Littwin: We apparently just missed out on a Saturday Night Massacre, but wait till next week
Fair and Unbalanced
Remember the government shutdown? It ended on, like, Monday.
Don’t feel bad. Nobody does. It’s Friday as I write this, and a week in TrumpWorld is basically like six months in the real world, or that’s what I’m guessing. Like many of you, I hold almost no memory of that real world.
But I know that reopening the barely-noticed shut-down government was maybe the least interesting thing that happened this week, just another day when political forces in Washington briefly collided only to give way to more pressing entries in our Trumpian dysfunction-of-the-week rankings. (The Steve Wynn, Hillary Clinton, Larry Nassar stories? We’ll have to find a new category.)
I particularly enjoyed the two-day Fox News/Trey Gowdy/Ron Johnson/Donald Trump interlude in which a harmless text between two FBI agents, who turn out to be lovers, about a so-called secret meeting was heralded as the smoking gun in proving there was an anti-Trump cabal within the FBI.
Johnson, who happens to be chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee and is therefore semi-important, took the secret-meeting text and somehow inferred from it that there was “corruption at the highest levels of the FBI,” that “the secret society (was) holding meetings off-site” and “there’s so much smoke here, there’s so much suspicions.”
All of which he shared on Fox News — until, well, the entire text, which was sent the day after the 2016 election, was revealed. It went like this: “Are you even going to put out the calendars? Seems kind of depressing. Maybe it should be the first meeting of the secret society.”
Meanwhile, the New York Times reported the calendars — with beefcake photos of Vladimir Putin — were gag gifts. Presumably secret gag gifts. And Johnson would have to admit that maybe it was really just all a joke and that he might be an idiot. (He didn’t actually say the idiot part, but it’s understood).
Then, of course, came the Thurday bombshell from the Trump administration of a take-it-or-leave-it Dreamer/border wall/immigration compromise, which was actually an attempted hostage taking, in which Trump set up a path to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers in return for $25 billion for a border wall that Mexico isn’t paying for and regulations that would crack down on non-Dreamer illegal immigrants and severely cut the number of legal immigrants who could enter the country. This was taken, briefly, as a serious offer until people actually read it, after which the Senate has basically ignored it.
Then Trump went off to Davos and the New York Times dropped a real bombshell. This one is real news, not the fake kind of secret-society news. It’s so big that, even in TrumpWorld time, its half-life should survive the weekend, or at least as long Robert Mueller survives.
This was, of course, The Saturday Night Masscre That Wasn’t, in which Trump, back in June, was ready to fire special counsel Robert Mueller on the grounds that he was, well, Robert Mueller and was in charge of the Russia probe and who, according to Trump, would be prejudiced against him because Mueller once quit one of Trump’s golf clubs, presumably in a dispute over fees. It won’t surprise you to know that Mueller said that didn’t actually happen.
As you know by now, Trump White House counsel Donald McGahn is the hero of the story. He refused to do the deed (which, of course, would be complicated because Trump can’t actually fire Mueller, but can fire those people in the Justice Department who would refuse to fire him) and Trump backed down.
And for the next some months Trump and his advisers would routinely lie about never having considering firing Mueller because, well, lying is what they do.
There are many reasons why this is such a big story. One, it recalls Richard Nixon, whose actions represent the baseline for presidents who don’t survive scandal and who did, in fact, fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Two, it looks like Mueller’s probe has moved to its obstruction-of-justice phase and Trump’s readiness to fire Mueller fits in neatly with his firing of Jim Comey, which followed Comey’s refusal to ease up on Mike Flynn, and his near-firing of Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia probe and, of course, Trump’s help in drafting Don Jr.’s false explanation for the Russia-Clinton dirt-digging expedition, and, just guessing, about a few dozen other things. As Trump said the other day, they’re talking about “fighting back” as obstruction. Yeah, they are.
But, third, and this may be the most important, somebody leaked this story to the Times more than six months after it happened. Why? And why now? The easy guess, which has a much better chance of being right than Ron Johnson’s FBI secret-meeting conspiracy theory, is that Trump could be on the verge of firing Mueller again, particularly since Mueller has asked to interview Trump and Trump said he’s ready to do the interview under oath, which has caused his lawyers to hyperventilate. Putting out the story would be one way of showing just how badly firing Mueller would play.
People talk about a special counsel interview being a perjury trap — see: Clinton, Bill — but the truth is that Trump doesn’t need a trap to lie. An interview would, of course, be a disaster for him. And since he’s basically agreed to do one, firing Mueller would be one way around it. Of course, firing Mueller, as McGahn had warned Trump earlier, might be an even bigger disaster, and one that would force some Republicans to actually take a stand on the ongoing Trump insanity.
If you want a preview, the Denver Post’s John Frank briefly interviewed Cory Gardner on Friday about the Trump-Mueller story and then tweeted out the results. Gardner’s thoughts on Trump’s order to fire Mueller: “I’ve certainly said I oppose any firing — but he didn’t and that was the right outcome.” Pressed to comment on the fact that Trump attempted to fire Mueller: “The fact that he tried that — I certainly wouldn’t have supported and didn’t support.”
If Gardner seemed disinclined to go much further, that’s because the only place to go — and the obvious answer — would be that this is an outrage and Congress must immediately pass a law preventing presidents from peremptorily firing special counsels/prosectutors, etc. I don’t see that happening either. But, hey, maybe next week.
Mike Littwin runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for ColoradoIndependent.com.