn, Bannon and Priebus still have the same lawyer (Bill Burck) so they’re presumably operating under some kind of info-sharing arrangement until we hear otherwise. “Person familiar” in the WaPo story is probably Bannon, who we now know got a call from the OSC only after Wolff’s book came out.
      I think it’s more that McGahn wants this version public before Bannon sits down with Mueller, and before the boss does too. More limited hangouts.
      Coincidentally, somebody’s out of town and will be on a long flight tomorrow with his closest lackeys. Funny how obstructin’ seems to go on in situations like that.

      • Domye West says:

        That makes sense, I figured Bannon was WaPo’s source. What do you mean “more limited hangouts”?

        OT: I wonder if this talk of Grassley releasing Don Jr’s testomony is partly so that Trump knows EXACTLY what his son said, and can line his story up.

        • pseudonymous in nc says:

          Limited in the sense of this from EW:

          Where was McGahn the principled attorney threatening to quit rather than permit obstruction to occur for that?

          Where that is the AF1 statement about Junior’s little chat.

          Wolff says that Corallo and Kasowitz were working to get the story out to Circa, didn’t know that the NYT had their own story (that Wolff attributes to the Kushner side) and didn’t even know about the statement until it was released. Wolff doesn’t mention McGahn in his writeup of the G20 return flight, and I can’t remember reading a tick-tock of what happened on the DC side, so I think that’s as yet an untold story, at least in public.

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Given McGahn’s history, the threat, if voiced, would have been made out of self-preservation, not principle.

    If not said to Trump, the person whose behavior needed to change, a threat to quit would normally have been said to a would be intermediary, who might be in a better position than McGahn to persuade Trump to chill.  The number of people who would qualify could be counted on one hand.  Details of such a conversation and its timing might be useful to Mueller.

    Cat, meet pigeons.

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The NYT’s article is strange.  It seems to go out of its way to avoid connecting available dots, even something as simple as why Cobb was hired, that he was replacing someone else, for example.

    As you point out, it assumes McGahn’s threat was real and was made to the president, which made Trump temporarily back off.  It mentions Mueller’s supposed material conflicts, but fails to address whether Trump’s objections are reasonable.  It seems to take them at face value.  Trump’s short history in the White House makes that an unreasonable thing for a journalist to do.

    As you also say, the WaPo connects some of the dots, but leaves unanswered how McGahn’s supposed threat influenced Trump, if McGahn didn’t tell him.  Equally disappointing is the WaPo’s use of euphemisms – “stymie” the investigation instead of “obstruct” the investigation.  It, too, uses the passive voice when talking about changes in Trump’s legal team; they appear unexplained, as if none were important to the story.

    Neither paper pursues why the president might be so obsessed with investigations into his Russian connections or his company’s finances that he repeatedly threatens to torch his tenure at the White House to stop them or to limit their scope.  The papers’ crime beat reporters might report on how unusual it would be for the target of a criminal investigation to successfully limit its scope.  Both papers imply that Trump’s behavior is reasonable, which might be a first in Donald’s career.

    • Peterr says:

      Note the NYT phrasing: “after receiving the president’s order” – that doesn’t exactly sound like Trump delivered the order himself to McGahn. I suspect that Trump, following his pattern of sending others to do his dirty work, sent someone else (Keith Schiller? Jared?) to tell McGahn to get Mueller fired, and McGahn immediately said to that person “Like hell I’m going to do that. You turn around, go back, and tell Trump that if he orders me to do that, I’ll quit first.”

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          It does.  And if that intermediary – Bannon? – were the source, it would explain the elisions and passive voice.  Best to avoid providing context and explanation if it avoids disclosing such a source.  Useful also if in communicating – enforcing – such orders for a principal, the intermediary courts conspiracy to obstruct charges.  What a tangled web.

          • lefty665 says:

            Bannon seems a likely and usual suspect. It was before Kelly took over, the old Marine would have given Trump a ration of the the Corps “Go to Hell” ‘tude. It had to be a toady without the balls to tell Trump no. Hah! Priebus would be a perfect candidate. His departure followed shortly thereafter.

  4. Avattoir says:

    We can all look forward to filling in that gap in our bookcases between
    “If I Did It.” and “In Cold Blood”, with
    “If I’d Spoken Up:
    Things That Came To My Mind That Might Make Me Look Better, Not Contemporaneously, But, You Know, At Some Point”.

  5. Bay State Librul says:

    10:00 AM, June 27th, 2018

    Mueller’s first press conference:

    “Good morning.

    Today I have delivered to the House of Representative, my interim report on the Russian investigation.

    Let me begin with these words from a noted Russian author, and then I’ll take your questions.

