This week we finally saw the right's defenses of Donald Trump crystallize into an overarching "theory of everything," as Salon's Matthew Sheffield wrote on Thursday: A Department of Justice and FBI cabal worked feverishly to help Hillary Clinton escape accountability for her crimes, and was only thwarted by the stable genius of Donald Trump. This "secret society" is now doing everything in its power to overthrow the president. We spent the week following three specific strands of this alleged scandal, all of which have disintegrated by Friday morning.
First we had the so-called secret society which was excitedly flogged by the entire Fox News apparatus and taken up, perhaps a bit gingerly, by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. That turned out to be a joke in a text message from one of the FBI lovers at the center of the Republican conspiracy theory. Literally. So that was that.
The second strand was the case of the "missing texts," in which some of the messages on the two lovers' cell phones were lost in the transfer to new devices. President Trump got into that one, claiming that 50,000 texts were gone and declaring it "one of the biggest stories in a long time." The Republicans basically just dusted off their old "Clinton emails" talking points and made it all sound suspicious for a couple of days. Then the Department of Justice informed them that thousands of phones had been affected in the switch -- and that all the missing text messages had been restored. So much for that.
Finally there was "The Memo," a document written by House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes, R-Calif., that purports to show a conspiracy to misuse the FISA court process to authorize an illegal surveillance of former Trump adviser Carter Page. Unfortunately, nobody but Nunes and other House members can see the memo because it's classified and releasing it, even to members of the Senate Intelligence Committee or officials at the Department of Justice, would be wrong.
None of which makes much sense. The Democrats who have seen the underlying classified intelligence say the memo is bunk, the DOJ has refuted its conclusions and it turns out that even Nunes hasn't seen it and instead depended upon the judgment of longtime Benghazi inquisitor Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.
Shep Smith just totally shattered the Nunes memo narrative his colleagues Fox News have been pushing. pic.twitter.com/JAdkVjQOtA— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) January 25, 2018
Poor Devin! The same thing keeps happening. The White House slips him some information to use to defend the president, it doesn't pan out and he looks like a fool. Still, Republicans thought they had built some momentum that would give Trump some cover as Robert Mueller's probe closes in on the White House. On his own Fox News show, Sean Hannity thundered that salvation was at hand because "the walls are closing in on those responsible for this massive corruption and abuse of power at the top levels of government in what we are now calling state-sponsored sabotage."
That imaginative narrative collapsed on Thursday night with the explosive story in the New York Times reporting that Trump had ordered White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller back in June -- and McGahn, a staunch Republican and Trump loyalist, said he would quit rather than follow that order. This happened shortly after James Comey was fired at the FBI and around the time it became clear that Mueller was looking at possible White House efforts to obstruct justice. Trump had unleashed a series of Twitter rants about the investigation, most of which went something like this:
You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history - led by some very bad and conflicted people! #MAGA— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 15, 2017
Trump confidant Chris Ruddy went on television and said outright that the president was thinking of firing Mueller, which in retrospect looks like a trial balloon:
At the time, the White House furiously denied that Trump was thinking any such thing and claimed Ruddy didn't know what he was talking about. While the president has publicly denied that he ever wanted to fire Mueller, we can't say for sure whether that was the only time he's come close to pulling the trigger.
In Michael Wolff's "Fire and Fury," he mentions Trump's obsession with Mueller, which Wolff suggests is really about Trump's fear of the prosecutor getting into his personal financial dealings. He writes that one of Trump's "repetitive loops" is "I can fire him." Wolff describes the president's thinking this way:
He lived in a mano a mano world, one in which if your own respectability and sense of personal dignity were not a paramount issue -- if you weren't weak in the sense of needing to seem like a reasonable and respectable person -- you had a terrific advantage. And if you made it personal, if you believed that when the fight really mattered that it was kill or be killed, you were unlikely to meet someone willing to make it as personal as you were.
That may be what Trump believes about himself. But the New York Times article reports that in the end he didn't have the guts to fire Mueller himself. He tasked McGahn to do it, who told others in the White House that the president "would not follow through on the dismissal on his own." In fact, for all his bluster and his TV catchphrase "you're fired," Trump is a coward who always has others do his dirty work. You may recall that Jim Comey heard he'd been dismissed from a TV news broadcast.
Everyone wonders why this story would come out now, with four sources all telling the same tale to more than one reporter. Logic says it was leaked by McGahn, to defend himself from potential criminal charges. But whoever the leakers are, this suggests that people are getting nervous about being implicated as accessories to Trump's obstruction of justice. The evidence is piling up.
This news that Trump ordered McGahn to fire Mueller comes in the same week when we heard that FBI Director Christopher Wray had threatened to resign if Attorney General Jeff Sessions didn't back off his demands for a full-scale purge of the FBI. Earlier in this tortured tale, you may recall, Trump had asked Sessions to resign because the latter had recused himself from the Russia investigation, and then Trump declined to accept his resignation. That's not all. As the Atlantic's Natasha Bertrand tweeted recently, "Trump asked Comey for loyalty; asked him to drop the Flynn probe; fired Comey; pressured Sessions not to recuse; pressured Sessions to fire McCabe; pressured Coats, Rogers, Pompeo and multiple congressmen to say he wasn’t under FBI investigation; and tried to fire Mueller."
On his way to Davos on Wednesday Trump denied obstructing justice and mockingly said, "You fight back and oh, it's obstruction." Mr. President, you cannot fight back by abusing your power to cover up a crime or by intimidating and influencing witnesses. He simply doesn't seem to understand that the rule of law applies to him.
The good news for the president is that his base of hysterical supporters is sticking with him no matter what. Here's Sean Hannity, right after he heard the latest news about Trump and Mueller:
Liberal media sheep shocked @realDonaldTrump thought about firing Corrupt Mueller and his liberal team of Hillary lovers, which HE DID NOT DO! They have NO CLUE about what’s coming. Tick tock, tick tock....Stay tuned Irredeemable deplorables. Best Sean— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) January 26, 2018
They're all handling this well, aren't they? "What's coming" is likely to be ugly indeed.