Unless you were once a consumer of right-wing talk radio in Iowa, Sam Clovis was not a household name. Now, he never will be a household name despite Donald Trump’s wish to place climate denier Clovis in the top science post at the Department of Agriculture.
Beyond Robert Mueller’s intended targets—Paul Manafort and Rick Gates—Clovis was perhaps the first unsuspecting casualty of the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s attack on our democracy. There was no indictment for Clovis, no plea agreement; just a simple revelation that he had spoken to the special counsel and—poof!—Clovis and his Nov. 9 confirmation hearing evaporated into thin air. Why?
NEW: White House learned that Sam Clovis testified before grand jury from MEDIA REPORTS https://t.co/ykC3WqN32G
— Michael Del Moro (@MikeDelMoro) November 2, 2017
Think about that—Clovis had testified in the Russia probe and no one in the White House even had a whiff of it. Clovis is presently on the White House staff, serving as the senior White House adviser for the Department of Agriculture. But for all West Wing occupants know, he turned on them, which is why Trump likely had a cow when he found out Clovis had given testimony. Clovis was no insignificant player in the campaign. He was, in fact, responsible for assembling the national security team that currently lies at the heart of the Mueller’s Russia probe, including Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, both of whom landed Attorney General Jeff Sessions in very hot water this week.
As we all know, Papadopoulos’ plea agreement placed Sessions at a 2016 national security meeting where a discussion around setting up a meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin took place—the very type of discussion Sessions swore under oath to have “no knowledge” of. Page compounded that lie by telling the House Intelligence panel that he had also spoken with Sessions about a trip he was making to Moscow, where he did speak with Russian government officials—yet another instance of explicit communications between a Trump campaign aide and Russians.
While Clovis is not a household name, Sessions is a lot closer to one, and this week’s events left him in a virtual pressure cooker. Democrats are angling for another whack at him in the Senate, Trump is maligning his leadership as attorney general and threatening his job, and Mueller is undoubtedly eyeing Sessions’ precarious legal situation as a way to turn him.
If Trump and his inner circle could be blindsided by Clovis, what they don’t know about Sessions must be giving them bouts of night sweats.
As it was, Trump reportedly seethed about the indictments and the surrounding coverage while his outside agitator Steve Bannon launched a new scheme to kneecap Mueller’s probe by defunding it. Trump’s private meltdown, which included turning on golden boy Jared Kushner, was standard fare, but Bannon’s urgency suggested we were approaching new territory. Why the sudden shift? The Papadopoulos plea appeared to represent a prospect Bannon hadn’t counted on—Mueller prosecuting a collusion case or, to put it in legal terms, a “conspiracy” case, not simply an obstruction of justice case that might be easier for Trump to weather politically.
Despite Trump dialing reporters to claim he wasn’t bent over the Mueller indictments, by week’s end he went on a 24-hour PR blitz, excoriating the Justice Department and FBI for failing to pursue the real criminal: Hillary Clinton. Bouncing between right-wing talk radio, his Twitter account, and the White House press corps, Trump vacillated between frustration and astonishment that the powers of two of the federal government’s most powerful investigative bodies weren’t at his fingertips.
The saddest thing is that, because I’m the president of the United States, I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department. I’m not supposed to be involved with the FBI. I’m not supposed to be doing the kind of things that I would love to be doing.
How about doing your job, you dip shit? New York suffered its deadliest terror attack this week since Sept. 11, 2001, leaving eight dead and injuring 12 others after some maniac turned a beautiful day biking the West Side highway into a nightmare, and Trump couldn’t even be bothered to do so much as offer condolences to his hometown. Instead he badgered one of New York’s Senators, Chuck Schumer, and then complicated prosecution of the suspect by fantasizing aloud about the “DEATH PENALTY!”
It’s likely that this type of flaming incompetence is at least partially responsible for a solid majority of Americans—58 percent—expressing faith in Mueller’s handling of the probe in an ABC-Washington Post poll released this week. Notably, only 28 percent of respondents said they disapprove of Mueller’s handling, a touch below Trump’s usual 35 percent of rabid never-say-die supporters.
All of which brings us back to the beginning of the week, after Mueller issued his opening salvo in his face-off with Trump, and just how small Trump seemed screaming “NO COLLUSION!” on twitter as Mueller hovered over him, pulling the strings of the judicial system like a marionette assuming control of Trump’s circus. The indictments and the plea agreement were literally the first public peep we’ve heard from Mueller since he was appointed special counsel, and it sent team Trump into a frenzy—including Bannon, who realized the whole Trump enterprise could be leveled if it continues competing against Mueller on a legal landscape.
In that space, Mueller is boss, which is why Trump finished out the week laying the foundations for Sessions’ dismissal. Trump needs an ally at Justice who isn’t recused from the Russia probe if he’s ever going to have a chance against Mueller.