BOMBSHELLS AWAY: Did Donald J. Trump try to fire Mueller?

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 1, 2018

Part 4—The best-selling author's tale:
Long ago and far away—in June of last year, to be exact—did Donald J. Trump, the American president, try to fire Bob Mueller?

We're not sure how to answer your question. For the record, the New York Times explicitly made that claim in a recent front-page report.

Despite its fuzzy, air-filled prose, the report was deemed a bombshell. With respect to Trump's alleged attempt, here's what the Times report said:
SCHMIDT AND HABERMAN (1/26/18): President Trump ordered the firing last June of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation, according to four people told of the matter, but ultimately backed down after the White House counsel threatened to resign rather than carry out the directive.

The West Wing confrontation marks the first time Mr. Trump is known to have tried to fire the special counsel.

[...]

After receiving the president’s order to fire Mr. Mueller, the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, refused to ask the Justice Department to dismiss the special counsel, saying he would quit instead, the people said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified discussing a continuing investigation.

Mr. McGahn disagreed with the president’s case and told senior White House officials that firing Mr. Mueller would have a catastrophic effect on Mr. Trump’s presidency. Mr. McGahn also told White House officials that Mr. Trump would not follow through on the dismissal on his own. The president then backed off.
The bombshell report explicitly says that Trump tried to fire Mueller. Indeed, on two ccasions, it explicitly says that Donald J. Trump "ordered" the firing.

It also says that McGahn refused to act on Trump's request. It seems to say that Trump "backed down" and "backed off" in the face of this refusal, though that claim is somewhat less explicit. (It's explicit about the chronology, less so about the cause.)

That's what the bombshell report explicitly says. Here are some the things the bombshell doesn't report or explain:

Did McGahn ever state his refusal directly to Donald J. Trump? Did anyone ever tell Donald J. Trump that McGahn was refusing to act?

Did Donald J. Trump come to know at some time that McGahn was refusing to act? Also, in what sense can Trump be said to have "backed down?" Did someone tell him his order was a bad idea, in the face of which he "backed off?"

In truth, Schmidt and Haberman authored the latest of their patented air-filled reports. The report seems to tell an exciting tale, unless you read it with care.

Two days later, the Washington Post explicitly reported that McGahn didn't directly state his refusal to Donald J. Trump. Did anyone ever confront Donald J. Trump? The Post report didn't say.

The Times report was full of air, but it was deemed a bombshell. It seemed to tell an exciting tale—a dramatic tale which aligned with preferred narratives on CNN and MSNBC, the two cable channels on which its brilliance was instantly hailed.

In part for that reason, excitable pundits on those channels were soon describing the piece as a bombshell. Instead of questioning Schmidt and Haberman about the fuzzy parts of their report, colleagues at the two cable channels praised them for their brilliance.

(Haberman is an employee of CNN, Schmidt of NBC/MSNBC. This may help explain the lazy analytical work of their corporate colleagues, though such work is admittedly typical.)

Let's return to our original question: Did Donald J. Trump "try to fire Bob Mueller?"

We're not sure how to answer that question. We do feel inclined to venture this thought: If he tried to fire Mueller, he may not have tried very hard.

Did someone tell Donald J. Trump that McGahn was unwilling to proceed? If so, Trump could have proceeded on his own. He could have made the requisite phone calls to the Justice Department.

The bombshell report seems to say that Trump took no such action. Schmidt and Haberman describe this as "backing down." But last Friday night, a best-selling author offered a different idea.

The man in question is Michael Wolff, author of Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, the somewhat slippery bombshell best-selling of just a few weeks ago. Here's how the action went down:

All over cable, everyone was saying that Schmidt and Haberman had delivered a bombshell report. But uh-oh! Last Friday night, Wolff appeared with Lawrence on The Last Word. He suggested a possible alternate account of what may have occurred.

