Donald Trump's feud with the FBI has been escalating for months, but over the holiday weekend, the Republican president took the conflict to a striking new level.
The first hint came on Dec. 23, when Trump tweeted a shot across former FBI Chief Counsel James Baker's bow. Around the same time, confronted with news that FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, a popular target for congressional Republicans' ire, is poised to retire, the president thought it'd be a good idea to devote some time on Christmas Eve to attacking the longtime bureau official.
President Donald Trump reacted to reports Saturday about the coming retirement of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who has been buffeted by attacks from the president and his Republican allies over alleged anti-Trump bias in the agency, by repeating falsehoods about McCabe's wife.
The president published three anti-McCabe tweets, two of which made claims about the FBI deputy director's wife that have already been discredited.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, wrote the other day that the FBI "would set a dangerous precedent if it forced out dedicated career public servants in capitulation to Trump and [White House] pressure. [The] president has already removed one top FBI leader -- Comey -- over Russia; McCabe would be another."
Let's unpack the apparent motivations behind Trump's offensive, since there's a likely explanation for this that makes sense.
In addition to the president's apparent disdain for the FBI in general, McCabe was former FBI Director James Comey's right-hand man. In fact, CNN reported late last week that when Trump allegedly pressured Comey to drop the investigation into Michael Flynn, Comey communicated the events to McCabe at the time.
In other words, if the president is under investigation for obstruction of justice -- a point that now seems fairly obvious -- McCabe is in a position to be a witness with information that may be damaging to the White House.
Similarly, McCabe has commented on the Christopher Steele dossier on Trump's relationship with Russia, with the FBI deputy director saying he believes the document is credible enough to warrant inclusion in the ongoing investigation.
It's against this backdrop that Trump and his GOP allies on Capitol Hill have decided to try to tear down McCabe.
There are legal experts who can speak to the details of witness tampering with far greater authority than I can, but it's of interest that the president seems to be going after FBI officials with quite a bit of knowledge related to some of his alleged misdeeds.
Postscript: The New York Times reported the other day that Trump has "groused" privately that Christopher Wray, whom the president appointed to lead the bureau, "has not swiftly removed people whom he perceives as loyal to Mr. Comey."
The more the president tries to tear down the wall between the White House's political agenda and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the more important it is for Wray to show some integrity and push back.