The president is not being coy about his intentions.
Coyness has never been his nature, but that's especially the case when he's surrounded by sycophants and plainly feeling his oats, as he's doing now. As the New York Times reported over the weekend, whereas President Donald Trump spent the first months of his administration feeling overwhelmed, now he's confident and unbridled, convinced that he knows better than his advisers. Hence the unceremonious ouster of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last week, to be replaced by the like-minded hard-liner Mike Pompeo; hence the rumored forthcoming termination of National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, to be replaced, perhaps, by the lunatic John Bolton; hence the possible dislocation of chief of staff John Kelly, whom Trump believes he no longer really needs.
Trump says this reshuffling – the most turnover seen in a century for a first-term president – signifies "great energy," not "chaos." But Trump is and always has been, of course, a consummate bullshitter, untethered to any basis in fact, free to say whatever thought happens to pass through the mush that constitutes his frontal cortex.
And now he's feeling emboldened.
On Friday night at 10 o'clock (always a sure sign that what you're doing is on the up-and-up), following months of very public pressure from the Oval Office, Attorney General Jeff Sessions terminated former FBI deputy director (and former acting director) Andrew McCabe – ostensibly for lacking candor about his media contacts during the Hillary Clinton investigation, according to an unreleased internal Department of Justice report – just a day before he would have been eligible to retire with full benefits.
It was, for lack of a better term, a dick move. Vindictive, petty, counterproductive, but not at all surprising.
McCabe has been Trump's bête noire for months, ever since he, as acting director, publicly contradicted the White House's pulled-from-thin-air claim that James Comey had lost the support of the FBI's rank and file. Since then, Trump has cast McCabe as a central character in the "deep state" persecution, clamoring on that, though McCabe is a lifelong Republican, his wife ran as a Democrat for the state legislature in Virginia and took money from Democrats, which means McCabe is somehow compromised.
McCabe portrayed his firing as an effort to discredit him, since he may be a witness in an obstruction of justice case that stems from Comey's firing. Sessions cast it as entirely apolitical: "The FBI expects every employee to adhere to the highest standards of honesty, integrity and accountability," he wrote in a letter announcing McCabe's termination.
But the next day, Trump pulled the rug out from that charade: "Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI," he tweeted. "A great day for Democracy. Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!"
(It's worth noting that, while Sessions fired McCabe for a "lack of candor," three sources told Reuters this weekend that they told congressional investigators or investigators with the special counsel's office that Sessions did not push back on a proposal for the Trump campaign to engage with the Russians, which Sessions claimed he had done under oath.)
Trump continued, accusing Comey of lying under oath (after altering what Comey actually said) and then turning his attention to special counsel Robert Mueller: "The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime. It was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC, and improperly used in FISA COURT for surveillance of my campaign. WITCH HUNT!" (The president's former campaign manager and 13 Russian nationals have been indicted, his former national security adviser and campaign aide have taken plea deals, and two other minor players have pleaded guilty. But sure, no crime.)
And again: "Why does Mueller have 13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans? Another Dem recently added ... does anyone think this is fair? And yet, there is NO COLLUSION!"
A few hours before this rant, Trump's personal lawyer called on the DOJ to shut down the Mueller probe, citing the entirely unconnected McCabe termination as proof of some sort of wider conspiracy. By day's end, amid a firestorm, the White House had walked that back, saying that Trump wasn't considering canning Mueller.
But come on. It doesn't take a genius to see where this is headed. The president fired Comey. He fired McCabe. He wants to fire Mueller and make this whole mess go away. He believes he and his family are above the law. A replay of President Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre is almost inevitable.
The only question is whether Republicans will sit idly by and watch it happen. Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain both signaled their support for the Mueller probe over the weekend, as did House Speaker Paul Ryan's spokeswoman, and Sen. Marco Rubio said, in his mealy-mouthed way, that he would have preferred if the McCabe matter had been handled differently. The retiring Rep. Trey Gowdy, who so zealously pursued years of Benghazi probes, criticized the president's lawyer for calling for the investigation to end. But he also tellingly admitted that, should Trump fire Mueller, "I'm not sure the House can do a lot."
That's absurd on its face: The House could impeach the president. But what Gowdy means is that, under Republican control, the House will fold like a two-dollar taco in the face of an increasingly authoritarian president.
And that, friends, is how democracies die.