Uh-oh! Without exactly saying as much, Schmidt and Haberman suggested that a dramatic "confrontation" had occurred. And how cool! In the face of this confrontation, Donald J. Trump had "backed down!"

Not long before, Wolff had been hailed as the undisputed oracle of All Things Inside the Trump White House. Now, Lawrence wanted him to share oracular musings about the alleged attempt to fire Mueller. To watch the whole segment, click here.

Lawrence read a passage from Wolff's bombshell book. This was the cable star's reading:
O'DONNELL (1/26/18): I want to go to a passage about Don McGahn that's in your book because, I have to the say, for readers of this book, the detail that the president specifically ordered the firing is just one more little piece that fits into this story completely. And the characters behave in the way we understand them from your book.

Here is a reference to Don McGahn at page 212 of your book:

"McGahn tried to explain that, in fact, Comey himself was not running the Russia investigation, that without Comey the investigation would proceed anyway. McGahn, the lawyer whose job was necessarily to issue cautions, was a frequent target of Trump rages.

"Typically, these would begin as a kind of exaggeration or acting and then devolve into the real thing: uncontrollable, vein-popping, ugly face tantrum stuff.
It got primal. Now, the president's denunciations focused in a vicious fury on McGahn and his cautions about Comey."

And that's just Comey. So we can presume that something similar to that went on with Mueller, with the attempt to fire Mueller.
Lawrence assumed that there had actually been an "attempt to fire Mueller." He pictured a furious, vein-popping confronted with McGahn.

That's where Lawrence wsnted to go. Cuffing the bombshell report to the curb, Wolff had a better idea:
WOLFF (continuing directly): Let me give a slightly different context than the New York Times gives. The New York Times makes it sound like Trump thought about this, sat down, determined that this was—that he should fire—that he should fire Mueller, that he should act on this, and then told McGahn to carry this out.

And that's not untrue, but the difference is he does this constantly. Every day, the president is saying he's going to fire somebody. Anybody who he feels is—has annoyed him, irritated him, gotten in his way, disagreed with him is going to be fired.

The firing of Mueller was talked about by Trump, especially in this June, July period, before his legal team really got in and took over. This became an obsession with the president. He had to get rid of Mueller.

Now, but an obsession with this president becomes—instead of an order, it becomes kind of like wallpaper. It just goes on and on and on. He repeats and repeats and repeats.

And is it serious? Is it just him spouting off? Ultimately, that's what the special prosecutor will have to decide. And it's a key, key thing because the special prosecutor has to prove intent.

If he's just a crazy person—which, in part, he is—it's going to be very hard to prove intent. So was there a moment in which he directed this to happen? Well, actually, yes, but there were hundreds of moments in which he does that and in which everybody sort of deflects.

And, equally, you know, the Times has McGahn threatening to quit. McGahn has probably threatened to quit a hundred times.

I mean, actually, what they say in—even now, McGahn would like to get out of there. They just can't find somebody else to replace him, so they have to come and essentially, each time, beg him to stay.
Oof! According to Wolff, Trump angrily orders somebody fired every day of the week! It gets to be like wallpaper! Everyone knows that they should ignore this "crazy person's" rantings.

That was a very different picture compared to the one the Times drew. When Lawrence ventured a follow-up, Wolff continued along in that vein:
O'DONNELL (continuing directly): You have Bannon in here saying—quoting him now and attributing it to him. It is not one of the unacknowledged quotes here. It says—Bannon is saying to you, if he fires Mueller, it just brings the impeachment quicker.

Was that the widespread view in the White House?

WOLFF: Completely. I mean, everybody believed firing Mueller would be suicidal. And everybody had to deal with this every day because it was always "Fire Mueller, we got to fire Mueller, how can we fire Mueller, get rid of this guy."