    “People who lie to themselves and listen to their own lie come to such a pass that they cannot distinguish the truth within them, or around them, and so lose all respect for themselves and for others.  And having no respect, they cease to love, and in order to occupy and distract themselves without love they give way to passions and to coarse pleasures, and sink to bestiality in their vices, all from continual lying to others and to themselves.” (The Brothers Karamazov, II, 2).

    Jake Tapper from CNN, you had a question?

  6. Trip says:

    Four sources confirm at the NYT: Bannon, Priebus, McGahn? Who’s the fourth, Burck himself? Or maybe Spicer? He resigned in July 2017. Since it was so chaotic, it could even have been a minor player like Omarosa, for all we know, since the Oval Office was described as Grand Central Station.

    Not germane, exactly, to this topic, but might be, has anyone questioned Dershowitz? He went from being Mr. Constitutional Law TV Expert to rabid Trump supporter in zero to sixty. Some of the talking heads have mentioned over time that he was advising Trump to fight back or get tough against Mueller. He has admitted to taking part in advising Trump on the Muslim ban while dining at Maralago. He also doesn’t appear to formally have attorney/client privilege, nor hold any formal position at the White House.

    I’m not sure if the reporting is accurate, but if it is, it’s deeply disappointing that Mueller wasn’t interested in questioning Bannon until “Fire and fury” was released. Hopefully that source was just BS.

    Aside from self-preservation likely being the motive for McGahn’s ‘act of courage’ in re to quitting if Mueller was fired, which appears only to be defense framing, how can any lawyer worth his salt as White House Counsel justify attempting to get Sessions not to recuse, if ethics had anything to do with his actions?

    Not related, but I’m sure Melania knows some things. Trump best not piss her off too much. If there is a divorce, his shield is down on that end. Just because he considers her only an arm candy barbie doll, doesn’t mean she isn’t smart, and hasn’t absorbed the conversations around her. Maybe she should file for divorce now, if any laundering aspects are true, she might get nothing later.

     

     

     

    • Trip says:

      One more thought: April Ryan deserves credit for reporting in real time, the melt down at the White House, following this episode.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Welcome to inside the Beltway.  As for Melania, her prenuptial agreement will be loaded with non-disclosure and non-disparagement clauses.  Predictably, she would get a tiny amount if she initiates a divorce, and trouble keeping custody.  Like Michael Corleone, the Don would hate to be seen being dismissed by a woman.

      • Trip says:

        I thought non-disclosures weren’t enforceable as they pertain to criminal trials? A tiny amount might be worth whatever dignity is left and scraps after potential gov’t confiscation of wealth, when it’s all over. But that is with the hopeful presumption that Mueller and/or NYC actually have the goods on Trump’s business model.

        Yesterday, I looked at Manafort’s history, a bit. He was laundering money for Pakistan and managed not be a target, nor was he ever charged in that case. I’m not taking anything for granted that justice is always done.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          A tiny amount is rarely deemed worth it to those on the receiving end who are already mired in such a relationship.  Getting out with something is often a motivator, the only way to get back at, say, a serial abuser.

          The prenup would not restrict conversations with Mueller or in the context of another criminal investigation.  It would normally restrict Melania in others.

          • Trip says:

            If this were any other politician, without the collective deflection of the entire GOP, the Melania situation would garner more attention. It’s clear that the Stormy Daniels reporting is true. Melania has said as much by canceling the trip, and marking time on twitter devoid of Trump in photos, etc. That should make people much more motivated to dig into the pay-off and where that money came from.

    • pseudonymous in nc says:

      Ruddy as a source, perhaps? Schmidt’s meh interview at the Emolument Club was work product of cultivating that relationship.

    • Trip says:

      Last comment, but I think the creation of the plot was instrumental in getting Trump not to fire Mueller….Like: “We’ll do this instead”. Kill it from the inside out.

      I meant to place this comment at the end.

      • SpaceLifeForm says:

        Agree. But the reasons for going that path will probably not be visible for years, nee decades.

        • Trip says:

          I think, on some level, aside from the Mueller investigation, it’s about destroying systems and replacing them with loyalties. Look at the judges being placed at different levels, they aren’t measured, many are simply staunch partisans, if even qualified. Trump even mentioned creating his own spy network. The goal, I suppose, is the collapse of all checks and balances. It’s a slow motion fall into absolute tyranny.

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    I must say, shouting Fake News! ™ is a useful mantra to avoid a direct lie, a problem the president gives himself many times a day.  It’s also easier to remember one thing – Fake News! ™ – than to remember why each particular revealed truth is one more lie by an angry opponent.  I wonder if its inventor will receive another marketing award.

