Revealed: Justice Department officials held meetings about recruiting Mike Pence to help force Trump out of office using the 25th Amendment, says James Comey’s fired deputy
- Andrew McCabe, the former deputy director of the FBI, recounted a Justice Department plot to remove Donald Trump from office in a television interview
- In the next episode of ’60 Minutes,’ Scott Pelley, a correspondent for CBS, says McCabe will talk about a plot to remove Trump from office
- Pelley says McCabe told him about a plot to approach Mike Pence, the Vice President of the United States, and ask him to invoke the 25th Amendment
- McCabe is out with a new book, ‘The Threat,’ that takes aims at Trump
- Trump fired McCabe and former boss James Comey, calling them ‘crooked’ cops
Andrew McCabe, the former deputy director of the FBI, recounted a Justice Department plot to remove Donald Trump from office in a television interview that will air Sunday.
Previewing the next episode of ’60 Minutes,’ Scott Pelley, a correspondent for CBS, said Thursday that McCabe told him about a plan to approach Mike Pence, the Vice President of the United States, and ask him to invoke the 25th Amendment.
‘There were meetings at the Justice Department in 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,’ Pelley reported on CBS ‘This Morning’ on Thursday.
Andrew McCabe, the former deputy director of the FBI, recounted a Justice Department plot to remove Donald Trump from office in a television interview that will air Sunday
WHAT ABOUT PENCE?: Previewing the next episode of ’60 Minutes,’ Scott Pelley, a correspondent for CBS, said Thursday that McCabe told him about a plan to approach Mike Pence, the Vice President of the United States , and ask him to invoke the 25th Amendment
Trump fired back at McCabe on Twitter on Thursday morning during a block of time in which he usually does have anything on his public or private work schedule
Trump invoked McCabe’s wife Jill, who ran for office as a Democrat in Virginia and lost. She had the financial backing of an organization that is close to Hillary Clinton
Pelley said McCabe told him they were ‘counting noses’ of Cabinet officials who would vote to remove Trump after he fired James Comey in May of 2017.
‘This was not perceived to be a joke,’ Pelley asserted on CBS.
The journalist said the conversation took place in the eight days between Comey’s dismissal and the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel.
Trump met with the Russian ambassador the day after he ousted Comey, the former FBI director, and the Russian foreign minister at the White House.
His campaign, several of his associates, including his one-time National Security Advsior Michael Flynn, were under federal investigation for improper contacts during the election with Russia at the time.
‘The highest levels of American law enforcement were trying to figure out what to do with the president,’ Pelley reported.
McCabe is the first person to confirm that the 25th Amendment came up in the meetings. The ex-law enforcement official was later fired himself over conversations with the media that an inspector general deemed inappropriate.
Reacting to McCabe’s claims in an interview with MSNBC, the vice president, who is currently traveling abroad, said that the suggestion that Trump is unfit for office is ‘absurd,’ given his record of accomplishments.
‘I couldn’t be more proud to stand with him. The words and the writings of a disgraced FBI agent won’t change that fact for the American people,’ Pence said.
He further claimed that he had ‘never’ heard of the Justice Department plot that McCabe described before, suggesting that it never left the idea stage.
‘I have never heard any discussion of the 25th Amendment by members of this government, and I would never expect to,’ Pence asserted.
Trump has claimed that Comey, McCabe and cohorts of theirs who worked on Hillary Clinton’s email case and the Russian meddling probe were ‘crooked’ cops, and that’s why he got rid of them.
‘There were meetings at the Justice Department in 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,’ Pelley reported on CBS ‘This Morning’ on Thursday
McCabe’s interview set Trump off again, with the president answering him in tweets on Thursday morning during a period of time in which Trump typically has no events or meetings.
‘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,’ Trump said.
He invoked McCabe’s wife Jill’s failed candidacy for office in Virginia, where she ran for office as a Democrat with the financial backing of an organization that is close to Hillary Clinton.
The president suggested the connection to the former secretary of state who opposed him for the Oval Office caused McCabe to go easy on Clinton in the FBI’s probe into her use of a private email and server.