And again, this was kind of regarded as something less than real. It was just the stuff that comes out of the president's mouth uncontrollably
and often meaninglessly.
The bombspeople at the New York Times had told an air-filled but pleasing story. They pictured Trump as a girly-man, wimpily backing down from a confrontation with a principled aide. Two days later, the Post reported that the principled aide never confronted Trump.

Wolff pictured something different. He said Trump is, in part, a "crazy person" who orders such firings every day. He said that people like McGahn all agree to disregard the crazy man's crazy orders.

Pathetic wimp or crazy person? Is there any reason to put our faith in one picture versus the other? By Sunday, Josh Marshall was expressing doubt about what he thought he had read in the Times. He also posed a question that others had asked:

Is it possible that Don McGahn's lawyers had toyed with Haberman/Schmidt?

Tomorrow: Is the Times getting played?

35 comments:

  1. Wolff (referring to an attempt to fire Mueller): "So was there a moment in which he directed this to happen? Well, actually, yes, "

    Wolff (did McGahn threaten to resign): "McGahn has probably threatened to quit a hundred times."

    The Times story is thus corroborated. Or perhaps you could say, Wolff's story is corroborated. This is important. Somerby downplays the whole thing, apparently because, according to Wolff, it just represents the rantings of a "crazy person." I would ask Somerby if he believes that having a "crazy person" in the White House is a good thing, or that a story like the Times' shouldn't be reported because Trump is ostensibly "crazy."

    I would also ask Somerby if Trump's so-called "craziness" can be proven. If so, can it be used as a mitigating circumstance in the legal sense?

    If, instead of being "crazy", Trump is just annoyed on a daily basis and trying to fire someone, does that mitigate the gravity of this? Mueller isn't just anyone. And Trump fired Comey specifically to get the Russia thing off his back--he said that publicly, to Lester Holt, and to the Russian ambassador. That indicates a conscious intent on Trump's part.

    Ultimately, Somerby's narrative these days just isn't working. The press may well have slanted their stories to depict Al Gore as a liar or a ridiculous figure. But it seems Somerby wants to find similar bias in today's reporting about Trump. Except that Trump IS a liar, and corrupt, and an abuser of power. The stories that show him to be thus are not based on a "script."

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  2. Interesting how Somerby likes to suggest that Trump is either an idiot or crazy. Both of those mental states are exculpatory to a certain degree. Somerby apparently doesn't entertain the possibility that Trump is sane, and deliberate in his actions, or even intelligent enough to make rational decisions. Dearest darlings, we mustn't call Trump a liar. Even though Trump explicitly stated, in The Art of The Deal, that he lies as a tactic to succeed.

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    1. Actually, if you research it again, 'crazy' was Wolff's suggestion beautiful young son.

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    2. Actually, if you've read Somerby's blog anytime in the past year or two, you'll see that Somerby has frequently opined that Trump is crazy. I dare you,,,go back and look at the Howler archives. I read Somerby daily.

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    3. @ 12:58 - "...Somerby likes to suggest that Trump is either an idiot or crazy....Somerby apparently doesn't entertain the possibility that Trump is sane ...."

      @2:41 - reading comprehension is not your strong suit, is it?

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    4. Somerby frequently suggests that Trump is crazy. In past posts. Please inform yourself by looking at his archives. He seems to be suggesting here that Wolff is correct.

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    5. And, in the past, Somerby has chided the press fit NOT discussing the possibility that Trump is crazy. Now, when that is the suggestion by Wolff, it suits Somerby to push back against that? Ridiculous.

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  3. Had he tried to fire Mueller, Mueller would've been fired. Because he's the mofo potus.

    And it's a shame that he didn't, because it's exactly the same amount of stink anyway, whether he did it or not.

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    1. You are right about one thing: Trump is a mofo. Actually, you are right about two things. He is also a coward, ultimately.

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    2. He's a pussy. A chickenshit baby coward. A 3rd grader would be too embarrassed to pull some of the chickenshit whiny crybaby shit he constantly engages in. He is no man.

