For the first time, a former top Trump administration official confirmed there were discussions about forcibly removing the president from office — a comment that has started a firestorm in Washington.
Andrew McCabe, the former deputy FBI director who was fired last March, told CBS’s 60 Minutes in an interview aired on Thursday that Justice Department officials talked about invoking the 25th Amendment to remove President Donald Trump. Those deliberations came in the days following Trump’s sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey in May 2017.
Section 4 of the 25th Amendment of the Constitution states that if the vice president and a majority of Cabinet secretaries decide the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties” of the presidency, they can start a process that could remove him from office. It has never been invoked, and it’s unclear how many Justice Department officials were involved in the discussions.
McCabe also admitted he opened an obstruction of justice probe into Trump after Comey’s firing and took steps to ensure it would survive him should he be forced out of the FBI.
But that’s not all. CBS correspondent Scott Pelley, who interviewed McCabe, said the former official confirmed that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein offered to wear a wire in meetings with Trump. That’s the first time a senior official, albeit a spurned, former one, has confirmed a September 2018 New York Times report detailing Rosenstein’s suggestion on the record. At the time, Rosenstein denied the allegation, going so far as to say he made the comment in jest.
.@ScottPelley on what McCabe told @60Minutes: "There were meetings at the Justice Department at which it was discussed whether the vice president and a majority of the cabinet could be brought together to remove the president of the United States under the 25th Amendment." pic.twitter.com/iVAyrEV4MF— Norah O'Donnell (@NorahODonnell) February 14, 2019
Soon after Pelley’s revelation, the Justice Department issued a statement, this time directly contradicting McCabe’s assertion. “The Deputy Attorney General again rejects Mr. McCabe’s recitation of events as inaccurate and factually incorrect,” a DOJ spokesperson said. However, the statement goes on to deny things McCabe never charged, namely, that he didn’t “authorize” recording Trump when all the former FBI leader said was that it was merely discussed.
McCabe has memos. Still, be cautious.
McCabe may certainly be telling the truth, but there are some reasons to think his view of Trump is compromised.
First, Trump consistently targeted Jill McCabe, Andrew’s wife, who lost a race for the state Senate in Virginia in 2015 as a Democrat. At the time, she received support from the state Democratic Party and a PAC tied to a Hillary Clinton ally. Trump used this connection to lambaste McCabe and paint the Russia investigation as politically motivated.
Also on Thursday, a released excerpt of the former top FBI official’s book in the Atlantic shows McCabe recalling how Trump called him the day after firing Comey and proceeded to call his wife a “loser.”
“Yeah, that must’ve been really tough. To lose. To be a loser,” McCabe recalls Trump saying. One could imagine McCabe holding a certain animosity for constantly attacking his significant other.
And second, the former FBI head was also under investigation by the Department of Justice inspector general, as part of a larger investigation into FBI and DOJ conduct during the 2016 election. In his final report, Inspector General Michael Horowitz found that McCabe “lacked candor” because he inappropriately allowed two top officials to talk to journalists about the opening of an investigation into the Clinton Foundation and lied about doing so to investigators.
After the inspector general’s report, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired McCabe in March, a little more than 26 hours before he planned to formally retire, denying him his pension. McCabe also faults Rosenstein for not supporting him during the investigation.
It’s therefore possible, though not terribly likely, that McCabe is embellishing facts as a way to get back at Trump. After all, he kept contemporaneous notes about his discussions with the president and about what to do after Comey’s firing.
The president surely feels that way, as his Thursday tweets — which target Jill McCabe again — show.
Disgraced FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe pretends to be a “poor little Angel” when in fact he was a big part of the Crooked Hillary Scandal & the Russia Hoax - a puppet for Leakin’ James Comey. I.G. report on McCabe was devastating. Part of “insurance policy” in case I won....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 14, 2019
....Many of the top FBI brass were fired, forced to leave, or left. McCabe’s wife received BIG DOLLARS from Clinton people for her campaign - he gave Hillary a pass. McCabe is a disgrace to the FBI and a disgrace to our Country. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 14, 2019
It’s worth reiterating that all we know about McCabe’s allegations is a short excerpt from his 60 Minutes interview, and Pelley’s summary of the main points in a segment aired Thursday morning. (The full interview goes live on Sunday.)
But if McCabe says anything remotely like what we’ve already heard, it could show that some top Trump officials feel the president isn’t up to the job.
Correction: A previous version of this article said the inspector general recommended Andrew McCabe’s firing. In fact, the inspector general doesn’t make such recommendations.