Monday, March 19, 2018

Trumps Fall Apart

Drawing by John Darkow, 1./28/16, via George H.'s Pinterest.

At the end of an anxious post Friday, Digby wrote:
Trump is getting stronger every day. Don't let the chaos fool you. 
Which is somewhat the opposite of what I've been thinking, that he's starting at last to really fall apart, which is pretty daunting. I'm diametrically disagreeing about something with Digby! A friend was shocked enough to ask about it, by email, but it's going to take me a while to get around to the point, so bear with me.

A lot of people, Digby included, think we can't know much about the official grounds for the firing of Andrew McCabe until an official report is issued—
It is certainly true that we don't know all the facts underlying the firing of Andrew McCabe. Maybe he was leaking damaging information to the press about Hillary Clinton and/or Donald Trump and then blatantly lied about it. From what we understand his crimes so far, they are much more vague than that but we'll have to wait and see. 
—but that's not quite correct. Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman for The New York Times seem to have found out a good deal, though they also don't seem to think it's a very important part of the story, and don't get there until paragraphs 22-23, and it turns out to be about an FBI investigation of the Clinton Foundation:

The inspector general’s report faults Mr. McCabe for his lack of candor in interviews with internal investigators. The report has not been released, but people briefed on it say the allegations revolve around disclosures to The Wall Street Journal, which reported in October 2016 a dispute between the F.B.I. and the Justice Department over how to proceed in an investigation into the Clinton family’s foundation.
Mr. McCabe, working through the F.B.I. press office, authorized a spokesman and a bureau lawyer to speak with The Journal in order to rebut allegations that Mr. McCabe had slowed down the Clinton Foundation investigation. To the contrary, the article ultimately noted, Mr. McCabe had insisted that his agents had the authority to investigate the foundation, even if the Justice Department refused to authorize grand jury subpoenas.
This wasn't just any day in October 2016. It was October 30, two days after James Comey's famous letter informing Congress that there was some new documentation in the question of Secretary of State Clinton's private email server, which soon turned out to be copies of State Department emails saved to a laptop belonging to the husband, Anthony Weiner, of Clinton's personal gofer Huna Abedin, which was at the moment evidence in an unrelated case involving Weiner's Wiener, or its electronic image.

The WSJ article itself, behind a paywall I've never scaled, but nicely covered in a New York Magazine piece by Margaret Hartmann, was about the renewed email investigation, and reported feuding over it between the FBI and the DOJ, but the Foundation showed up in paragraph 14, and went on to say:
It appears the probe was in its preliminary stages, and while some at the FBI wanted to launch a more robust investigation into allegations that the charity provided improper favors or political access to donors, the Justice Department’s public integrity unit said there was not enough evidence to move forward with the case....
However, according to the Journal, FBI field offices in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Little Rock have been collecting information on the charity for more than a year. The New York office did the most work on the case, with help from Little Rock. The L.A. office picked up information about the foundation in an unrelated public-corruption case, and D.C. was looking at the charity as part of its ongoing investigation into Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, who is a former Clinton Foundation board member.
FBI officials presented their findings to the Justice Department in February, seeking approval to step up their investigation. Per the Journal:
By all accounts, the meeting didn’t go well.
Some said that is because the FBI didn’t present compelling evidence to justify more aggressive pursuit of the Clinton Foundation, and that the career anticorruption prosecutors in the room simply believed it wasn’t a very strong case. Others said that from the start, the Justice Department officials were stern, icy and dismissive of the case.
“That was one of the weirdest meetings I’ve ever been to,” one participant told others afterward, according to people familiar with the matter.
FBI agents continued probing the foundation using methods that did not require Justice Department approval. A source says that when a Justice Department official caught wind of this, he complained to Andrew McCabe, the bureau’s second-in-command. McCabe pushed back, and some say that after the call he reiterated his instructions for FBI agents to continue looking into the foundation. However, some lower-level FBI operatives claim they were instructed to “stand down.”
And when we mention an "FBI field office in New York" that "did the most work", we're talking about the same two retired Hillary-hating old farts, Rodolfo Giuliani and Jim Kallstrom and their minions, who masterminded squeezing Comey into writing the letter that changed the election result; they seem to have had a couple of tricks up their respective sleeves. Or one trick with two faces, because the emails and the Foundation were all one investigation in the Giuliani-Kallstrom slime shop:
McCabe reportedly shut down an effort by agents working the foundation case to obtain the emails searched as part of the Clinton server probe. After prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York denied their request in September, the agents on the foundation case wanted to go to federal prosecutors, but McCabe said they couldn’t “go prosecutor-shopping.”
Also, who the hell says "Stand down"? Benghazi truthers, that's who, discussing the failure on the part of Obama's secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, to get US troops to save the besieged consulate in 2013, and more recently David Corn and Michael Isikoff, discussing the failure of Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, to allow the CIA to do something or other to stop Russian election meddling in August 2016, and now somebody complaining about the malign influence of Obama's attorney general, Loretta Lynch, in preventing the FBI from exposing the corrupt Clinton Foundation. "Stand down!" is something Obama's henchwomen always say when they're hating America and reducing our heroes to total impotence.