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    3. Mueller is "anti-establishment", so Trump will have to fire him, eventually.

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  4. The Democrat lead in the midterm polls has evaporated.

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    1. Ah, that must explain why so many Republicans are deciding not to seek re-election, including chairmen of powerful committees.

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    2. @1:52 = same dumbass that commented that Trump has a 75% favorable rating.

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  5. The only scenario which I can come up with that would not have been newsworthy is the following: (and remember, this takes place AFTER Comey was fired):

    Trump: I'd really like to fire Mueller. Would that be ok if I did that?
    McGahn: No, sir, that would be catastrophic.
    Trump: Oh, OK. I won't do it. And I won't ever try to again now that I know it would be bad.

    Instead, we have:
    Trump (to McGahn): I want you to fire Mueller, dammit!
    (McGahn leaves, tells White House staff that this would be catastrophic, and he will resign rather than carry out the order)
    WH Staff (to Trump): McGahn says it would be catastrophic and that he will resign rather than do it.
    Trump: OK, dammit.

    Two days later:

    Trump (to McGahn): I want you to fire Mueller, dammit!
    (McGahn leaves, tells White House staff that this would be catastrophic, and he will resign rather than carry out the order)
    WH Staff (to Trump): McGahn says it would be catastrophic and that he will resign rather than do it.
    Trump: OK, dammit.

    etc...(apparently)

    That seems newsworthy.

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  6. "Pathetic wimp or crazy person? Is there any reason to put our faith in one picture versus the other?"

    Neither may be true. Or one of the two or both. Is the Times really suggesting that Trump is a "pathetic wimp?" That's not my reading. Are they suggesting any sort of description of Trump's character by reporting a story their sources related?

    The odd thing is, Somerby has frequently suggested, in past posts, that Trump may be crazy. And he has even chided the press for NOT discussing this possibility. Now when that is being suggested, at least by Wolff, Somerby suddenly pushes back on the idea that Trump may be a crazy person, apparently because it suits Somerby to denounce the media more than to be consistent.
    To quote Somerby: whatever!

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  7. IMHO the principle that applies to Wolfe is Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus

    Some of the things Wolfe has written or said might be true, but I won't believe any of them until they're independently confirmed.

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    1. The Times and Post both confirmed his story about Trump wanting to fire Mueller, and McGahn threatening to quit.

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    2. Wait a minute. Did Trump fire Mueller or did he merely want to fire him? If the latter, then it's not news. Trump has long made it clear that he wants to end the Special Prosecutor investigation.

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    3. DavidinCal,
      Yet you swallowed the whole "corrupt Hillary" canard whole. with exactly zero confirmation (from 8 official, and dozens more unofficial, GOP-led investigations.
      I get it. What you're really saying is "Yay team!"

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    4. And his desire to end the investigation is a desire to obstruct justice. In other occasions, Trump has expressed some mumbling support for Mueller. Which one is the truth? The fact that we have confirmation that he tried to fire Mueller (once? twice? who knows?) sheds some light on that. And you can bet, had Hillary done this if she had won? The Republicans would call it obstruction of justice, no questions asked. What hypocrites.

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  8. 1. Trump fires Comey, says he did it to stop the Russia investigation.
    2. Trump is obsessed with the Russia investigation.

    3. It is reported that Trump ordered the White House counsel to fire Mueller, but then backs off, oops I mean, decides not to pursue it.

    4. More and more Republicans, and Fox News personalities, are urging Trump to fire Mueller, and are in the process of discrediting the FBI to undermine the investigation.

    I think reasonable people can fit number 3 into the other items, and conclude that Trump wants to fire Mueller. I think we know why: to stop the Russia investigation. Why do that? Maybe he's innocent, and it's just an annoyance. (But then if he's innocent, why worry about it so much?) But until the investigation is complete, we won't know whether he's innocent or not. So firing Comey seems pretty clearly obstruction of justice. Number 4, coupled with number 3, indicate a desire to obstruct justice again, and an environment in which to do it risk-free. You don't need to decide whether Trump is a wimp or crazy or something else to understand the facts here. Facts which we know because they were reported in the media, and we heard them ourselves from Trump.