‘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!’ the president wrote.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders claimed that McCabe ‘lied’ and has ‘no credibility’ in a statement later.
‘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.’
Sanders added, ‘Andrew McCabe has no credibility and is an embarrassment to the men and women of the FBI and our great country.’
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that McCabe’s comments represent a ‘bias against President Trump’ that he intends to explore.
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McCabe told CBS that the Justice Department opened counterintelligence and obstruction of justice investigations into Trump the day after he fired Comey.
He said he moved swiftly to shore up the Russia probe such that someone appointed by Trump could not come in and shutter it without creating a paper trail.
‘I was very concerned that I was able to put the Russia case on absolutely solid ground in an indelible fashion that were I removed quickly and reassigned or fired that the case could not be closed or vanish in the night without a trace,’ he told Pelley in a clip that aired already.
Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired McCabe last May, two days short of his eligibility for retirement, amid claims that the law enforcement official leaked information to the media.
DOJ’s inspector general ruled that he made unauthorized disclosures and did not tell the truth on multiple occasions, including when he was under oath.
McCabe denies those allegations and challenged the ‘lies’ he said were being told about his family. He claimed through a lawyer that the decision to fire him days before he would have received his government benefits was intentionally rushed.
In a chapter of his new book, ‘The Threat,’ McCabe describes at least one occasion in which Trump brought up his wife.
McCabe says he documented the call via memo, much like Comey says he kept logs of his conversations with the president.
‘He said, How is your wife? I said, She’s fine. He said, When she lost her election, that must have been very tough to lose. How did she handle losing? Is it tough to lose?’
Recalling the conversation, McCabe says he told Trump, ‘I guess it’s tough to lose anything. But she’s rededicated herself to her career and her job and taking care of kids in the emergency room. That’s what she does.
‘He replied in a tone that sounded like a sneer. He said, “Yeah, that must’ve been really tough. To lose. To be a loser.” ‘
McCabe says he wrote a contemporaneous memo about what Trump told him that day, as he said he habitually does with ‘a person who cannot be trusted’ to recall the conversation as it happened.
He suggests in the passage that Trump couldn’t be reasoned with, writing in an excerpt that appeared Thursday in The Atlantic that Trump ‘flew off the handle’ in a call on an unsecure line the day after he fired Comey over McCabe’s decision to allow the former bureau chief to hitch a ride from Los Angeles on a government plane that was flying back to Washington.
Comey was in LA giving a speech when he found out that Trump had fired him. McCabe said he decided as the acting head of the bureau that the threat posed to Comey’s life was imminent enough that he should remain under federal protection.
‘It was coming back anyway,’ he writes of the plane. ‘The president flew off the handle: That’s not right! I don’t approve of that! That’s wrong! He reiterated his point five or seven times.
‘I said, I’m sorry that you disagree, sir. But it was my decision, and that’s how I decided. The president said, I want you to look into that! I thought to myself: What am I going to look into? I just told you I made that decision.’
McCabe derides Trump in the passage for his willingness to ‘comment prejudicially on criminal prosecutions’ and investigations ‘on ones that potentially affect him.’
‘He is not just sounding a dog whistle. He is lobbying for a result. The president has stepped over bright ethical and moral lines wherever he has encountered them,’ said the former law enforcement official who Trump targeted on Twitter repeatedly.
Emphasizing his point, he said, ‘Every day brings a new low, with the president exposing himself as a deliberate liar who will say whatever he pleases to get whatever he wants.’
McCabe claims, for instance, that the day after he fired Comey that the move would be popular because the law enforcement official who declined to recommend criminal charges against Clinton was hated by so many people.
The president then asked McCabe if he thought it would be a good idea for him to visit the FBI, to boost morale. McCabe recalls telling him that he should, deciding that the denial of a trip to headquarters wasn’t worth the ‘ultimate sacrifice’ of losing his job.
McCabe sensed that White House Counsel Don McGahn didn’t want to tell the president not to come, either, as he directed Trump back to McCabe for a final answer.
