It’s March Madness and our president is taking that maxim literally. It’s no secret that Trump is consumed by his hatred for the special investigation into his camp’s potential ties to Russia, but he crossed a line this weekend that he was previously unwilling to move past (after Robert Mueller crossed his red line and subpoenaed the Trump Organization).
The insanity began with a familiar trope: the President of the United States denigrating FBI leadership.
Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe had already accepted a demotion after FBI Director Chris Wray asked him to step down from his post given that the Inspector General's report was going to find him guilty of wrong-doing…as it pertained to leaking information damaging to Hillary Clinton during the campaign—not anything to do with Trump. McCabe maintains that he did nothing wrong, but the facts of that matter are secondary to the unreality invented by Trump. McCabe was due to retire two days before he was fired, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions—who was supposed to be recused from this whole mess—axed him seemingly out of spite, as firing him for cause puts McCabe's pension in jeopardy.
Just as the second round of basketball March Madness kicked off on Saturday afternoon, President Mad Online had more to say.
Republican Representative Mike Conway led the House Intelligence Committee after Devin Nunes recused himself from it (but not really), and Conway told Chuck Todd on Meet The Press that “our committee was not charged with answering the collusion idea.” Conway is not the only Republican to walk back their findings, as Politico reported with the headline, “Republicans fear they botched Russia report rollout.”
Last week, the House GOP closed their investigation saying that they “found no evidence of collusion” between Trump and Russia. There's a lot of wordplay at hand here—as finding no evidence of collusion is not the same thing as concluding there was no collusion—but that didn't stop the president from screaming in all caps that he had been absolved. He reiterated his point over the weekend, and Conway's bumbling answer was in response to this tweet.
Trump followed that with a rant that may come to redefine how we view this investigation. He began with his boilerplate “the FBI is out to get me” tweet.
Next is the new development. Trump had no issues attacking the FBI before, but Robert Mueller was a name he had not uttered. Well, no more. It's on now.
Like cockroaches exposed to the light, this sent Republicans scrambling. The GOP has acquiesced to Trump's every whim in the name of using his teensy hands to sign tax cuts for their mega-donors, but you can tell that there may be some buyers remorse taking place in the rotted out carcass of the Grand Old Party. Here is an example of one of the many “we are very concerned but won't say specifically what we're concerned about” statements from Congressional Republicans who could put a stop to this nonsense at any point they wanted, and protect Mueller with legislation.
Trump spent Sunday morning watching his favorite cartoon—Fox and Friends—and he was not finished tweeting out his obvious desire to fire Robert Mueller and end the special counsel's investigation.
Like James Comey, Andrew McCabe wrote memos of his interactions with Trump, and Robert Mueller interviewed McCabe and has his memos.
The Daily Beast
received the following e-mail from Trump's personal lawyer over the weekend, John Dowd, who initially said he was speaking on behalf of the president:
“I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe's boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier.”
After the story went up, Dowd e-mailed them back to say he was actually speaking for himself. Today, The Daily Beast is reporting that this is just the beginning:
But what seemed like a frantic, even panicked, bit of late-night lashing-out is actually a sign of things to come. Multiple aides and Trump confidants tell The Daily Beast that they believe this will not be the last time the president goes after the Justice Department special counsel on his frenetic Twitter feed. And that's making some of them nervous.
The president, those close to him say, is determined to more directly confront the federal probe into his campaign's potential role in alleged Russian election interference, even if it means exacerbating his legal standing amid an investigation that has already ensnared some of his most senior campaign and White House aides.
Two sources who speak regularly with Trump said they had noticed an uptick in recent months in the frequency of the annoyance the president would express regarding Mueller and his team, and the irritation at the deluge of negative news stories regarding the probe.
Trump wanted to go in this direction before, and his first lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, pushed Trump to take a more aggressive posture against the special counsel. After Kasowitz bowed out due to issues with alcoholism, Trump's new lawyer, Ty Cobb, implored him to cooperate with the probe. The problem that Trump has is that his lawyers' (correct) legal strategy of leaving Mueller alone is at direct odds with Trump's lifetime mantra of punching back every time he thinks he has been slighted.
Maggie Haberman—the Trump whisperer of the New York Times—reported this morning that “A dozen people close to Mr. Trump or the White House, including current and former aides and longtime friends, described him as newly emboldened to say what he really feels and to ignore the cautions of those around him.”
Trump is simultaneously pushing his own crazy to the forefront of all presidential activities while confining himself to friendly turf. Per Haberman:
This, after all, is someone for whom leaving the security of Trump Tower and moving to Washington and the White House was a daunting prospect. Even now, as he has grown more comfortable in the job, he rarely leaves the White House unless he is certain the environment will be friendly, such as at one of his own properties. Rallies are rarely scheduled in areas that could invite large protests.
America is run by a mad King who feels emboldened to be even madder than he has been in his first year-plus in the seat of ultimate power. Robert Mueller has gone from the elephant in Trump's room to the target in the middle of his crosshairs. There is enough legitimate fear that Trump could fire Jeff Sessions, appoint someone like EPA chief Scott Pruitt as acting Attorney General, then order his new AG to fire Robert Mueller that Trump's Chief of Staff John Kelly reportedly called Scott Pruitt to tell him that it won't happen.
We are entering a truly harrowing era in the Trump administration. As bad as things have been so far, all of it was connected to a timid president unsure of his ability to do his job. All reports indicate that Trump has shed that anxiety and is now operating as his true self. Gone is the pretense that this presidency exists to serve anyone but the golden man on the broken throne, and it has been replaced by pure, unadulterated Trump. If there is one example that perfectly encapsulates what we can expect from our new, even more unmoored from reality POTUS, it's this random tweet from this morning that sounds like president racist grandpa trying to yell at the TV through the internet.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.