    • Silence Hand says:

      I’m working on a script that substitutes “Bad” for “Fake” in “Fake News!”.  Everything makes more sense with that.

      Maybe it was some commenter here who advised that. Good advice.

  8. pseudonymous in nc says:

    It’s perhaps also time (if he hasn’t already done so) for Mueller and co. to chat to the members of the “billionaires’ cabinet” who receive regular phone calls from the Private Residence outside office hours.

  9. John Forde says:

    NBC reported last week that Mueller had approved the lawyer sharing of the Burck trio: Bannon, Priebus, McGahn. Before accepting this joint representation wouldn’t Mueller have examined the stories of each of the trio for consistency? Or was his ‘acceptance’ insignificant?

    • Trip says:

      That was, indeed, strange. McGahn remaining as an active participant in the White House, alone, would seem to make his interests diverge from the others. But I don’t have the answer to your question.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Bmaz can comment more fully, but I think lawyer sharing arrangements among defendants are primarily a matter for them and their counsel.  The lawyer can identify whether a material or potentially material conflict exists; it’s the clients’ choice to waive it and share information.  Mueller might object, but he would have to show why it would be unreasonable for the defendants’ counsel to share data.

      The sharing agreement can be rescinded by a defendant at any time.  The lawyer must end the arrangement where the conflict becomes so direct that a waiver cannot cure it.

    • bmaz says:

      Mueller did not have any objection at that time, based on whatever tactical analysis he made. That does not preclude him from later deciding to separate the trio because of “changed circumstances” and lodging a Motion For Determination of Counsel seeking to split them.

      • emptywheel says:

        Note, Mueller’s people DID do that with Rick Gates, bc someone he was trying to use for bail and whose NY based corruption case Gates is also implicated in might drag him in further.

  10. orionATL says:

    so the heart of this story is not that mcgahn threatened to quit, nor that trump wanted to fire mueller.

    the heart of the story is that the rats are beginning to abandon hms trump – wait a minute, rats don’t abandon ship, rats leave sinking ships. it’s sailors that abandon ship. your choice

  11. Wm. Boyce says:

    “To some extent I think the fact of the leaking is almost the most significant, that we’ve reached an inflection point where people at the center of things feel the need to redeem themselves at the expense of the president.”

    That’s hilarious, given the fact that Trumpty-Dumpty would cut almost anyone’s throat at will in his “deal-making.” He doesn’t inspire affection in people – just avarice.

  12. Rapier says:

    As of 11:45 AM the Times is sticking with  a sub headline

    “President backed down after lawyer threatened to quit”
    Implying causality

    It doesn’t say ‘because lawyer…’. so nailing causality.

  13. Bay State Librul says:

    Submit your book proposals.
    Comey
    The Cover-up
    The Cover-up of the Cover-up.
    The leakers.
    The lawyers.
    The launders
    Mike Isikoff and David Corn (The marriage of Yahoo and MoJo)
    The Dossier
    Obstruction of Justice by the Dozens.
    Conclusion: This is the craziest clusterfuck — and we are witnessing it in real time

  14. SpaceLifeForm says:

    So the attack on KL was just pure attack.
    And now various US agencies may actually be in a more precarious position wrt cybersecurity.

    https://www.reuters.com/article/amp/idUSKBN1FE1DT

    Major global technology providers SAP (SAPG.DE), Symantec (SYMC.O) and McAfee have allowed Russian authorities to hunt for vulnerabilities in software deeply embedded across the U.S. government, a Reuters investigation has found.

    The practice potentially jeopardizes the security of computer networks in at least a dozen federal agencies, U.S. lawmakers and security experts said. It involves more companies and a broader swath of the government than previously reported.

    DoD, FBI, ODNI, …

    [NSA and CIA *NOT* mentioned. Hmmm]

    http://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/rngs/USA-CYBER-RUSSIA/010060650E3/cyber.jpg

  15. k says:

    Considering demented donnies aversion to confrontation I can easily beleive the WH operates with some form of the old game of telephone where someone tells an intermediatory an unpleasent fact/threat/opinion/analysis then the person in the middle can report what others are saying without taking any ownership of said fact.
    We now know that the image of drumpf being in command on his old tv show was obviously fiction since he has not had the cojones to fire anyone from the WH but has farmed that out to others only laying claim to it after the dust has settled and confrontation avoided.
    the dunderhead is too much of a coward to fire anyone personally.

  16. Trip says:

    Ha, someone is spilling it all:
    Trump Launched Campaign to Discredit Potential FBI Witnesses
    The president targeted three bureau officials who could provide key testimony in the Mueller probe.

