Under public pressure from President Donald Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions urged FBI Director Chris Wray to jettison his deputy, Andrew McCabe. Wray threatened to quit and Sessions backed off.
Even if this threat was a one-off, it would be concerning. The President leaning on his attorney general to get rid of a senior law enforcement official because he believed a donation to McCabe's wife's state senate campaign by a PAC supportive of an ally of Hillary Clinton was evidence of some sort of inherent bias is hugely unusual. While the President is the head of the entire federal bureaucracy -- and the Justice Department falls within that -- typically commanders-in-chief allow the law enforcement wing to operate in a largely autonomous manner.
For the record, Trump denied Thursday that Wray ever threatened to quit. "He didn't at all," Trump told reporters of Wray. "He did not even a little bit".
Putting the he said, he said aside, this latest attempt to pressure McCabe out of his job isn't a one-off. It's not even close, in fact. It's part of a very clear pattern in which Trump steps all over the typical boundaries separating the executive branch and law enforcement for his own personal and political purposes.
The most glaring example is Trump's firing of then-FBI Director James Comey in the spring of last year. While the White House sought to paint the move as the result of Comey's actions during the 2016 campaign, Trump destroyed that message in an interview with NBC's Lester Holt, when he told the anchor "this Russia thing" was a major motivator in his decision.
Comey, at the time of his firing, was leading the FBI's investigation into Russia's attempted meddling in the 2016 election and the possibility of collusion with the Trump campaign. That firing led to the appointment of special counsel Bob Mueller and his ongoing investigation.
There are a slew of other examples in which Trump actively undermined his own law enforcement officials:
- Trump has repeatedly attacked Sessions for the decision to recuse himself on the Russia investigation. Trump has said he would never have hired Sessions if he knew that the attorney general would recuse himself. He's called Sessions "beleaguered" on Twitter. He's urged Sessions to use the power of the Justice Department to look into Clinton, the Clinton Foundation and the Uranium One deal.
- Late last year, Trump sent a tweet that insisted the FBI was in "tatters."
- Days before Christmas, Trump sent out a tweet attacking McCabe specifically; "FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits," Trump tweeted. "90 days to go?!!!"
- Trump has regularly raised questions about the intelligence community's unanimous finding that Russia actively sought to meddle in the 2016 election to help his candidacy and hurt that of Clinton. "The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?," he tweeted back in May 2017.
Trump's systematic attempt to shake public confidence in law enforcement seems to run directly in contrast to his oft-repeated pledge of love for the military, police and firefighters.
What explains the disconnect? Trump views the FBI -- and the broader intelligence community -- as out to get him, part of the so-called "Deep State" of entrenched bureaucrats who refuse to accept his victory.
"Crooked Hillary Clinton's top aid, Huma Abedin, has been accused of disregarding basic security protocols," he tweeted earlier this month. "She put Classified Passwords into the hands of foreign agents. Remember sailors pictures on submarine? Jail! Deep State Justice Dept must finally act? Also on Comey & others."
The American President is actively engaged in a conspiracy theory that people within his government -- and, particularly, the law enforcement wing -- are unfairly targeting him for no reason other than they disagree with his views.
Given that conviction, Trump believes his assault on the FBI and other law enforcement entities is not only entirely justified, but wholly deserved.