There are new revelations about what took place in Washington during the extraordinary period from May 9, 2017, when President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, to May 17, 2017 when Trump-Russia special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed.
The short version is: The reports were true. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein really did discuss wearing a wire to secretly record the president. Rosenstein and others did discuss invoking the 25th Amendment to remove the president from office. And the FBI did adopt an aggressive new investigation strategy, targeting the president himself, almost instantly after the Comey firing.
It's all true, that is, if revelations in an upcoming book by former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe are accurate. The bottom line on that is that, at least from what we know now, McCabe's story seems consistent with information congressional investigators have been able to glean elsewhere.
"It's just like we thought all along," said one House Republican upon hearing the news. "If McCabe's account is true, it confirms what we thought, that Rod Rosenstein was serious when he talked about wearing a wire and invoking the 25th Amendment. Rosenstein should be under oath answering our questions. We need to know who was in the room and what was said."
Whether that happens, in the House at least, is up to the new Democratic majority. But Rosenstein has so far declined to answer congressional questions on the wearing-a-wire and 25th Amendment matters.
To promote his book, McCabe has done an interview with CBS's "60 Minutes." Correspondent Scott Pelley appeared on CBS Thursday morning with a preview. "There were meetings at the Justice Department at which it was discussed whether the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet could be brought together to remove the president of the United States under the 25th Amendment," Pelley said. "These were the eight days from Comey's firing to the point that Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel. And the highest levels of American law enforcement were trying to figure out what to do with the president.
"As another part of his book promotion, McCabe published an excerpt Thursday morning in the Atlantic. The theme
of the excerpt is that, after the Comey firing, McCabe was determined to cement in place a Trump-Russia investigation that could not be stopped by the president.
It might be more accurate to say "investigations." McCabe wrote that he ordered an "overall review" of the FBI's Trump-Russia work. "Were there individuals on whom we should consider opening new cases?" he wrote. "I want to protect the Russia investigation in such a way that whoever came after me could not just make it go away."
The New York Times reported last month that in that period, the FBI opened up a counterintelligence investigation focused on the president himself. "Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president's own actions constituted a possible threat to national security," the Times reported. "Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow's influence."
That is one sort of investigation. The other probe McCabe wanted to nail into place was what became the Mueller investigation. Describing the decision to appoint Mueller — the decision was actually made by Rosenstein — McCabe wrote, "If I got nothing else done as acting director, I had done the one thing I needed to do."
And then there were the talks about secretly recording the president and using the 25th Amendment to remove him from office. According to CBS, top law enforcement officials were discussing which Cabinet members might be persuaded to go along with an effort to remove Trump. "They were counting noses," Pelley said on CBS Thursday morning. "They were not asking Cabinet members whether they would vote for or against removing the president, but they were speculating."
Much, if not all, of what McCabe reports has been reported before. But an eyewitness, insider account lends new weight to the idea that the highest levels of the national security apparatus experienced a collective freakout in the days after the Comey firing.
In particular, it intensifies questions about Rosenstein's behavior in those eight days. Remember that Rosenstein played a key role in the removal of Comey. A few days later, he was talking about removing the president for having removed Comey. The sheer audacity of that has stunned even experienced Capitol Hill observers.
"The guy who wrote the memo providing the justification for firing Comey is then upset that the swamp is mad at him for helping fire Comey and then comes up with a plan to wear a wire and invoke the 25th Amendment," said the House Republican.
After the CBS report, the Justice Department, on Rosenstein's behalf, issued a statement saying McCabe's account was "inaccurate and factually incorrect." Rosenstein, the Department said, "never authorized any recording that Mc. McCabe references." That was not exactly a denial of the basic story that Rosenstein discussed wearing a wire.
One final note. The frenzy of May 2017 set off investigations that continued previous investigations that, as far as the public knows today, have not uncovered evidence that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to fix the 2016 election. And if those investigations have not found that proof by now, they certainly had not found it in May 2017. And yet the investigations multiplied, and are still multiplying to this day.