The Story, As Laid Out By The New York Times, Is Simple. The Implications Aren’t.
- According to the Times, back in June, Trump ordered the firing of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
- White House Counsel Donald McGahn said he’d resign if the President insisted on going through with it.
- It didn’t happen.
The Times says Special Counsel Mueller “learned about the episode in recent months as his investigators interviewed current and former senior White House officials.” And apparently in some detail: the Times saying Trump got very specific on his reasoning (or what he wanted to present as his reasoning) for firing Mueller. 3 things:
- A dispute years ago involving membership fees at a Trump Golf Club that resulted in Mueller cancelling his membership.
- The fact that Mueller had recently been affiliated with a law firm that represented Jared Kushner, Trump’s adviser and son-in-law.
- The day before Mueller was appointed Special Counsel, he’d interviewed with Trump for the job of F.B.I. Director.
No matter what, this is huge. And the story which the Times originally broke, has subsequently been independently confirmed by others, including the Washington Post and Politico. But there are things in the Times’ story that are murky:
• Since the President obviously didn’t actually go through with the firing, the Times’ story is really about something that didn’t happen. In that light it’s fair to ask: was this just Trump throwing a temper tantrum and his White House Counsel knowing him well enough to figure if he held the President at bay for a little while he’d calm down? Or did Trump indeed come very close to initiating a crisis of gargantuan proportions?
• We always look at how a story is sourced, and the sourcing of the Times story is odd: it’s attributed to “four people told of the matter”. Meaning people who were not actually around when it happened. Otherwise known as hearsay. Giving Trump a lot of room to deny.
Trump’s out of the country: as we publish this newsletter he’s just started a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, praising his “America First” economic agenda. Although he hasn’t Tweeted about the Mueller story yet, Fox News reports he did comment on it this morning, calling the report “Typical New York Times fake stories“. Stay tuned…
• While Mueller’s team has been scrupulously leak-free even as Trump and his cronies shoot volleys of arrows at them, this and a few other recent stories are making us wonder if that’s changing. Strategic leaks can be important weapons for investigators. They may even be necessary at times for self-preservation. But of course we have no way of knowing for sure.
One thing we do know for sure (and fired U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara also points out): Trump denied ever even thinking about firing Mueller long after this allegedly happened.
Trump’s Big Immigration Surprise
“Extremely generous“. That’s what the Daily Beast says Trump adviser Stephen Miller–on a conference call they listened in on–called his own proposal to extend and expand protection for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. Republican Tom Cotton, who played a big role in killing a bipartisan immigration deal, labels it “generous and humane, while also being responsible”, while House Minority Leader Nancy’s Pelosi’s people are less complimentary, saying it’s “a ‘ransom’ in pursuit of an ‘anti-immigrant wish list'”, according to the Washington Post.
Even major newspapers diverge in their interpretation of the proposal: the New York Times’ headline today states: “Trump Immigration Plan Demands Tough Concessions From Democrats” while The Washington Post characterizes it as “a significant concession to Democrats“!
Under the new proposal, the nearly 700,000 people who are already part of DACA would be allowed to stay in the U.S., and put on a path to citizenship. And so would an additional million or so immigrants who would’ve been eligible, but never applied for the program either because they just didn’t bother to, or they were worried about being registered in a federal database should someone like Trump come along.
On it’s own, this looks like a positive development. Until you look at the other side of the equation where there are a lot of things that aren’t so good.
The first would hardly make the deal a “bill of love”. That’s because the White House’s proposal also severely cracks down on what Trump calls “chain migration”. Making it much more difficult for parents of immigrants to join their children in the U.S. That could mean while a far larger number of undocumented immigrants who came here as children are permitted to stay in the U.S. than previously proposed, their parents could still be deported at any time. And since the children (many of whom are now adults), will have to register with the government, the parents should become a lot easier to identify and find.
Secondly, it includes Trump’s massive all-at-once $25-billion dollar wall payment. We still do not believe this aspect is being sufficiently covered or explained. Trump wants the whole amount, up-front, deposited into a fund as a lump sum. Then he will withdraw funds as needed as the wall is built. This is a smart move for Trump, because it guarantees his monument to himself be erected, regardless of who’s in control of Congress, since it’ll already have been paid for.
The “5-Months Worth Of Missing Texts” Trump Keeps Going On About? They’ve Been Found
Both Fox News and the Washington Post report the Justice Department Inspector General says his office is using forensic tools to recover the messages and will produce transcripts of them as soon as possible, which will likely be shared with Congress. Many of the texts that have gotten out to the public so far were released by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
While removing some of the mystery and intrigue, this will do nothing to stop radical-Right conspiracy theorists from finding more ill-intent in the messages between an F.B.I. agent and lawyer who weren’t fond of Trump (or as Fox calls them “anti-Trump F.B.I. officials”), whether it’s explicitly in there or not. One of the agents was removed from Mueller’s investigative team over the summer, as soon as the Special Counsel found out about the texts.
Separately, the Judiciary Committee says it will also release transcripts of closed-door testimony by Donald Trump Jr., and others.
Do Ya Think Secretaries Of State Are Feeling Even Better Now About Their Decision Not To Provide Voter Records To The Co-Chair Of Trump’s Now-Defunct Voter Fraud Commission?
Gizmodo discovered Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who co-chaired the President’s Commission with Vice-President Mike Pence, was inadvertently displaying the last 4 digits of the Social Security numbers of thousands of state employees, including himself, on his own official state website. After Gizmodo pointed this out, the information was removed from the Secretary of State’s site. Kobach had no comment.
End Of The Week Editorial: What We Don’t Get About Trump’s War On The FBI
We’ve been talking with a lot of people we know, and many of us have shared a similar situation in our professional lives: We’ve been brought in as an “outsider” to shake things up in companies where there had been a popular “insider” many employees would’ve preferred for the job.
What did almost all of us do in that situation? Sat everybody down and said “let’s talk about the elephant in the room”, listened as people aired their concerns and then said “I’m going to work hard to prove to you that I was the right choice.”
Never did any of us think for a second the correct approach was to immediately start telling our employees they are crap, berating their lack of loyalty to us, compiling a list of our own grievances, whining about how everybody was being unfair to us, and gloating about how we got the job, and that other person didn’t.
And through that, we gained at least some measure of respect that was completely necessary in order to make that workplace work. (Even with that, we did occasionally have to let people go who were arrogant, or would not get on board with any changes we wanted to make. But that was by far the exception).
That’s because we believe loyalty grows out of respect. And so do most of our friends. To borrow an analogy from Mitch Landrieu, “punching people in the face” and then ordering them to follow you blindly does not breed loyalty.
And with Trump, this isn’t just some department of some company. It’s the F.B.I.
Let’s say half the people in the F.B.I. voted for Hillary (just because half the people in the country did). Let’s say an agent texted some dumb things. How is it productive to attack everybody in the bureau? Because it plays well with your base? And because you know the F.B.I. is proud enough of its professionalism they’ll do their jobs anyway? Could be.
Then again, we didn’t become President of the United States. So maybe Trump’s way is better…