President Trump suggested Monday night that former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe committed treason, making his case in a tweet that cited Fox News’s Sean Hannity, hours after lobbing similar claims at Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein.
Quoting Hannity, Trump wrote, “'The biggest abuse of power and corruption scandal in our history, and it’s much worse than we thought. Andrew McCabe (FBI) admitted to plotting a coup (government overthrow) when he was serving in the FBI, before he was fired for lying & leaking.'” @seanhannity @FoxNews Treason!"
“The biggest abuse of power and corruption scandal in our history, and it’s much worse than we thought. Andrew McCabe (FBI) admitted to plotting a coup (government overthrow) when he was serving in the FBI, before he was fired for lying & leaking.” @seanhannity @FoxNews Treason!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 19, 2019
Earlier on Monday, Trump claimed on Twitter that Rosenstein, a member of his administration, also engaged in “illegal and treasonous” activity with McCabe.
The former acting FBI director told CBS’s “60 Minutes” that he and Rosenstein discussed “counting votes” among Cabinet members to see who would consider invoking the 25th Amendment, which removes a president from power in the event he is “unable to discharge” his duties. Rosenstein has denied McCabe’s claims. Trump, on Monday morning, said it looked like McCabe and Rosenstein were “planning a very illegal act.”
Some legal analysts on Monday pushed back at Trump’s allegations of treason, a crime that is punishable by death and is the only one defined in the Constitution. Constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe called Trump’s understanding of treason “ignorant and constitutionally illiterate.” Maya Wiley, a legal analyst at MSNBC and NBC, pointed out the irony of Trump’s description of McCabe and Rosenstein’s activities as “treasonous” when the 25th Amendment is enshrined in the Constitution.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders defended the president’s assertion in a statement, saying, “Andrew McCabe was fired in total disgrace from the FBI because he lied to investigators on multiple occasions, including under oath.”
“His selfish and destructive agenda drove him to open a completely baseless investigation into the President,” she said. “His actions were so shameful that he was referred to federal prosecutors. Andrew McCabe has no credibility and is an embarrassment to the men and women of the FBI and our great country.”
The 25th Amendment has inherent protections against coups, as one of its drafters told The Washington Post last September. For example, if the Cabinet votes to remove a president from office through the 25th Amendment and the president disagrees, the head of the executive branch can lodge an objection in Congress. Congress would then need to vote by two-thirds majority in both chambers to remove the president. After an anonymous Trump administration official wrote a New York Times op-ed in September 2018 claiming that there had been “whispers” about invoking the amendment against Trump, Trump tweeted, “TREASON?”
Trump has regularly painted himself as a victim of a “witch hunt” as special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election has progressed. But some also expressed concern Monday that, despite his regular tweets on the subject, his treason accusations were not a major news story.
“His comments are alarming, but what’s even more alarming is that no one seems to care,” wrote lawyer and CNN legal analyst Renato Mariotti. “His own party gives him a free pass and even the press doesn’t view this as ‘news.’”
“Have we reached the point at which the President of the United States can casually accuse someone of treason and nobody blinks?” wrote USA Today justice and investigations editor Brad Heath.
The White House did not respond to questions Monday about Trump’s tweets.
Trump tweeted earlier Monday, “Wow, so many lies by now disgraced acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe. He was fired for lying, and now his story gets even more deranged. He and Rod J. Rosenstein, who was hired by Jeff Sessions (another beauty), look like they were planning a very illegal act, and got caught,” Trump wrote, adding, “This was the illegal and treasonous ‘insurance policy’ in full action!”
....There is a lot of explaining to do to the millions of people who had just elected a president who they really like and who has done a great job for them with the Military, Vets, Economy and so much more. This was the illegal and treasonous “insurance policy” in full action!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 18, 2019
Trump was apparently referring to comments McCabe has made recently, amid a media blitz ahead of the release of his book about working in Trump’s administration. McCabe told CBS News’s “60 Minutes” that he and Rosenstein, in discussions about removing Trump from power through the 25th Amendment, also raised the possibility of Rosenstein wearing a wire to “collect evidence” about the president’s motivation for firing former FBI director James B. Comey.
“To be fair, it was an unbelievably stressful time,” McCabe said in the interview. “I can’t even describe for you how many things must have been coursing through the deputy attorney general’s mind at that point. So it was really something that he kind of threw out in a very frenzied chaotic conversation about where we were and what we needed to do next.”
Rosenstein has disputed this allegation, which The Washington Post has previously reported. The Justice Department also issued a carefully parsed response to the “60 Minutes” interview, writing that Rosenstein “never authorized” any recording of the president and he wasn’t “in a position to consider invoking the 25th Amendment.”
Fox News contributor Dan Bongino appeared on “Fox & Friends” on Monday morning and said of the McCabe interview, “What was laid out last night . . . was a coup attempt on the president of the United States.”
Trump tweeted Bongino’s quote and added an enthusiastic “True!”
The three men — Rosenstein, McCabe and Sessions, all Republicans — have become some of Trump’s favorite punching bags. As attorney general, Sessions was “weak” and “beleaguered” and bore a resemblance to the cartoon character “Mr. Magoo,” Trump has said. McCabe, meanwhile, was a “puppet,” a “disgrace” and “pretends to be a ‘poor little Angel.’ ”
But Trump has reserved some of his harshest criticism for the man still in his employ.
In late November, the president shared a meme from a supporter’s Twitter account that showed a bevy of whom Trump considers to be nemeses locked up behind bars. There Rosenstein was, crowded into the back of the cell, near Mueller and just behind former president Barack Obama.
Rosenstein’s crime? “He should have never picked a special counsel,” Trump told the New York Post. Rosenstein appointed Mueller to investigate the Trump presidential campaign’s possible links to Russia.
McCabe’s book and recent interviews have reignited the long-running feud between Trump and one of his top Justice Department officials, and at least one senator has taken up the president’s case. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Sunday that his panel would investigate McCabe’s comments about the 25th Amendment.
“The deputy attorney general was basically trying to do an administrative coup,” Graham said, also invoking revolutionary parlance, on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Rosenstein may already be on his way out. He told people close to him that he plans to leave the Justice Department if a new attorney general is confirmed, The Post reported in January. William P. Barr was confirmed as attorney general last week.
The Justice Department declined to comment, and the White House did not respond to questions about the president’s tweets and Rosenstein’s future.