    Somerby tries to discredit number 3, though its basic facts are correct, then tries to connect it with Wolff's book and O'Donnell's program as if they all emanate from some narrative bias. O'Donnell and Wolff may be searching for character traits to explain Trump's actions, but that is ultimately extraneous to the facts I have presented.

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    1. Trump said he fired Comey because Comey refused to publicly state that Trump was not personally being investigated, even though Comey had privately told this to Trump. Wikipedia says
      Trump dismissed Comey by way of a termination letter in which he stated that he was acting on the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.[4][5][6] In the following days, he gave numerous explanations of the dismissal that contradicted his staff and also belied the initial impression that Sessions and Rosenstein had influenced his decision.[7][8] Trump publicly stated that he had already decided to fire Comey;[9] it later emerged that he had written his own early draft of the termination letter,[10] and had solicited the Rosenstein memo the day before citing it.[11] He also stated that dismissing Comey relieved unnecessary pressure on his ability to engage and negotiate with Russia, due to Comey's "grandstanding and politicizing" the investigation.[12][13] He called the investigation a "witch hunt".[14] Trump was reportedly "enormously frustrated" that Comey would not publicly confirm that the president was not personally under investigation.[15]

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    2. Trump also told the world that he fired Comey to stop the Russia investigation. I'm sure it was a distraction to Trump. I'm sure he thinks the investigation into Russian hacking of our election makes negotiating with his bff Putin difficult. But it's a matter of some pressing national security, inconvenient for the man-child I'm sure. And why but the 26 bogus excuses Trump lamely vomits forth, when the truth is pretty clearly at odds with that? Trump is a known liar, and as such, does not get the benefit of the doubt here.

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    3. Fuck you David. It was entirely inappropriate for Trump to ask Comey to make such a statement publicly. For what purpose do you suppose the pussygrabber wanted Comey to make such a pronouncement? Think real hard you fucking traitor.

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    4. Anon 6:01 -- I have never seen it reported anywhere that "Trump told the world that he fired Comey to stop the Russia investigation." Can you provide a link confirming that Trump made such a statement?

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    5. A foolish commenter yesterday went so far as to try to assert that the important part of the original New York Times article from last Thursday was that Trump "obstructed justice."!! It shows you there's an element of truth in what Bob says about these stories *seeming* to the reader to be making bigger claims then they really are making and by being tailored to fit a pre-approved narrative and tailored to grease the nightly news gang bangs and their cacophony of nodding agreements, they fool people into believing and making overblown, flat out wrong pronouncements like the young man yesterday.

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    6. His reaction was just a human reaction. It's just confirmation bias taking hold.

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    7. Dear Republican Party,
      I'd like to order two (2) "Osama Bin Laden Was Framed!" t-shirts.
      Do you accept PayPal?

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    8. mm -- IMHO Trump wanted Comey to make that public statement, because

      1. It was true

      2. Many sources were speculating or even reporting (incorrectly) that Trump was personally under investigation.

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    9. David, for heaven's sake, watch the Lester Holt interview, or view the transcript here:

      http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/11/politics/transcript-donald-trump-nbc-news/index.html

      This is the relevant part of the interview:
      "He [Rosenstein] made a recommendation, he’s highly respected, very good guy, very smart guy. The Democrats like him, the Republicans like him. He made a recommendation. But regardless of [the] recommendation, I was going to fire Comey. Knowing there was no good time to do it!
      And in fact when I decided to just do it I said to myself, I said, “You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.”
      And the reason they should’ve won it is, the Electoral College is almost impossible for a Republican to win, it’s very hard, because you start off at such a disadvantage. So everybody was thinking they should have won the election. This was an excuse for having lost an election."

