This afternoon President Trump told a right-wing radio host that he’s sorry he can’t personally direct the DOJ and FBI ‘go after’ Hillary Clinton.
From an interview with Larry O’Connor …
“The saddest thing is that because I’m the President of the United States I’m not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department, I’m not supposed to be involved with the FBI, I’m not supposed to be doing the kinds of things I would love to be doing and I’m very frustrated by it. I look at what’s happening with the Justice Department, why aren’t they going after Hillary Clinton with her emails and with the dossier and the kind of money…?”
It’s a funny way to put it. It’s not like you or I can tell the DOJ or the FBI to persecute people we hate. Even Senators can’t do that. Actually, no one can do it. It may happen in practice sometimes. But even the Attorney General is not allowed to use the Justice Department as his personal gang or army. That’s why they call it the ‘rule of law’.
What is most striking to me about these comments is how natural it all seems to him, how frank he is about it. It seems like the most logical thing in the world to him that he should be able to tell the FBI who to ‘go after’ Secretary Clinton. And I think he’s being very genuine about this. It’s both childish and childlike, in addition to being profoundly predatory.
That’s why he fired James Comey. At the most basic level he sees the US government as his company. It goes without saying that Trump would fire an employee who wasn’t following direction or wasn’t loyal, let alone one who he believed might be working against him. They’re “my generals”, remember.
Here is my sense of where we are. After James Comey was fired and they brought in reasonably professional lawyers, it’s been made clear to President Trump that he can’t be directly interfering with the investigation or using the DOJ as his personal police force. Kelly is likely a key part of this imperative as well. At the moment at least he’s following this advice. Thus his frustration. But he’s also being pushed by the Roger Stones and Steve Bannon types to go to war with Mueller, perhaps fire him.
I was on TV this evening with Sam Nunberg, one of a number of Trumpers who was fired during the campaign but is still a total loyalist and seems to be in league with Bannon or at least in agreement with him. He was saying Trump must fire Ty Cobb, the lawyer who’s managing the Russia probe for the President. Cobb seems to be a bit of a clown himself. But he is a real white collar defense lawyer – not one of Trump’s goon lawyers from New York City. He is sticking to the quaint idea that you shouldn’t try to obstruct justice or otherwise interfere with the investigation. At least his stated aim as of now – and this is backed up by some reporting – is to be as cooperative as possible in the hopes of getting Mueller to complete his investigation and give the President a clean bill of health.
That may be a good strategy out of the options the President has available to him. But it is certainly not at all in line with President Trump’s core impulses. He has a lot of friends, who he seems to be talking to regularly, telling him to go with those impulses. We shouldn’t be surprised if, feeling endangered and enraged, he gives into those impulses.