NYT: Trump thinking about firing the IG for sharing the whistleblower complaint to Congress

Rashly firing a top natsec bureaucrat for “disloyalty,” thereby creating a world of political trouble for himself and maybe inviting a charge of obstruction of justice?

That doesn’t sound like the Trump I know.

The most enjoyable thing about this story is knowing that it’s a sneak preview of what the GOP will be dealing with allllll the time during a Trump second term. Once he’s safely reelected and doesn’t need to worry about voters passing judgment on him again, he can indulge every vengeful whim and Republicans in Congress will have no choice but to swallow hard and spin, spin, spin. That’ll be their reward for declining to remove him at the Senate trial that’s coming up. Four more years of headlines like this.

The president has said he does not understand why Mr. Atkinson shared the complaint, which outlined how Mr. Trump asked the Ukrainian president to investigate Mr. Trump’s political rivals at the same time he was withholding military aid from the country. He has said he believes Mr. Atkinson, whom he appointed in 2017, has been disloyal, one of the people said…

Inspectors general are supposed to be insulated from politics so they can follow the facts and provide oversight of the executive branch. While presidents have the authority to remove them, they are supposed to take that action only in cases of misconduct or failure to fulfill duties…

Mr. Atkinson’s handling of the anonymous whistle-blower’s complaint was a major factor in the decision by House Democrats to initiate an impeachment inquiry. After conducting an investigation that led him to believe the complaint was credible, he forwarded it to the government’s top intelligence official, Joseph Maguire, who did not provide it to Congress in the time frame required under the law, but did allow Mr. Atkinson to alert lawmakers about the existence of the complaint…

Lawyers for Mr. Maguire and the Justice Department said that because Mr. Trump was not a member of the intelligence community, Mr. Atkinson did not have the jurisdiction to deliver the report.

Two sources told the Times that they think Trump is just “venting.” (“[A]ides say they have learned to ignore many of his private rants, unless the president brings up the subject repeatedly…”) Probably right. He’s frustrated by impeachment, he’s clearly irritated that he can’t fire the whistleblower or, on the advice of his lawyers, even identify him publicly so he’s likely just tossing out names of people against whom he might retaliate instead. I’m sure Vindman and Taylor and Sondland have also come up as potential fires in conversation. Maybe he’s even given the order, only to have Pat Cipollone or whoever pretend that they didn’t hear him and forget all about it.

The legal argument for bottling up the whistleblower complaint is thin, as the excerpt makes clear. Maguire was supposed to hand it over to Congress but didn’t on the theory that the president isn’t technically an intelligence official. If you think Trump has a political problem now, consider the state of affairs if the White House had successfully roadblocked the complaint’s release and Democrats were in their third month of “cover up” messaging about it. The complaint would have leaked anyway and then we would have gone through this same impeachment clusterfark except with a much more serious case of obstruction layered on top. And now, if you believe the Times, Trump is inclined once again to make the situation worse by plainly retaliating against the IG for relaying what turned out to be a credible report of a quid pro quo. Imagine being a Senate Republican, resigned to the fact that you’re going to have to acquit the president at trial no matter what, and having a “midnight massacre” involving the inspector general suddenly dropped on you.

I really do wonder sometimes if POTUS does stuff purely as an exercise in testing their loyalty. How much sh*t will they eat before they barf? If he fired Vindman et al. along with the IG, would a single Senate Republican (besides Romney or Murkowski) switch their vote to remove him? Maybe we’ll see.

Speaking of the big vote, earlier Jazz noted a cockamamie op-ed circulating today that claims the Senate could change the rules to make the big removal vote a matter of secret ballot. Not so, he pointed out, citing the clause in the Constitution that requires a recorded vote on all “questions” before the Senate. But is there a way around that? Mr. Kellyanne Conway considered the matter:

Re: the last tweet, the Senate could change its rules to define removal of the president as not a “question” for purposes of the Journals Clause, meaning that the vote wouldn’t need to be recorded. Or, as Conway suggests, the vote could be recorded but the record kept an absolute secret. Hypothetically.

…But if it was recorded in secret, the record would certainly leak. Every pro-Trump Republican in the Senate eager to ingratiate himself to the base would have an incentive to leak it to remove himself from suspicion of having betrayed the president. And of course it’d be a farce for the Senate to declare that the question, “Did the president commit a high crime or misdemeanor warranting removal from office?”, somehow isn’t a question. The argument against people like Nikki Haley who claim that voters should decide this matter at the ballot box is that (a) presidents shouldn’t have a four-year free pass to commit impeachable offenses until voters finally get another crack at them and, more importantly, (b) the impeachment process *is* accountable to the public inasmuch as members of the House and Senate will themselves have to face voters (no later than two years in the case of the House) and defend their impeachment vote. If you let them vote in secret, though, you explode that public accountability. Suddenly we really would be facing a “coup” scenario in which Congress could remove the president mid-term and the public wouldn’t know which legislators to punish if it concluded that the president had been unfairly ousted. The only way to make the impeachment process more wrenching and embittering to American politics would be to make it secret and suspicious. It’s a terrible idea even by the standards of our age of terrible ideas. I doubt there’s a single Senate Republican who’d entertain it, Romney included.