Immediately after Attorney General William Barr’s now-infamous four-page letter was released, I noted that Donald Trump’s victory dance was tempered by his sour declaration of vengeance against his political enemies and those who had conducted the alleged “witch hunt.” I quoted his odd advice to the students at Liberty University back in 2012:
“I always say don’t let people take advantage — this goes for a country, too, by the way — don’t let people take advantage,” Trump said. “Get even. And you know, if nothing else, others will see that and they’re going to say, ‘You know, I’m going to let Jim Smith or Sarah Malone, I’m going to let them alone because they’re tough customers.'”
In the last week we’ve seen Barr tell the Congress that he intended to look into alleged “spying” on the Trump campaign and the Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, promising to follow up on the Clinton email case again. Since those things have already been investigated and reported, it’s obvious that they are following the Trump edict to send a message to his political opponents and any law enforcement agencies that attempt to scrutinize the president.
Now we are on the cusp of receiving Barr’s redacted version of the Mueller report. From what we know, he will have removed classified information, grand jury testimony, and information that might compromise an ongoing investigation or anything that impacts a “peripheral” third party. We have no idea how much of the 400 pages will even be readable at this point. But since Barr has promised to color-code the redactions by those four categories, it may not be difficult to figure out who has given the special counsel embarrassing information about the president and his family. And according to NBC News, this has former and current White House staffers scared to death:
Of particular concern is how Trump — and his allies — will react if it appears to be clear precisely who shared information with Mueller, these people said. “They got asked questions and told the truth, and now they’re worried the wrath will follow,” one former White House official said.
They should be. You see, Trump doesn’t just threaten revenge against his enemies. He is even more adamant about exacting revenge against allies and friends he thinks have been disloyal. Back in 1992, he appeared on Charlie Rose’s show and explained his philosophy:
Trump: Some of the people who have been the most loyal to me are the people I didn’t think would be. The people are the most disloyal to me are the people, I think I would have treated them differently. I would have wiped the floor with the guys that weren’t loyal, which I will now do, which is great. I love getting even with people.
Charlie Rose: Hold up. You love getting even with people?
Trump: Oh absolutely. You don’t believe in the eye for an eye? Yeah you do, I know you well enough, I think you do.
Rose: No. … So tell me. You’re going to get even with some people because of …
Trump: If given the opportunity, I will get even with some people who were disloyal to me. I mean, I had a group of people that were disloyal …
Rose: How do you define disloyal?
Trump: They didn’t come to my aid and do small things …
Rose: Did they turn their back on you?
Trump: No, but they didn’t do small things that would have helped … you see, I’m so loyal to people, maybe I’m loyal to a fault. But I’m so loyal that if somebody is slightly disloyal to me I look upon it as a great act of horror.
Trump would have expected his staff to lie for him — “a small thing that would have helped.” If it is possible for him to decipher who may have given the Mueller team unpleasant information, you can imagine how he will react.
This is the leakiest White House in history, so we probably already know most of what’s in the report about obstruction of justice. But we have little idea about who specifically was leaking. There have been many rumors that Kellyanne Conway is the “number one leaker” in the White House. And there have been too many stories about a “heroic” Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, saving the country from yet another of Trump’s harebrained schemes not to conclude that he was another major leaker. Having been on the scene for most of Trump’s possible obstructive behavior, McGahn is in the most danger of being outed in the Mueller report.
McGahn seems to know that as well. He went up to Capitol Hill last week to give 40 or so GOP Senate staffers a heads up. Axios reported he told them they would likely be reading about some of the “spirited debates” he had with the president. Trump loyalists may have been surprised, but McGahn went on to describe his true mission within the White House: to dismantle the “administrative state” and pack the courts with far-right judges who would revisit any laws giving deference to the executive branch agencies. He said that “Trump’s judges will spend 30–40 years unwinding the power of executive agencies.”
“Mission accomplished,” apparently.
It’s doubtful that McGahn will care if Trump rants about him. He has carefully cultivated an image of the devoted Republican operative who went about his assignment with ruthless efficiency. He’s betting that he’ll be left standing when Trump is finally defeated. Kellyanne Conway and her husband George, a prominent Trump antagonist, are probably doing something similar. The pros have played both sides effectively and they will land on their feet, secure in the bosom of the Republican establishment,
Other nervous staffers should probably reflect on the fact that Trump getting angry or firing them is a whole lot better than going to jail and having a record for the rest of your life. Not invoking executive privilege and instructing them to tell the truth was the biggest favor Trump’s former lawyers, John Dowd and Ty Cobb, did for all of them.
Taking a job in this White House was likely a very bad decision. But failing to “come to the aid” of Donald Trump may be the best one those people ever made.