Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman brings us some new reporting on President Trump’s authoritarian musings. It appears Trump is still privately mulling firing his attorney general for failing to protect him from the Russia investigation:
“He spent the weekend calling people and screaming,” one former White House official said. According to sources, the president feels cornered with no clear way out. His months-long campaign to get Sessions to resign — so that Trump could appoint a new A.G. who would shut down the Russia probe — not only failed to get Sessions to step down, but it’s caused him to dig in, as evidenced by Sessions’s rare statement asserting the independence of the Justice Department. “Trump knows at least through the midterms he won’t get another A.G.,” a former White House official said.
Which means Trump very well may fire Jeff Sessions after the elections for failing to help him obstruct the investigation (as Trump has publicly declared he wants), a course of action that leading Republicans have now blessed.
Trump is also privately mulling pardoning his former campaign chair, who has been convicted of multiple counts of bank and tax fraud — and may even bring in a new lawyer to do the dirty work, if the current White House counsel won’t:
Two sources told me that Trump continues to raise the possibility of a pardon for Manafort, his former campaign chairman. Trump has been clashing with White House counsel Don McGahn, who, sources said, is strongly against granting Manafort a pardon. (A lawyer for McGahn did not respond to a request for comment.) Trump has told people he’s considering bringing in a new lawyer to draft a Manafort pardon, if McGahn won’t do it. “He really at this point does not care,” a former official said. “He would rather fight the battle. He doesn’t want to do anything that would cede executive authority.”
The Trump legal team’s public position has been that a Manafort pardon is not on the table. But keep in mind, for many months we were told that Trump would never, ever do anything as crazy as try to remove special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Yet he did order McGahn to fire him and only backed off when McGahn threatened to quit.
These latest revelations caused barely a ripple in the political world. Perhaps it’s because nobody believes Trump will end up doing either of those things. Or perhaps it’s because, at this point, the fact that he’s considering them has come to seem routine.
Which would be worrisome, since those things would be anything but routine. Trump would be firing the attorney general because he failed to carry out Trump’s unabashed insistence that he function as his personal lawyer and bodyguard against a legitimate investigation of a hostile foreign power’s sabotaging of our democracy and his campaign’s possible conspiring with it. And Trump would be pardoning his former campaign chair of multiple tax and bank fraud crimes simply to protect himself from the possibility that Paul Manafort might cooperate with that investigation.
Yet at this point, the idea that Trump might be considering such acts barely elicits a shrug. Now, it’s true that if Trump did really appear to be taking one of these paths, or both, the outcry would probably be very intense. It’s also true that Trump has, in fact, felt constrained from acting, thanks to pushback from the public, from politicians, from the media and from civil society. He backed off his effort to remove Mueller. He has not fired Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein and replaced him with a loyalist to constrain the investigation, though he has plainly considered it.
But in these cases, what appears obvious is that the only constraints Trump recognizes are the limits he perceives on his ability to get away with such actions. And so, if more news along these lines comes out and it doesn’t raise much of a stir, there might perhaps be cause to worry about what message Trump will take from that and what he will conclude he can, in fact, get away with. Particularly, as sources put it in the account quoted above, if he increasingly feels “cornered.”