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The Week In Politics

Mar 17, 2018
Originally published on April 3, 2018 9:49 am
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Whole lot of shaking up going on in Washington, D.C. Last night, FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe was fired less than two days before he was set to retire. Earlier this week, of course, Secretary of State Tillerson may have been the first cabinet member ever fired by tweet - what's the hashtag? - just as the U.S. may begin some kind of talks with North Korea and faces a crucial confrontation with Russia. NPR's Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: All this - forgive me - what I'll call rapid firing in the Trump administration. Let's begin with Andrew McCabe. He was set to retire, I believe, tomorrow at midnight. Why just not let him retire?

ELVING: Tomorrow is McCabe's 50th birthday. And as a federal law enforcement officer, he'd have been eligible for full pension because he has more than 20 years of service. Now, there was an inspector general report within the DOJ - the Department of Justice - that said he had talked to a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal and that he had lacked candor, sometimes including when under oath. But we don't actually know why Andrew McCabe was fired yet.

We do not know whether he ever lied under oath. And we don't know if, in fact, he was among those at the Department of Justice who was telling the truth. But he was a frequent target of President Trump's wrath, including in a midnight tweet last night when the president said he had been fired, all caps. And we know that this was because of McCabe's handling of a 2017 probe - 2016 probe, I should say - into Hillary Clinton's emails and because McCabe was a surrogate for former FBI Chief James Comey, whom the president fired last year.

SIMON: Yeah.

ELVING: And then, of course, beyond that, we have the list of national security adviser H.R. McMaster maybe left to go...

SIMON: You get a little breathless just trying to recount all the names, don't you?

ELVING: Yes, I'm afraid it gets a little bit difficult to stay ahead of this...

SIMON: Yeah.

ELVING: ...Scott. He survived - that is, McMaster did on Friday night. He is still expected to go very soon. It is on Twitter alert, you might say. And then there's Jeff Sessions at the Department of Justice, who carried out this firing yesterday. But some people say - would've been gone if he had not. And then, of course, possibly even chief of staff John Kelly himself, another general. After he's ushered all of these others out, presumably, he may go himself.

SIMON: Yeah. And, of course, Gary Cohn, John McEntee, Hope Hicks, Rob Porter, Anthony Scaramucci, Sean Spicer. Well, all of this happens in the midst of what could be a critical point with Russia. The White House placed sanctions in response to Russian meddling in the 2016 elections. And then there's these mysterious and murderous attacks on foreign agents tied to the Kremlin. Is this going to distract the administration from their response with this revolving Cabinet?

ELVING: You know, it's a moment when they should not be distracted because the Cold War appears to be making a comeback. Or, at least, that is something of a prospect. It may be remembered as the historic week when a lot of Western countries finally decided they had to confront Vladimir Putin. The British prime minister expelled a whole crew of Russian diplomats - people involved in intelligence - after that nerve gas attack that Russian agents are believed to have carried out on one of their own there in London. That was in broad daylight in a park. The Russians have responded in kind. The pot is still boiling. So it is an impossibly difficult week to lose a lot of your top officials in national security and foreign policy and because the confirmation process for their successors maybe taking some time and may actually be quite difficult.

SIMON: And the Russia investigation itself - Robert Mueller still looking into connections with several Trump administration officials. Andrew McCabe said last night his firing was an attempt to at least undermine the investigation. What's it look like to you?

ELVING: It does appear that the president himself in his tweet overnight linked the firing to James Comey and the testimony that we heard from James Comey last year. And, of course, McCabe could be part of any kind of a discussion or - and witness download about a possible obstruction of justice. But the big headline this week was when Mueller issued a subpoena for business records of the Trump organization itself. That's his business empire - his hotels and golf courses and so forth. There have been whispers of money laundering around these businesses for many years. And that was part of the indictment of Paul Manafort earlier. So stay tuned on the Mueller front.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks. We're going to have more, of course, on the McCabe firing later in this program. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.