‘It was a bizarre performance. I said it would be fine. I had no real choice. This was not worth the ultimate sacrifice,’ he writes.
Summing it up, McCabe said, ‘In this moment, I felt the way I’d felt in 1998, in a case involving the Russian Mafia, when I sent a man I’ll call Big Felix in to meet with a Mafia boss named Dimitri Gufield. The same kind of thing was happening here, in the Oval Office.
‘Dimitri had wanted Felix to endorse his protection scheme. This is a dangerous business, and it’s a bad neighborhood, and you know, if you want, I can protect you from that. If you want my protection. I can protect you. Do you want my protection?’ McCabe writes. ‘The president and his men were trying to work me the way a criminal brigade would operate.’
McCabe hints in the book that Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, feels as if he cannot speak freely, either.
Trump has also directed public ire at Rosenstein, who remains at Justice, having repaired a broken relationship with the president enough to keep his job.
He writes that Rosenstein told him days after Comey’s firing that that there was no one at DOJ anymore who he felt he could trust. He asked McCabe’s opinion on hiring a special counsel.
‘This is the gist of what I said: I feel strongly that the investigation would be best served by having a special counsel. I’ve been thinking about the Clinton email case and how we got twisted in knots over how to announce a result that did not include bringing charges against anyone,’ McCabe writes. ‘Had we appointed a special counsel in the Clinton case, we might not be in the present situation.’
He says he told Rosenstein, ‘Unless or until you make the decision to appoint a special counsel, the FBI will be subjected to withering criticism that could destroy the credibility of both the Justice Department and the FBI.’
Mueller’s appointment was a decision left to Rosenstein after Sessions recused himself from overseeing the investigation. He decided to sit the probe out on account of the fact that he worked on the president’s campaign.
Rosenstein did not initially jump at the idea of bringing a special counsel on board, McCabe writes, but came around to the idea. He revealed the hiring of Mueller on May 17, 2017, during a briefing for top House and Senate leaders.
McCabe says of the experience, ;When I came out of the Capitol, it felt like crossing a finish line. If I got nothing else done as acting director, I had done the one thing I needed to do.’
WHAT DOES THE 25TH AMENDMENT SAY? CAN TRUMP’S CABINET REALLY TOPPLE HIM?
The 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution deals with presidential authority in the event of death or removal from office, and was ratified in 1967, in the wake of John F Kennedy’s assassination.
What does the 25th Amendment say?
It is in four sections, all dealing with the president leaving office during his or her elected term.
The first section states that the vice president takes over the Oval Office if the president dies or resigns – or is removed – something which the original Constitution did not clearly state.
Presidents of course can be removed by impeachment, a feature of the constitution from the start. They can also be removed through the 25th Amendment – of which more below.
Section II states that if the vice president dies, or resigns – or is fired – both the House and Senate have to confirm a new vice president. Until 1967, presidents could change vice presidents mid-term on their own if they got the vice president to agree to resign – not something that actually happened, but which was possible in principle.
Section III makes clear that the a president can temporarily delegate his powers to the vice president, and later reclaim them when he – or she – is capable of serving. This is most often invoked if a president is under the influence of surgical anesthetic for a short period of time.
Section IV is the amendment’s most controversial part: it describes how the president can be removed from office if he is incapacitated and does not leave on his own.
The vice president and ‘a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide’ must write to both the president pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House, saying that ‘the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.’
The term principal officers of the executive departments would normally would mean the cabinet secretaries.
So at least eight of the president’s 15 most senior Cabinet members, who , together with the vice president, must agree that a president should be removed before any plan can move forward.
Notifying the House Speaker and the Senate president pro tempore is the act that immediately elevates the vice president to an ‘acting president’ role.
The deposed president can contest the claim, giving the leaders of the bloodless coup four days to re-assert their claims to the House and Senate.
Congress then has two days to convene – unless it is already in session – and another 21 days to vote on whether the president is incapable of serving. A two-thirds majority in both houses is required to make that determination.
