I wrote about former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe's new book "Threat" last week after CBS News first teased its big interview with McCabe that aired last Sunday. At the time it seemed as if the big news coming from the book was a rehash of last fall's story about Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein suggesting that he wear a wire into the Oval Office and about the supposed talk within the Department of Justice about invoking the 25th Amendment to declare President Trump unable to fulfill his duties.
When asked about it by CBS News' Scott Pelley in the interview, McCabe confirmed that it happened, which made Trump have a nuclear Twitter meltdown and caused the right-wing media to start screeching about "Deep State coups" and suggesting that McCabe should immediately be arrested and that he and former FBI director James Comey should be waterboarded to spill everything they know. Presumably by CIA director Gina Haspel and former Vice President Dick Cheney. Because that's their specialty.
As it turns out, that wasn't in McCabe's book at all. He answered the question when asked but told Anderson Cooper on CNN Tuesday night that he didn't put it in the book because that episode hadn't been revealed when he wrote it and he thought it would be a huge distraction if he did. He was right. An anecdote that wasn't in his book has received far more attention than it should.
The big revelation in the book is that after Trump fired Comey, which everyone knew was because of the Russia investigation, McCabe opened a counter-intelligence investigation and an obstruction of justice investigation into the president of the United States, because of his suspicious behavior during the campaign and in the White House. And -- surprise -- it turns out that McCabe and Rosenstein briefed the Gang of Eight, which includes the leadership of both parties in congress and the chairs and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. At the time, the eight were Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., House Speaker Paul Ryan, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.
McCabe notes that Nunes had "stepped back" from his role on the Intelligence Committee by that time, after having being exposed conspiring with the White House and lying to the media in his silly "midnight ride" and was not expected to show up. But he came anyway, and neither Rosenstein nor McCabe had the authority to ask him to leave, so he heard the whole thing. When asked by Anderson Cooper whether he believed Nunes would rush to tell the White House everything, McCabe said he always assumed someone would tell the White House about the investigations.
In his book, McCabe writes:
After reminding the committee of how this investigation began, I told them of additional steps we had taken. No one interrupted. No one pushed back. The mood in the room was sober. Schumer had been nodding his head and looking at me very directly throughout the brief. On McConnell's side of the table, I sensed a great deal of resignation.
Rosenstein then took over the meeting and told the assembled officials that he was appointing Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate the Trump campaign's apparent ties to Russia.
What this means is that these members of Congress have known from the beginning that the DOJ and the FBI had opened these two investigations because of the president's suspicious behavior, and that they formed the basis for the Special Counsel's investigation. If McCabe is right, and one of the little birdies in the meeting whispered in the president's ear, he knew it right away too.
According to McCabe, Rosenstein was enlisted by the White House counsel to write the memo laying out the reasons for firing Comey and told him Trump had repeatedly asked him to "include Russia" (which he refused to do). What the president specifically meant by that isn't spelled out but we know that the original letter firing Comey was cooked up during a long rainy weekend at Trump's golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, with senior adviser Stephen Miller, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. The letter they produced was so inflammatory that then-White House counsel Don McGahn nixed it. We don't know how much of that original memo (described by those who read it as a "screed") was focused on Russia, but Robert Mueller does. He has a copy of it.
What we do know is that in the letter Trump wrote firing Comey, he clumsily "included Russia":
While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.
And then came this, just a month after the Comey firing and the Mueller appointment:
I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump) 1497618475.0
As you can see, that was yet another lie. Trump had planned to fire Comey. He even admitted it on TV. And we know that his crack team of political advisers, led by Kushner, had assured him that it would be a big political winner.
Later, Trump would repeatedly insist that he wasn't under investigation at all, despite the fact that it was obvious to everyone he was.
Looking back on that meeting, which laid out all the predicates for what turned into the Mueller investigation, shines a very different light on how this scandal has unfolded. And now we have the explosive New York Times piece published on Tuesday called "Intimidation, Pressure and Humiliation: Inside Trump’s Two-Year War on the Investigations Encircling Him," which shows that not only did the president know very well that he was personally being investigated, he has been methodically trying to sabotage his own Justice Department for the better part of the last two years.
Trump's most recent intrusion was trying to get his acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker, to order the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York to "unrecuse" himself from all those investigations into Trumpworld, a concept that never even existed until Donald Trump came along.
He just can't stop obstructing justice. But then why would he? His new attorney general, William Barr, agrees with that Republican icon of corruption Richard Nixon, that "if the president does it, it's not illegal." Barr has told Trump he is perfectly free to interfere with investigations, order them up, protect his friends and punish his enemies. So I wouldn't expect any of it to stop unless Congress finally steps up to do its duty.
The country is probably dizzy by now trying to keep up with the cascading news stories about the various investigations and rumors surrounding Trump's presidency. It's overwhelming. But it always comes back to one simple, common-sense observation: no innocent person could possibly act this guilty.