Bubble Bubble Toil & Trouble: Sessions & Trump’s Lawyers Obliterate Ethical Lines
With Donald Trump’s legal team going through yet another shakeout as Special Counsel Robert Mueller bears down on a president flailing like a wild animal caught in a trap, let’s pause to consider how many people surrounding the president have lost their ethical bearings, if not broken the law. Starting with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and moving on to White House Counsel Donald McGahn.
On March 16, a mere 26 hours before Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe would have qualified for a full pension after 21 years of service with the FBI and after months of harangues from Trump targeting McCabe and his former boss James Comey, Sessions dismissed McCabe based on the allegation he had inappropriately allowed two top FBI officials to speak to reporters in 2016 about his decision (and this is richly ironic) to open an investigation into the family foundation of right-wing nemeses Bill and Hillary Clinton and then lied to Department of Justice investigators.
Trump not coincidentally has had a major case of the ass with McCabe and has seized on the fact his wife, Jill, unsuccessfully ran for a Virginia State Senate candidate as a Democrat in 2015 and received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from a Hillary Clinton ally.
Sessions, whose oath of office requires him to be impartial, could have deferred the dismissal decision.
He could have explained that McCabe had not had an adequate opportunity to defend himself. Nor could such an action be taken while the president was so publicly in a state of high dudgeon because it would create the appearance that he was not impartial. Or he could have recused himself from participating in the decision because he had recused himself a year ago from the Justice’s Russia investigation on advice of department counsel after acknowledging that he failed to disclose his meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak when he was working for the Trump presidential campaign in testimony during his Senate confirmation hearings.
But Sessions, who has repeatedly incurred Trump’s wrath and dismissal threats for recusing himself and not shutting down Comey’s investigation, let alone impeding the investigation of Mueller, who took over from Comey, did none of those things. McCabe has responded by denying the allegation and calling it “an attack on my credibility [as] part of a larger effort not just to slander me personally, but taint the FBI, law enforcement and intelligence professionals more generally.”
Sessions has learned the hard way that if you fall into Trump’s orbit you will be diminished and then burned. Or perhaps end up in deep legal doo-doo like Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, George Papadopoulos and Michael Flynn, who have been indicted by Mueller.
The McCabe firing became the rationale for Trump criminal defense lawyer John Dowd to attack the special counsel, saying:
“I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier.”
Trump then quickly took up his lawyer’s argument in a series of inflammatory tweets, raising another brace of legal and ethical questions: Have the president’s lawyers blurred the lines between representing his interests and aiding and abetting obstruction of justice, and possibly other crimes, as well?
Of course they have, and in this respect White House counsel Donald McGahn, a West Wing survivor — or alternately someone who wanted to keep his job so badly he kept looking the other way — blurred the lines early and often:
* As transition counsel, McGahn was told by future and short-lived national security adviser Flynn on January 7, 2017 that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign. McGahn failed to follow up on the information.
* Now White House counsel, McGahn was told during a series of meetings with then-Acting Attorney General Sally Yates beginning on January 26, 2017 that misstatements made by Flynn regarding his meetings with Russians made him vulnerable to blackmail by Moscow and criminal prosecution. McGahn again failed to follow up on the information.
* In early March 2017, Trump ordered McGahn to stop Sessions from recusing himself after his perjerous Senate testimony. McGahn failed to do so but is witness to one of Trump’s efforts to obstruct justice.
* On May 7, 2017, McGahn was again witness to an effort to obstruct justice as Trump and an aide draft a letter firing Comey for specious reasons. McGahn convinced the president not to release the letter.
* On June 12, 2017, McGahn was again witness to an effort to obstruct justice as Trump ordered him to fire Mueller. Trump backed down after McGahn threatened to resign rather than carry out the directive.
* In mid-September 2017, Trump criminal defense lawyer Ty Cobb was overheard by a reporter angrily stating that McGahn had “a couple of [potentially incriminating] documents locked in a safe” to which he was not allowed access.
* In February 2018, after Mueller has summoned McGahn for an interview, he was yet again witness to an effort to obstruct justice when Trump asked him to divulge details of the interview.
McGahn may have managed a feat hitherto unheard of in White House legal history since Watergate: His representation of Trump could get him indicted, if not lose his license to practice law.
Things are about to get even more interesting with the news that Trump has hired a new criminal defense lawyer who pushes conspiracy theories on Fox News and may be firing Cobb, who has pushed a non-confrontational strategy of fully cooperating with Mueller. Meanwhile, Dowd reportedly is considering quitting because he has concluded he has no control over Trump’s erratic and self-destructive behavior.
Cooperation is now out and attacking the special counsel head-on is in, which makes Joseph diGenova, a ruthless veteran Washington lawyer and former federal prosecutor, a great fit for Trump’s beleaguered legal team as a showdown with Mueller looms large.
DiGenova is a frequent Fox News contributor and proponent of the unsubstantiated claim that the FBI and Justice Department (read Mueller) have manufactured evidence to frame the president. Yes, he’s one of them:
“There was a brazen plot to illegally exonerate Hillary Clinton and, if she didn’t win the election, to then frame Donald Trump with a falsely created crime,” he said on Fox News in January. “Make no mistake about it: A group of FBI and DOJ people were trying to frame Donald Trump of a falsely created crime.”
DiGenova has promised legal representation to any FBI agent who wanted to come forward and testify against Comey. He got no takers.
Meanwhile, diGenova’s equally ruthless wife, Virginia Toensing, represents Blackwater founder and informal Trump adviser Erik Prince, former Trump campaign co-chair Sam Clovis and Mark Corallo, former spokesman for Trump’s legal team who has accused former White House communications director Hope Hicks of planning to obstruct justice in crafting a statement related to the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer who had promised him damaging information on Clinton.
Other than appealing to Trump’s base and his Republican congressional sycophancy, it’s difficult to see how a fever swamp-dwelling quote machine like diGenova can defend the president against Mueller and his crack legal team.
This is because nothing has changed. The president’s lawyers don’t have a pot to piss in and never have because he’s guilty as sin.
and related events.