    President Donald Trump pressed senior aides last June to devise and carry out a campaign to discredit senior FBI officials after learning that those specific employees were likely to be witnesses against him as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, according to two people directly familiar with the matter…A person with direct knowledge of the matter said although Dowd explained the risks of senior FBI officials joining Comey in testifying against Trump, that information was part of a broader presentation to the president about Mueller’s investigation. It is not improper, but in fact is a duty, for an attorney to explain to a client how they are at risk, the source said. What may have been improper, however, were actions Trump took upon learning that information.
    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 first identified 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.
    Obstruction of justice cases depend largely on whether a prosecutor can demonstrate the intent or motivation of the person he or she charges. It’s not enough to prove that the person under investigation attempted to impede an ongoing criminal investigation — a prosecutor must demonstrate some corrupt purpose in doing so.

That Trump may have been motivated to attack specific FBI officials because they were potential witnesses against him could demonstrate potential intent that would bolster an obstruction of justice case.

    http://foreignpolicy.com/2018/01/26/trump-launched-campaign-to-discredit-potential-fbi-witnesses/?utm_content=buffer989ee&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

        • SpaceLifeForm says:

          I do not believe the Nunes memo willl ever come out. All distraction and spin.

          Pressure is on Gates.

          • Trip says:

            I wasn’t referring to the memo, just the history of inaction by the GOP. I can almost imagine Mueller presenting detailed evidence of a crime, for example, maybe Trump caught on tape shooting someone on Fifth Avenue, and the GOP still responding by rationalizing how it doesn’t matter.  I have no faith that any of this will go anywhere.  I still only see the small fish frying. I hope I’m wrong.

  17. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Mueller’s problem will not be finding enough evidence of obstruction.  It will be choosing the best examples of it, with the most persuasive witnesses and the best through line, to persuade a jury that what they’re hearing is the true, consistent, persistent, intentional and wrongful conduct of a sitting president. Most people would believe the described behavior, but many would have a hard time believing any president would commit that behavior. That will be Mueller’s biggest hurdle.

  18. orionATL says:

    here is some hard-headed realism about presidential criminal liability and any trial for such:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/president-trump-dodged-a-huge-bullet/2018/01/26/9022356c-02bf-11e8-8acf-ad2991367d9d_story.html?

    long story short – impeachment must come first; no trial until the presidency is over.

    the american presidency is an exceptionally powerful office, made more so by power-grabs by our prezes and power-yields by our congresses over the last 80 yrs. with trump’s authoritarian reign we are now reaping what we have sown and the full consequences of the 2016 russia-billionaire money-murdoch intervention are becoming manifest.

    i don’t know enough about what i will call “the law of (american) presidents” to judge this scholar’s assertions, but i can say i have watched every president in my life do pretty much what he god damned well wanted, constitution be damned, despite much gnashing of teeth by those who disagreed, with a good heart or bad. the only effective check on a president, for better or ill, seems to be an opposition congress.

    • orionATL says:

      thanks for the pierce cite.

      i read the article and sensed this was just more nytimes clinton-mauling.

      those nytimes bastards just don’t seem to realize what they are doing to their reputation each time they try to show just how pure of heart they are in the “fair and balanced” domain by, e. g., pairing maggie haberman hagiography with clinton mauling.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      I’ll take Charlie Pierce over Ken Gormley, whose article in the WaPo tastes like pablum, which surprises.  Gormley is president of Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and a scholar of presidents and the Constitution.

      Gormley compares Trump’s travails with Nixon’s during Watergate.  His advise to Trump is correct: Don’t fire Mueller.  It will cause you (and the country) more harm than good.  But his comparison with what happened to Nixon after he fired Archibald Cox misses important ingredients.

      Nixon was toppled not because of the public firestorm caused by his firing Cox.  He might have weathered that.  Nixon was ousted because there was substantial evidence of his crimes, essential witnesses flipped, and the press joined the chorus, after much hesitation.  Most importantly, Nixon confronted a different Congress.  That Congress had enough members willing to buck their president and the short-term interests of their party.

      This Republican Party is not that party.  This party actively enables Trump, occasional grimaces from senators Flake and Graham notwithstanding.  These Democrats are not like their 1970s incarnation.  They are inarticulate and ineffective.  They have been tamed by their corporate donor base and by the pay-to-play regime imposed by both parties during Gingrich’s tenure in the House in the mid-1990s.

      Gormley’s description of these investigations as always “politically motivated” seems simplistic.  Mueller’s investigation is more like Patrick Fitzgerald’s – which yielded a conviction for obstruction by a senior aid to the vice president – or Archibald Cox’s than Ken Starr’s.

