We just found out Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe received treatment from President Trump that has become oh-so-familiar to leading law enforcement officials: They are asked to do or respond to something with clear political and personal overtones, and are left uncomfortable about the whole thing.
The list of those who have similar stories is long, and it's getting significantly longer this month. It includes James B. Comey, Sally Yates, Preet Bharara and Jeff Sessions. And before the news about McCabe this week, there was yet another FBI director — the current one, Christopher A. Wray — who resisted Trump's efforts to get him to push out McCabe. So just to sum up, that's now all three of Trump's FBI directors (including an acting one), along with both of his attorneys general (including one acting one). Noticing a pattern?
And even aside from that clear trend, there's something else about the McCabe situation that's worth emphasizing — something that makes the whole thing even more problematic than it seems on the surface: the timing.
As The Post's Ellen Nakashima, Josh Dawsey and Devlin Barrett report, Trump asked McCabe about whom he voted for in the 2016 election and pressed him on his wife's Democratic campaign for Virginia state legislature right after Trump dismissed Comey:
The Oval Office meeting happened shortly after Trump fired Comey following failed efforts by the president to get the FBI director to back off from the Russia probe. Before the May 9 dismissal, Trump had also sought a loyalty oath from Comey and was annoyed that the FBI director would not state publicly at the time that Trump was not personally under investigation.
If there was one moment in Trump's presidency in which his apparent efforts to affect the Russia investigation came to the fore, the firing of Comey was it. The White House quickly struggled to explain the firing, giving conflicting signals. And then Trump told Lester Holt of NBC News that he fired Comey with the Russia probe on his mind.
It was at this juncture that Trump decided to invite McCabe, the man in line to serve as Comey's temporary replacement, to the Oval Office and decided to do almost precisely what Comey said Trump did to him: Hint at the idea that an FBI director should be loyal to the president. The parallels are striking.
And indeed, it's almost impossible to read Trump's grilling of McCabe any other way. Trump has made clear repeatedly since this meeting that he doesn't like McCabe, and he has pointed to Jill McCabe's support from Hillary Clinton allies during her failed 2016 campaign. Legally speaking, it's difficult to know whether asking who McCabe voted for or venting frustration about Jill McCabe is particularly damning when it comes to Robert Mueller's investigation into potential obstruction of justice; we're in uncharted legal territory here, and it's not even clear what the standard is for a president obstructing justice. But it does fit with a clear and unmistakable pattern of Trump digging into whether top law enforcement officials would be loyal to him or otherwise asking them to do things that could benefit him personally in that investigation. And it suggests the effort continued almost immediately after Comey's dismissal.
In the case of Comey and Sessions, Trump has been very upfront about how he desired such loyalty. In the cases of McCabe and Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York who was fired by Trump in March, the president's actions were clearly perceived as unusual. Both hinted at Trump's apparent desire to create a personal rapport with someone in a position that is supposed to be somewhat insulated from the White House and who could have oversight over something directly affecting him. Yates and Wray were both asked to do things that they were clearly uneasy about and, in the end, refused to do. (In Yates's case, it involved enforcing Trump's travel ban).
Trump fired Yates, Bharara and Comey, and he clearly wants to be rid of both Sessions and McCabe. The sixth — Wray — threatened to resign, according to some reports. All of them resisted Trump, and most of them have paid for that.
The McCabe situation is apparently of interest to Mueller's investigation. And if nothing else, the timing of it fills out the picture of a president with a very consistent — and consistently problematic — stance toward his top law enforcement officials. The fact that Trump did this in the heat of the Comey firestorm suggests the pattern may be bigger than we know.