So by now you should have recognized the territory: it's the same FBI axis that was so baffling Comey at exactly the same time, getting him to publicly announce the existence of the Weiner "evidence" by threatening to leak the story themselves, in a much more incendiary fashion, and the same blackmail: the Giuliani-Kallstrom minions threatening to claim that pointy-headed DOJ officials and their fifth column inside the Bureau were preventing them from investigating the Clinton Foundation, which McCabe (who had been working to keep the Weiner lapstop story from the public for a month already, according to Fox News) was hoping to counter by telling the press that the investigation was proceeding.

Incidentally, it's pretty clearly the case that the DOJ prosecutors were right, there was no case worth pursuing, and I'm supposing Comey and McCabe understood this; this would be why the investigation was allowed to die quietly after the election, though it seems to have been revived this January, at the Emperor's strong instance. The New York Magazine story of October 2016 said, my bold,
It’s not clear if the FBI turned up any significant evidence against the Clinton Foundation. One person told the Post that the presentation to the Justice Department was at least partially based on news reports.

McCabe's contribution to the WSJ article, then, seems to have been that he authorized a Bureau spokesperson to deny that the bureau had given in to DOJ pressure to block the Clinton Foundation investigation (it wasn't an anti-Clinton statement, as some have sloppily suggested, but a pro-FBI statement, countering rumors of internal strife), and he was fired because of that, and because in speaking about this in an internal Bureau review he
lacked candor — including under oath — on multiple occasions
in the remarkable words of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, the noted expert in amended congressional testimony and "I can't recall".

And as of last night, we have yet another perjury case starting to build against Sessions and his claim (to the House Judiciary Committee) that he "pushed back" against George Papadopoulos's proposal to "reach out" to Russia in March 2016, with three as yet unnamed witnesses, all of whom have testified  to the FBI or a congressional committee (J.D. Gordon, Trump's national security adviser during the campaign, backs Sessions up, but has been known to change his mind).

And, as the details of the McCabe case start to get clearer (I seem to have been writing this forever),
(You should read this whole thread.)

I get that this is not supposed to be the reason McCabe was deprived of (some of) his retirement pay (he's not losing anything like the whole pension, though as Steve says Trump probably doesn't know that), if there's just one reason; that it's a cooked-up pretext like the Rosenstein memo on the basis of which Comey was fired last year (the same pretext, in fact: in October 2016 Comey improperly disclosed some details of an investigation targeting Hillary Clinton, and so did McCabe, though Comey is accused of doing it in July as well). And yet isn't that in itself kind of weird? Because if you think of the real reasons, why Trump decided he must fire Comey and why he decided he must fire McCabe, they're completely different.

Trump dumped Comey, self-evidently, with the idea of stopping the investigation, though it wasn't a very smart idea, evidently, in that all it accomplished was to inspire Rosenstein to appoint a special counsel who'd be more difficult to get rid of. He fires McCabe at the end of a weirdly truncated process described by McCabe's lawyer Michael Bromwich,
The investigation described in the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report was cleaved off from the larger investigation of which it was a part, its completion expedited, and the disciplinary process completed in a little over a week. Mr. McCabe and his counsel were given limited access to a draft of the OIG report late last month, did not see the final report and the evidence on which it is based until a week ago, and were receiving relevant exculpatory evidence as recently as two days ago. We were given only four days to review a voluminous amount of relevant evidence, prepare a response, and make presentations to the Office of the Deputy Attorney General. With so much at stake, this process has fallen far short of what Mr. McCabe deserved.
Less than two days before his retirement is slated to start, not to stop the investigation, but to harm the ex-investigator any way he could, though perhaps to clarify to the remaining investigators that his wrath is fierce and inescapable.

The old guys in New York—ex-agent and ex-mayor—may be impressed by this show of force, or they may be directing it for that matter (Trump and Giuliani had dinner together at Mar-a-Lago a couple of weeks ago, and I'm sure Giuliani is one of Trump's late-night phone buddies), but I think a vast majority of working agents are going to be nothing but enraged at this contempt for the mutual obligations of management and staff, frightened and furious at the realization that nobody's safe from arbitrary despotism in this reckless regime.

I think it might be correct to say Trump's getting more violent, and unpredictable in general—that North Korea démarche (which nobody's talking about any more, at least for the moment) wasn't violent, but it was extraordinarily wild—but he's not taking care at all of his own interests. He's losing friends and making moves that create enemies, further and further isolating himself with the cheeseburger and TV in the bedroom and the zombies in the rally auditorium, more and more out of touch (as I type these last lines I'm hearing Jonah Goldberg on NPR quoting Maggie Haberman about how Trump is more confident of his powers than ever and I'm thinking Digby, you're swallowing a story from the Village...).

His cunning is failing him, and he's not well. Also he's guilty and doesn't know how to stop showing it, which obviously doesn't mean Republicans will ever be willing to impeach him, but does mean something in the wider public sphere. It's a con act, inflated with imaginary political capital, with nothing real to back it up (that tax cut's done already), and con acts always come to an end.

Also, per Haberman via Steve, he's not off the chain.

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