People close to Donald Trump report the Groper-in-Chief is starting to feel comfortable in his role playing president. He is prepared to unshackle his gut instincts and remove any voices of dissension from the administration that might try checking his instinctual moves.
On March 13, Trump unceremoniously fired Sec. of State Rex Tillerson. There was no phone call or personal communication from Trump beforehand to smooth the move. Tillerson was forced to learn about being replaced from a tweet announcing CIA Director Mike Pompeo was the new nominee.
This move was long anticipated. Turmoil between the former ExxonMobil CEO and Trump existed throughout Tillerson’s tenure, as the no-nonsense Texan saw through Trump’s schtick, and called him out on several occasions. Rumored discord between the two spilled out into public in Oct. 2017, as reports indicated Tillerson referred to Trump as a “fucking moron” in a Pentagon meeting.
Trump cited disagreements on issues such as North Korea, steel and aluminum tariffs and the Iran nuclear deal – essentially all the big issues at play in TrumpWorld – as justification for the Tillerson firing. It also might have everything to do with Tillerson having condemned the recent nerve-gas attack carried out on a former Russian spy in England as being a “really egregious act.” Considering it’s commonly believed the hit was sanctioned by Vladimir Putin, Tillerson’s remarks are the harshest words to date from anyone in TrumpWorld against Russia.
The Trumpster wasn’t done yet. After the White House released a fabricated rendition of the circumstances surrounding Tillerson’s termination, Steve Goldstein, undersecretary for public diplomacy, released a counter-narrative to set the record straight. The White House did not look kindly upon this redirect, and informed Goldstein later the same day his services would no longer be required.
With the Stormy Daniels affair kicking into high gear on all cable news networks last week, and additional credible accounts of adultery coming from Playboy model Karen McDougal and former “Apprentice” contestant Summer Zervos, Trump needed a splashy move going into the weekend to change the headlines.
Still fuming about the FBI being out to get him and pissed that AG Jeff Sessions had not adequately utilized the Justice Department to derail the Russia investigation, Trump decided to settle a petty score with Andrew McCabe, deputy FBI director, firing the 20-year bureau veteran late on a Friday night the day before he was scheduled to retire, denying him the ability to qualify for his full pension.
This also was a way to put Session in the hot seat. He could either fire McCabe or Trump would come back and fire Sessions for not doing his bidding.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) says McCabe was fired after an internal review conducted by the DOJ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) concluded McCabe misled investigators about his role in directing other officials at the FBI to speak to media outlets. The findings were referred to the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), an office staffed by career officials, who recommended McCabe’s termination.
This report has not been made public, but generally it takes months to finalize such an inquiry, and it’s not uncommon for individuals to announce their retirements during the process. This particular report was sped up after it was learned that McCabe had kept memos on his dealings with Trump and that any possible testimony asked to give likely would corroborate fired former FBI Director James Comey’s accounts on conversations had with President Trump.
McCabe was a frequent target of Trump rants about being part of the deep-state trying to undermine the president’s agenda and legitimacy to hold office. The president conveniently likes to overlook the aspect that the FBI is a law enforcement organization and officials in his administration have committed offenses deserving investigation. Numerous Trump staffers have been unable to pass background checks or obtain permanent security clearances. Several are currently under indictment, and have pled “guilty” to federal crimes.
What Trump can’t square is McCabe’s wife, Jill McCabe, ran for a seat in the Virginia Senate in 2015, as a Democrat, and received financial assistance from a political action committee controlled by Terry McAuliffe, a close friend of Hillary Clinton.
Keep in mind Andrew McCabe is a Republican, but he put job before party when asked to supervise the FBI’s Russia investigation. McCabe authorized the wiretap on Carter Page, a former Trump adviser. That wiretap application was approved by senior DOJ officials, was re-approved under Trump’s Justice Department and signed by a federal judge based on evidence that Page was a Russian agent. Trump of course thinks the wiretap was unlawful and points to it as politically motivated by the FBI to inappropriately monitor Page and whoever he spoke with inside TrumpWorld.
It’s not that there were not legitimate grounds for McCabe to be fired, but the issue was already being addressed through proper channels. The FBI is a non-political organization by design, and Trump should have simply let it play out. Instead he vindictively injected himself into the process, making it political, because he knew McCabe would retire with full benefits and was too petty to allow that.
Flash forward to Thursday of this week when one of Trump’s mistresses, Karen McDougal of Playboy fame, had a splashy interview scheduled with Anderson Cooper on CNN. Trump again needed an announcement that would help cover any embarrassing revelations McDougal might divulge.
His solution, fire respected National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster. Like with all Trump terminations, the president lacked the nerve to actually contact the outgoing party ahead of time. McMaster learned of his demise through a tweet announcing the hiring of John Bolton to be the new National Security Advisor. This even took Bolton by surprise as the tweet rolled while he was doing a live interview.
Bolton is known as a bomb thrower. A political knife fighter, skilled at bureaucratic infighting. By all accounts he is an intelligent guy, but only sees things one way, his way, and that usually involves military intervention. If you liked going into Iraq for weapons of mass destruction and finding they did not exist, but got stuck in a protracted war, then you should love this guy. He was one of the Iraq conflict architects and loves conspiracy theories. He fits Trump like a glove.
And last but not least let us not forget to mention John Dowd, President Trump’s lead lawyer for the special prosecutor investigation. Technically he “resigned” but was getting kicked to the curb regardless because Trump didn’t want to be careful in dealing with Mueller and chose to disregard an experienced attorney’s sage advice.
The common thread in all this staff turnover is Trump’s dislike of being shown-up for the lack of intelligence he possesses. These are skilled professionals in their fields, and each was placed in circumstances by Donald Trump where they had no choice but to disparage his wishes because either they were poorly thought out, dangerous or potentially illegal.
Trump loves to proclaim his “smartness” but in reality The Donald is sharp like a bowling ball. He doesn’t read well, nor can he understand complicated scenarios requiring in-depth analysis. He can’t handle having more competent people around him who must help in his recognizing complexities and prevent him from executing brain-dead moves, so he fires them.
The implication of this staffing turmoil is incalculable. Preliminary arrangements are underway for the president to meet with North Korea by the end of May. It becomes questionable if that diplomatic breakthrough will even take place, as Bolton has voiced his interest in preemptively bombing Kim Jong-un. It’s also likely the U.S. will pull out of the Iran nuclear deal as both Trump and Bolton dislike the criteria.
Some rank and file Republicans showed a bit of spine this week in publicly condemning Trump on his congratulations extended to Vladimir Putin about his rigged Russian re-election, after U.S. advisors strenuously insisted against such recognition.
While plenty of Capitol Hill Republicans speak boisterously off the record about concerns with this administration, it’s unclear what it will take for them to go public. Meanwhile mixed messages are coming through from out in the country. Trump’s poll numbers are slightly up, yet Democrat Conor Lamb won a special election in a Pennsylvania congressional district Trump carried by 20 points.
This feels like it’s all coming to a head soon. Trump is insulating himself with like-minded individuals who will not act as a filter to his autocratic whims, while the Mueller investigation inches closer to West Wing occupants, and ghosts of the president’s past sexual dalliances are popping-up like spring flowers. Whether darkness or light wins remains in the balance, but Trump isn’t playing by conventional Washington rules and that gives him an edge.