      Reagan didn’t like the special investigations into Iran-Contra – and his CIA successfully stonewalled Lawrence Walsh’s investigation.  But then his White House basement was home to those running the illegal Iran-Contra scheme.  George H. W. Bush found that investigation “profoundly troubling”, but not apparently Ollie North’s shenanigans.  When he succeeded Reagan, the former head of the CIA pardoned key defendants to protect himself and to close off further investigation by a Democratic successor.

      The same was true of Gerald Ford, whose pardon of Nixon was not to “heal the country”.  Ford foreclosed the possibility of a post-resignation trial of Nixon, and the documentation of crimes that would entail.  Clinton did consider the many investigations into his administration politically motivated and “a failed coup d’etat”, which seems largely but not wholly true.

      Gormley’s final paragraph:

      “Yet strong presidents learn to live with such unpleasantness so they are not eaten alive by it. Weathering a special prosecutor’s investigation is like enduring an intrusive, undignified medical examination. It’s no picnic. But refusing to let it go forward presents much bigger problems for the chief executive and for the whole country that must deal with the consequences.”

      One could excuse the reference to “strong presidents” as flattery of the kind this vain president demands.  Gormley’s metaphors – investigations are an “unpleasantness” (like the president sitting for his morning combover), an intrusive medical procedure (of the kind that Trump presumably avoided in his most recent exam at Bethesda) – invite comparison with the quip, “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?”

      The evidence is already sufficient to justify Bob Mueller’s investigation.  Whether it will conclude that prosecutable crimes were committed is not clear.  But Trump’s documented passion for lying already justifies asking Bob Mueller and his team to do their job, because “refusing to let it go forward presents much bigger problems for the chief executive and for the whole country that must deal with the consequences.”

      • orionATL says:

        you’ve written a long, detailed article, earl of h. with much interesting hisrorical data included.

        what you have not done is what i did – direct attention to what may be a central reality of american politics directly relevant to many comments here: the president cannot be tried for criminal conduct while in office.

        why don’t you tackle that issue, rather than picking apart in interesting but largely irrelevant detail gormley’s short but informative article.

        what do you think, lawyer?

        can the president be tried for obstruction of justice, or perjury, or money laundering, or financial crimes (e. g., tax evasion) while in office, or not?

        must he be impeached and removed from office before a criminal trial can be held, or not?

        personally, i appreciate what gormley did. maybe it will start some argumentation about his thesis.

        charlie pierce or gormley is a trivial choice you chose to make.

        • orionATL says:

          let me add:

          if gormley is right, then that fact offers the best possible outcome for the mueller investigation – a full accounting with evidence of trump’s and the trump admin’s crimes without any possibility/need for a criminal trial in the immediate future. the nation will know more or less “what happened” with regard to russian/trump co-operation during the 2016 election, toward trump’s finances, toward obstruction of justice, etc. the republican party may not feel so obliged by party loyalty to engage in extraordinarily authoritarian behavior to protect trump’s ass.

          and the special councel’s findings and report will hang over the republican party like a sword.

          • Rugger9 says:

            Someone needs to go to jail, or it will be this process for creating a dictatorship tried again until they get it right.   That lesson was missed by the actions after Iran Contra, Darth Cheney’s administration, the 2008 meltdown, etc., even if “political” motivations are screeched by the RWNM.

          • orionATL says:

            earl of huntingdon –

            i don’t consider it “homework” i would bother to do to analyze a short, simple article to death with historical detail irrelevant to the simple core message – to prosecute or not prosecute a sitting president. i consider it at best pedantry and at worst playing around to discredit the article. why discredit? that’s a good question. from my view this wapo article did me the service of raising a critical basic question i have not considered nor seen discussed anywhere here in all the recent discussion about obstruction, etc. i did not care about the author’s politics or academic/subject prejudices.

            i have no problem with your writing up all the history homework you have done, i just don’t appreciate an effort that serves no clear purpose other than to obscure or deligitimize my highlighting an impending central issue in the mueller v. trump saga.

            below i list other news articles that discuss this issue from the opposite perspective including a delightful 50 page memo from independent counsel ken starr on the legitimacy of prosecuting a sitting prez. i’ m willing to predict this general issue will become a major issue as mueller moves forward.

          • earlofhuntingdon says:

            You’re making this too personal.  We have different priorities and interests.  Metaphors are how we think.  Bad metaphors mislead us and make us vulnerable.  My criticism of Gormley is that in an effort to convince Trump not to fire Mueller, he trivializes presidential investigations and leaves out part of what made earlier ones work or fail.

