Before considering the Oval Office meeting in May between Donald Trump and the deputy director of the FBI, it's important to remember the context. Roughly four months into his presidency, Trump had already sought, among other things, a loyalty pledge from former FBI Director James Comey. When the president was dissatisfied with Comey's willingness to go along with the White House's wishes, Trump fired him.
At that point, the president needed to appoint a new acting FBI director to help run the bureau until Comey's successor could be confirmed. As Rachel noted on last night's show, the Washington Post published a piece late yesterday, highlighting what transpired at the "get-to-know-you meeting" in the Oval Office between Trump and the man who'd temporarily lead the bureau.
The two men exchanged pleasantries, but before long, Trump, according to several current and former U.S. officials, asked Andrew McCabe a pointed question: Whom did he vote for in the 2016 election?McCabe said he didn't vote, according to the officials, who, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly about a sensitive matter.Trump, the officials said, also vented his anger at McCabe over the several hundred thousand dollars in donations that his wife, a Democrat, received for her failed 2015 Virginia state Senate bid from a political action committee controlled by a close friend of Hillary Clinton.
Not surprisingly, McCabe found the conversation "disturbing." Just as importantly, the Post reported that this meeting "is of interest to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III."
This should've been the most straightforward of discussions. The FBI needed an acting director; Trump brought in the bureau's deputy director; and McCabe understood he was poised to receive a temporary promotion. But the president couldn't even get this right: apparently having learned no lessons whatsoever from his fiasco with Comey, Trump decided to broach the subject of partisan politics with the FBI chief in their first meaningful conversation.
Of course, we now know that the president would later spend months periodically attacking McCabe -- who, incidentally, does not appear to have done anything wrong.
The New York Times had a related report, confirming effectively every relevant detail, though it did add another notable nugget: in that same May conversation, the president said "he planned to make an appearance that week at F.B.I. Headquarters to bolster morale. Mr. McCabe told Mr. Trump that it would be a risky move after firing a well-respected director, so the president scuttled the trip, citing scheduling conflicts."
This isn't entirely new -- NBC News had a report on this at the time -- but it (a) nevertheless amazes me that a sitting president avoided the FBI because of his deep unpopularity in the building; and (b) undermines the White House's line that Comey lacked the support and respect of bureau employees at the time of his ouster.