As soon as there is a vote with a two-thirds majority, the president loses his powers and is removed, and the vice president stops acting and is sworn in as president.
But if 21 days of debate and votes ends without a two-thirds majority, the president gets back his powers.
What could happen to trigger the 25th Amendment?
Vice President Mike Pence and eight of the 15 ‘principal’ Cabinet members would have to agree to notify Congress that President Donald Trump was incapable of running the country.
That group is made up of the Secretary of State, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Secretary of Defense , Attorney General, Interior Secretary, Agriculture Secretary, Commerce Secretary, Labor Secretary, Health and Human Services Secretary, Transportation Secretary, Energy Secretary , Education Secretary, Veterans Affairs Secretary and Homeland Security Secretary.
Their formal notification would go to the House Speaker and, in the senate, to the ‘president pro tempore’, the Senate’s most senior member. As soon as the letter is sent, Pence would become ‘acting president.’
Alternatively, Congress could set up its own mechanism to decide if he is fit for office – maybe a commission, or a joint committee. Pence would still have to agree with its conclusion and then write formally to the Speaker and president pro tempore.
Or another possibility is that the pool of ‘principal officers’ is considered to be bigger than the 15 and a majority of that group call Trump incapable.
What if Trump does not agree?
If Trump claims he is capable of holding office, he would write to the House Speaker and the president pro tempore of the Senate within four days, setting up three weeks of intense debate in both houses of Congress.
Trump would be removed from office if both two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate agreed with Pence and his cabal.
If either of both chambers fell short of that mark, Trump would retain his powers and likely embark on a wholesale housecleaning, firing Pence and replacing disloyal Cabinet members.
Are there any loopholes?
The 25th Amendment allows Congress to appoint its own panel to evaluate the president instead of relying on the Cabinet – the men and women who work most closely with Trump – to decide on a course of action.
It specfies that some ‘other body as Congress may by law provide’ could play that role, but Pence would still need to agree with any finding that the president is incapable of discharging his duties.
If Democrats were to take over both the House and Senate, they could create such a panel with simple majority votes.
That commission could hypothetically include anyone from presidential historians to psychiatrists, entrusted to assess the president’s fitness for office.
Another loophole is that it does not spell out that the Cabinet is needed to agree, but says that the ‘principal officers’ of the departments are needed. That term is undefined in the constitution. In some departments legislation appears to name not just the secretary but deputies and even undersecretaries as ‘principal officers’, so many more people could be called in to the assessment of Trump’s fitness.
Could Trump fire Pence if he rebelled?
Yes, in principle. If Trump smelled a whiff of trouble – if Pence and a cabal of Cabinet members, or Pence and a panel assembled by Congress seemed ready to judge him incapacitated – he could dismiss his vice president with the stroke of a pen to stop the process.
But installing a more loyal VP could be problematic since the 25th Amendment includes its own poison pill: Both houses of Congress must vote to approve a new vice president.
That means Trump would find himself up against the same Congress that would vote on his fitness for office, unless the process were to unfold in the weeks before a new Congress.
Theoretically, a Democratic-controlled Congress could make life dramatically more difficult for the president if it came into power in the midst of the constitutional crisis.
One scenario has appeared to stump presidential historians, however: Firing Pence before the process is underway, and then leaving the vice presidency vacant, would give Congress no practical way forward. That would present its own constitutional crisis.
Is there any precedent for this?
No. Only Section III, the voluntary surrender of presidential powers, has ever been used – and only very briefly.
In December 1978, President Jimmy Carter thought about invoking Section III when he was contemplating a surgical procedure to remove hemorrhoids.
Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush both voluntarily relinquished their powers while undergoing procedures under anesthetic.
Section IV has also never been invoked, although there have been claims that Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff Donald Regan told his successor, Howard Baker, in 1987 that he should be prepared to invoke it because Reagan was inattentive and inept.
The PBS documentary ‘American Experience’ recounts how Baker and his team watched Reagan closely for signs of incapacity during their first meeting and decided he was in perfect command of himself.
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