            The process by which Nixon was held to account no longer holds.  Republicans learned their lessons immediately.  So did the press, which, in concert with the political and foreign policy establishment, overtly pulled back from encouraging “an excess of democracy”.

            If we want to hold Trump or any president to account for documented crimes, we will need to reinvent a coalition and a process – and confront the protections put in place to avoid another Watergate.

            The process and the coalition that held Nixon to account fell apart almost immediately.  Ford pardoned Nixon without consequence.  Reagan and his vice president, Bush, Sr., avoided accountability for crimes, in part, because their CIA successfully stonewalled Lawrence Walsh, and because Republicans, including then Congressman Dick Cheney, staunchly enabled them precisely to avoid another Watergate.  That was thirty years ago.

            The Republicans also learned to counterattack mercilessly.  We see that today in Nunes and company’s behavior today; the enabling of Trump is party-wide.  But that was true in the Iran-Contra investigation in the late 1980s, and it was on full display against Clinton throughout the 1990s.  That uniform resistance and counterattack was on display more recently in a Republican Senate refusing to consider many of Obama’s court nominees, most famously Merrick Garland.

            The lesson from Watergate is not that the system worked and that Nixon was held accountable.  It is that great efforts were made to avoid it ever happening again.  That informs us more accurately of how much effort it would take to reimpose presidential accountability.

            • orionATL says:

              earl of huntingdon –

              “You’re making this too personal.  We have different priorities and interests.  Metaphors are how we think.  Bad metaphors mislead us and make us vulnerable.  My criticism of Gormley is that in an effort to convince Trump not to fire Mueller, he trivializes presidential investigations and leaves out part of what made earlier ones work or fail.”

              you are exactly right; i was making this too personal.

              your paragraph above explains everything to me. i was after a quick citation of a matter i thought unwisely ignored. you were more concerned with deeper matters, the consequences of republicans demonizing and minimizing an extremely important, well-warranted on the surface, investigation of presidential misconduct.

              thanks for being clear headed enough to articulate our different interests and patient enough to write them out. i’m sorry i was not.

              • SpaceLifeForm says:

                earl of huntingdon, orionATL

                You both really are on the same side.

                Yet, there are other games afoot.

                The old history of investigations, well, it is just old history.

                What is going on today is really different.

                We just need to learn some ‘stuff’.

                Until any TLA proves their worth, none can be trusted.

  19. Karl Darx says:

    It still looks to me like you folks are working backwards from your desired conclusion. It’s not likely to succeed. You seem to all be good patriots, but I believe you have the story all wrong.

    You want/you assume Trump to be guilty of “something criminal”, but after a year and a half of the entire national press corps digging up the countryside, nothing has been found. Nothing. And there is zero chance that if anybody had found anything at all, we wouldn’t all know about it.

    So the only thing left is to try to manipulate Trump into a “process crime”. As if not cooperating this way is obstruction, or acting to protect himself that way is obstruction, etc. And it’s for certain that that is what Mueller is angling for. It’s his, and the left’s, only chance to obstruct and destroy the Trump agenda.

    But far more likely is, that as the midterms get closer, the dirty Fibbies (McCabe, Stzrok, Rybicki, Baker, Carlin, Ohr, etc) are going to be perp-walked, one at a time. Trump and team probably have them all scheduled out already.

    And Mueller himself has questions he should be answering, regarding his conduct in Uranium One, and Cassandra, and more. He’s clearly been a bad boy, and it’s possible Trump may decide to exact a stiff price for Mueller’s persecution of him and his team. Because there is no way Mueller has not known about all those illegal FISA inquiries.

    It will be interesting, for sure. Pass the popcorn!

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      It sure looks to me like your comment has a bad case of projection. I’ll bet the microfilm is hidden in Donald’s pumpkin patch.

  20. Rugger9 says:

    A president is not anointed, the president is a citizen first and foremost. That means a president is subject to the same laws as we are with respect to criminal conduct and should be liable if a valid referral for prosecution is made on obstruction charges or lying to investigators. Agnew was sent up the river before Nixon was impeached, that is how Ford ended up as (so far) the only President never elected nationally. Does anyone really make the case that if the Kaiser waxed someone on Fifth Avenue in NYC that he would be protected by immunity as head of state? I do not think so.

    Would a conviction for crime mean the Kaiser would be booted out of office? The Constitution is silent on the issue, IIRC not even the usual statement about “good behavior” is there which means while Caesar is hanging out in Club Fed he still has the codes. The Founders never fathomed that someone as militantly unprincipled as the Kaiser has proven to be could actually get elected, and assumed the shame would lead to resignations before convictions.