      Also, here Trump tells the Russian ambassador about it:

      http://www.businessinsider.com/trump-nut-job-james-comey-russia-2017-5

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    10. Thanks, Anon 9:03, for the Holt interview words. In fact, I had looked at this section. It does say that Trump wanted to fire Comey. But, no where does it quote Trump as stating that he wanted to fire Comey in order to stop the Russian investigation.

      IMHO that reason makes little sense, because firing Comey would not have stopped the Russian investigation.

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    11. "IMHO that reason makes little sense, because firing Comey would not have stopped the Russian investigation."

      Exactly. it's not like Trump acts like a petulant 5-year old, and does things before he thinks them through. if he did, Republicans, the party of accountability (LOL) would never let him get away with it, just because they'll do anything to keep political power. After all, if they hated America that much, they would have refrained from voting up or down on Obama's nomination to the Supreme Court to replace Scalia.

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    12. "IMHO that reason makes little sense, because firing Comey would not have stopped the Russian investigation."

      Well your oh so humble opinion is logically flawed because you're an ass, David.

      Of course the bullshitter in chief meant to a chilling message with Comey's firing. It was the proverbial horse's head in the bed message sent to the rest of the career FBI employees, fuck with Trump and you too can your career trashed in the blink of an eye. That is how bullies think and work, David. Just like the mob.

      But unfortunately Trump never counted on Comey testifying under oath how Trump asked him to "go easy on Flynn" after clearing the room of witnesses, and demanded his loyalty. Trump never counted on Comey having made contemporaneous memos of those meetings. All of which would have been grounds for impeachment which I would have supported had that been President Clinton or President Obama.

      Of course he was hoping to the Comey firing would do the trick. He just didn't realize Comey was prepared.

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    13. David, you fucking ass. The FBI Director is not supposed to make public statements of any kind regarding an ongoing investigation. Period. It was an ongoing investigation into the Trump presidential campaign and possible illegal conspiracy with the Russian government to interfere in our democratic election. Nobody knew then or knows now where that investigation would lead.

      What Trump was asking for from Comey was outrageously improper. And we know for certain he would have used any statement Comey made as proof that he Donald J. Trump had been completely exonerated. Because that's what he does, being the lying sack of shit you so venerate.

      Here is President Obama explaining it to you, you stupid ass.

      *************
      WALLACE: Mr. President, when you say what you’ve just said, when Josh Earnest said, as he did -- your spokesman -- in January, the information from the Justice Department is she’s not a target, some people I think are worried whether or not -- the decision whether or not, how to handle the case, will be made on political grounds, not legal grounds.

      Can you guarantee to the American people, can you direct the Justice Department to say, "Hillary Clinton will be treated -- as the evidence goes, she will not be in any way protected."

      OBAMA: I can guarantee that. And I can guarantee that, not because I give Attorney General Lynch a directive, that is institutionally how we have always operated.

      I do not talk to the Attorney General about pending investigations. I do not talk to FBI directors about pending investigations. We have a strict line, and always have maintained it, previous president.

      WALLACE: So, just to button this up --

      OBAMA: I guarantee it.

      WALLACE: You --

      OBAMA: I guarantee that there is no political influence in any investigation conducted by the Justice Department, or the FBI, not just in this case, but in any case.

      WALLACE: And she will be --

      OBAMA: Full stop. Period.

      WALLACE: And she will be treated no different --

      OBAMA: Guaranteed. Full stop. Nobody gets treated differently when it comes to the Justice Department, because nobody is above the law.

      WALLACE: Even if she ends up as the Democratic nominee?

      OBAMA: How many times do I have to say it, Chris? Guaranteed.
      *****************

      There is supposed to be a wall of separation. Trump crashed through that wall and Comey knew it at the time.

      So fuck off, you treasonous shitstain. Go sell your bullshit on Daily Stormer or Britefart.

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