WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump had to cheer the firing of former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe to sell the narrative that he is the victim of a bipartisan conspiracy, carried out over two administrations, to deny him the presidency and then discredit him once he won it.
For the president's version of events to hold up, the FBI and Justice Department have to be infested with his political enemies, with those so bent on destroying him that they will violate the public trust to do it. It's a case Trump and his allies have been making for so long and with such conviction that condemning the FBI, the Justice Department and special counsel Robert Mueller has become conservative liturgy by now.
And it's the predicate to push the case that the Russia probe should end, as Trump's lawyer did Saturday.
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But for Trump's supporters to believe he's the victim of an un-American conspiracy, he has to position himself as the force cleansing a corrupt justice system — a victim-turned-conqueror who has been exonerated by the missteps of his foes.
He has to politicize the FBI and Justice Department by arguing that they already were politicized. That's how he's trying to use McCabe.
"Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI — A great day for Democracy. Sanctimonious (former FBI Director) James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!" Trump wrote on Twitter early Saturday morning.
Trump's lawyer, John Dowd, supplied the kicker later in the day in referring to McCabe's termination: "I pray that (Deputy) Attorney General (Rod) Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier."
Of course Trump is anxious to get Mueller to stop. Whether or not he did anything wrong, there's nothing helpful to the president about guilty pleas, new indictments, the possible investigation of his family's business activities or the general distraction from his agenda.
But McCabe was reportedly being investigated for his involvement in the FBI's probe into Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election. His most important connection to the Mueller probe could be that he reportedly turned over contemporaneous notes that support Comey's testimony about Trump. That is — as Trump and Dowd have made clear — McCabe matters more to them because of his role in the Mueller investigation into Trump than his work on the Clinton case.
And McCabe is just one in a long line of federal law enforcement officials Trump has argued are part of a political cabal — a "deep state" — that has abused the justice system to unfairly target him. Never mind that it was his 2016 rival, Clinton, who was the subject of a highly publicized FBI investigation while inquiries into Trump were kept secret — or that it was McCabe who was running the Clinton investigation.
For months, Trump cast a number of federal officials, including some of his own appointees, as adversaries or at least impediments in his pursuit of justice. That includes not just McCabe, Comey and Mueller — all longtime Republicans — but his own attorney general, former Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, as well as a handful of other law enforcement officials who have come in contact with aspects of the Russia probe.
Former Rep. David Jolly, a Florida Republican who sat on the committee overseeing funding for the Justice Department and the FBI, said there's a risk to the country in the way Trump has attacked institutions of justice.
"Historically, the nation has rightly had a deep trust in the FBI," he said. "The danger in Trump now politicizing the bureau is that it erodes our confidence in one of the few pure arbiters of justice. Trump has hijacked the bureau politically, and in turn wrongly suggested the bureau is a partisan organization. It is not."
But for Trump's case to hold water, the FBI and Justice Department have to be stocked with partisans — not Democrats or Republicans, but anti-Trump partisans — who are conducting a baseless witch hunt.