    • Rugger9 says:

      FWIW, it appears to me that the Kaiser is daring Mueller to indict him knowing full well that the political solution to remove him from office will be stopped by a fully compromised (at best ,if not outright conspiratory) GOP in Congress.

      The Constitution is also silent about whether the Kaiser is immune from criminal prosecution aside from the “faithful execution” clause where it’s part of his job (no penalties are attached in the Constitution, however).

    • orionATL says:

      here is a 1998 (clinton) article by the excellent supreme court reporter linda greenhouse:

      http://www.nytimes.com/1998/01/25/weekinreview/the-nation-a-primer-prosecuting-a-president.html

      and here is a 2017 article on a ken starr memo supporting the view that a (democrat :) ) president can be indicted and tried:

      https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/22/us/politics/can-president-be-indicted-kenneth-starr-memo.html

      this 50+ page memo may give republican protectors of trump some serious heartburn.

      one of the few pleasures of our current national distress is seeing how republicans who were such stalwart supporters of “the rule of law” in 1998 have suddenly done a full 180 deg turn and now march to the cry of “government abuse of investigative and prosecutorial power”.

  21. Karl Darx says:

    I see you (Marcy, I guess?) have deleted my previous comment.

    If this is how you treat polite participants who simply disagree with your assumptions or viewpoint, then you don’t really deserve any respect from people of integrity. I’ll keep this in mind if I ever see your name in print or on tv. I’ll remember that you are a person too cowardly to have an honest exchange of ideas.

    It’s going to be especially tough on you as your bubbles continue to pop, and as Trump accelerates the swamp-draining process. You know, he likes to think big, so it’s likely that he already has his eight-year plan all laid out.

    You are going to find more and more strong insightful people opposing you, and defeating you and your “misguided” views. And as this goes on, they won’t be so polite about it either. Hopefully it will help you mature into a person of integrity yourself.

    Goodbye. Here’s some good advice from someone who genuinely wants you to succeed:
    Hey, Democrats! We need you to get your act together! | Armed and Dangerous
    http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=7268

    • bmaz says:

      Are you done whining yet??

      Nobody “deleted” your somewhat obtuse comment, it merely got caught in our moderation filter on a Friday night when nobody was around to see it. Once I saw it, I freed it up. That is all. Take the rest of your screed and shove it.

      • Karl Darx says:

        I apologize to Marcy for my rash and intemperate comment.

        You guys are so warm and friendly. Bmaz, you apparently don’t know what a “screed” is. Thank you kindly for freeing up my first comment though. And, let us know how you feel about Eric Raymond’s insightful piece. He’s got real wisdom there.

        Big indictments are just around the corner. Obama politicized and corrupted the DOJ from top to bottom, like we’ve never seen. You progs should have been as outraged as anyone. Democrats used to care about civil liberties and government tyranny. Now the bill is about to come due. But – don’t believe me. Just watch. Keep your spirits up, and the popcorn hot. And take heart – it’s not only democrats heading for the slammer. Swampcritters of all stripes are going down. And that’s all to the good. ‘Flay with equal vigor to the left and the right’, the wise man once said. Amen!

        Of course, it will be mostly Dems, and Trump wouldn’t miss the chance to use this ugly mess to gain some seats in Congress. That will keep the pot a-boiling.

        Wait and see.

        One last thing – did you see the Hill article recently saying Trump’s tax bill is achieving Democrat goals? What’s not to like. He’s not a conservative.

         

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          “Since his election, revelations of Donald Trump’s contempt for the legal process have been dizzying. The rule of law is what protects democracy in the United States. The president has done everything possible to subvert it.”

          You don’t write as if you find that credible.  On a more pragmatic level, then, you might consider, and remind your self-destructive president about, this bit of history:

          “Republicans…. and their president would do well to remember who the Watergate source worked for.”

          • Karl Darx says:

            You are correct, I don’t. To me, Jill Abramson is about as biased and hostile a source imaginable.

            And I’d listen to anyone showing me any actual self-destructive behavior on his part. So far what I see is disruptive behavior.

            I also know that people of good will out here in the cheap seats can often see the same thing and yet come away with strongly different takes on what transpired. So we’ll see together what happens next. And as you allude, the long knives are out for Trump. They are frantic to destroy him by any means possible, fair or foul. And I think foul is their only hope.

            But I think he knew that going in. And I think he is determined to drain the swamp.  Of course it will be very disappointing if anything actually incriminating (other than a “process crime”) is found on him.

            But, it won’t be because I’m a Trump fan. He’s just a mechanic. It’s because the DC “Augean stables” are fouling the entire nation with their filth, and the river must be turned to wash them out, somehow.

