The American people have largely taken the disruptive Trump Presidency in stride, going about their lives and expressing their approval or not the constitutional way—at the ballot box. The same can’t be said for many of the country’s panicked elites, as we are learning anew about the Federal Bureau of Investigation as former deputy director Andrew McCabe hawks a new memoir.
Mr. McCabe now says that, after Mr. Trump fired FBI director Jim Comey in May 2017, Mr. McCabe and senior Justice Department officials “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.” That’s according to Scott Pelley’s account of his interview with Mr. McCabe aired Sunday on CBS’s “60 Minutes.”
In the interview, Mr. McCabe says Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein raised the 25th Amendment scenario “and discussed it with me in the context of thinking about how many other cabinet officials might support such an effort.” Mr. McCabe says he didn’t contribute much but seems to excuse the conversation because “it was an unbelievably stressful time.”
Mr. McCabe was fired last year for lying to FBI investigators, so it’s hard to know how much to believe. He’s also tried to qualify the interview after excerpts were disclosed, with a spokesperson saying that while Mr. McCabe “participated in a discussion that included a comment by Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein regarding the 25th Amendment,” he did not participate in any “extended discussions” about removing Mr. Trump.
Mr. Rosenstein says he wasn’t in a “position to consider invoking the 25th Amendment” but doesn’t deny the discussion.
This is extraordinary, and as far as we know unprecedented. A President exercises his constitutional prerogative to fire the FBI director, and Mr. Comey’s associates immediately talked about deposing him in what would amount to a coup?
The 25th Amendment was passed after JFK’s assassination to allow for a transfer of power when a President is “unable” to discharge his duties. It is intended to be used only after demonstrated evidence of impairment that is witnessed by those closest to the Commander in Chief.
It doesn’t exist to settle political differences, or to let scheming bureaucrats imagine they are saving the country from someone they fear is a Manchurian candidate. The constitutional process for that is impeachment.
Yet it’s not far-fetched to think that Messrs. McCabe and Rosenstein considered a 25th Amendment coup because the idea was also widely discussed in elite media circles at the time. The Comey firing so flustered so many that they were willing to consider nullifying an election five months into the Presidency.
“The 25th Amendment Solution for Removing Trump,” declared one May 2017 headline in the New York Times. The thought seemed too silly to write about at the time, but apparently we underestimated the lack of faith in American democracy and institutions among the political and media class. This elite panic was a bigger threat to constitutional norms than anything Mr. Trump is known to have done.
The McCabe account also fits with what else we know about the FBI during the Comey era. Mr. Comey saw fit to start a counterintelligence probe into the Trump campaign based on thin evidence of Russian contacts. His agents then used an opposition-research document financed by the Clinton campaign to justify a warrant to spy on a Trump adviser.
In July 2016 Mr. Comey violated Justice rules to exonerate Hillary Clinton on his own authority in the email probe. Then to protect himself against second-guessing from Congress after the election, he intervened again in violation of department rules to reopen the Clinton probe 11 days before Election Day. This intervention may have done more to elect Mr. Trump than anything else in the final weeks of the campaign, as Nate Silver and other analysts have argued.
After his firing, Mr. Comey arranged a media leak that prompted Mr. Rosenstein to appoint Robert Mueller as a special counsel to investigate Trump-Russia campaign ties. Twenty-one months later we are still waiting for evidence of collusion, as the Mueller probe rolls on seemingly without end. Mr. Trump’s enemies still claim he is a Russian agent while millions of his supporters think there is a “deep-state” conspiracy against him. This is all corrosive to public trust in American democracy.
The Senate last week confirmed William Barr as Attorney General, and he has no more urgent task than restoring some of that public trust. He could start by explaining to the public, in a major speech, where the FBI went so badly wrong and what he will do to make sure it never happens again.
— The Wall Street Journal