            I’d be quite happy if 75% of the federal government was closed permanently, and half of all the rest. Oppressive gov’t is a cancer upon our wonderful country. We’re far better off voluntarily helping each other. Privately. Directly. Generously.  And Neighborly.

             

            • earlofhuntingdon says:

              Don’t forget to renew your license to graze the cattle.  Sadly, the golf courses are off limits: the government doesn’t own them.

    • SpaceLifeForm says:

      Your point about jumping to conclusions is fine.

      But, you need to turn off the TV and research more.

      Seriously. Read different viewpoints. Do not watch Faux Noise. They will warp your neurons dude.

      • cat herder says:

        Once the Up-Is-Downism disease (in whatever flavor) has fully taken hold, no amount of ‘proof’ or ‘facts’ or ‘evidence’ will shake it off. Part of the disease is that ‘proof’ and ‘facts’ and ‘evidence’ appear, to the sufferer, to be lies manufactured specifically to further the conspiracy.

        See the ‘NO PLANES!’ variant of the Truther disease as example. “We KNOW there were no airplane parts found, therefore all those photos of airplane parts were clearly fabricated after the fact just to discredit us and hide The Truth!’ and so on. The Trump fascists are seeing things the same way. Any facts or direct testimony are immediately dismissed as fake, which means they can forever claim there is ‘zero evidence’ no matter what is discovered.

        It is a disease. There is no cure. But, sometimes the patient has a spontaneous recovery with no real explanation as to why or how. Until then all you can do is point and laugh, otherwise you’ll go insane trying to cure them.

  22. Bay State Librul says:

    The way the GOP leadership is responding to the obvious and on going obstruction of justice — Do you think Ryan, maybe not McConell, are involved in this mess?

  23. Willis Warren says:

    Marcy, do the Dutch think tRUmp tipped off the russkies?

    https://www.volkskrant.nl/media/dutch-agencies-provide-crucial-intel-about-russia-s-interference-in-us-elections~a4561913/

    This has led to anger in Zoetermeer and The Hague. Some Dutchmen even feel betrayed. It’s absolutely not done to reveal the methods of a friendly intelligence service, especially if you’re benefiting from their intelligence. But no matter how vehemently the heads of the AIVD and MIVD express their displeasure, they don’t feel understood by the Americans. It’s made the AIVD and MIVD a lot more cautious when it comes to sharing intelligence. They’ve become increasingly suspicious since Trump was elected president.

  24. Trip says:

    Marcy, I didn’t know that Michael Cohen was deputy chair of the RNC’s finance committee. Yeesh.

    And non sequitur, but what the hell is going on with Wynn’s face? Some disease process? Is it plastic surgery gone awry?

  25. Bay State Librul says:

    Getting back to Ryan

    Maybe the RNC is in on the Russian Investigation.

    If so, the 2016 election is null and void (in my happy crazy world).

    In any case, Mueller has to brief the American people and soon.

     

     

  26. Trip says:

    According to NYT, it looks like McConnell talked McGahn out of quitting. So did McConnell know Trump wanted to fire Mueller?

    Several people said Mr. McGahn has told some friends and colleagues that he has considered resigning over the past six months, but that Mr. McConnell has repeatedly urged him to stay. Mr. McConnell declined to discuss his private conversations with Mr. McGahn, but said through a spokesman that “President Trump picked the finest White House counsel I’ve ever worked with.”

    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/26/us/politics/trump-white-house-counsel-mcgahn.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&pagewanted=all

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      A good consigliere must be hard to find.  So many of them follow the law rather than pervert it.

      • Trip says:

        Yep. Just goes to show how much McConnell and Ryan are pulling the puppet strings of Trump, letting him think he’s in charge. But then the Kochs are pulling their strings, and so it goes.

        It’s too late to edit my prior comment, but I guess Trump ordered Mueller fired, rather than just “wanting to” fire him.

        • SpaceLifeForm says:

          Do not buy the NYT article.
          Other ‘stuff’ going on.
          But let the media spin it in the meantime.

          • Trip says:

            I don’t buy the McGahn as hero storyline. But I wouldn’t mind if he took some other higher level smug a-holes, like McConnell, down along the way. McConnell knows way more of what’s going on in the WH than he lets on in public.

            • Trip says:

              I suppose McGahn is getting out in front because he is the fall guy, as Marcy said.  Trump will blame all of his duplicity on accepting WH counsel’s advice: McGahn devising justifications for Comey’s firing through Sessions and Rosenstein, and the plot of dirtying up the FBI and special counsel, instead of firing Mueller.

              I wonder when John Kelly will get a call from Mueller, as an after the fact accomplice? Pffft.  Passing notes to the ‘recused’ Sessions on the King’s whims.

               

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