Ex-FBI lawyer says two Trump cabinet officials were ‘ready to support’ efforts to REMOVE the president by invoking the 25th Amendment
- James Baker, a former top lawyer for the FBI, testified before Congress last fall
- Baker told two House committees he was approached by two FBI colleagues
- Ex-Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and ex-FBI lawyer Lisa Page spoke with Baker about the 25th Amendment
- They said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein knew of two Cabinet members who were ‘ready to support’ removing Trump from office
- McCabe gave an interview to 60 Minutes, which will air on Sunday, in which he discusses a plan to approach Vice President Mike Pence about removing Trump
James Baker, a former top lawyer for the FBI, told Congress he was approached by top Justice Department officials who discussed removing President Trump from office
A former top lawyer for the FBI told Congress last fall that two members of Donald Trump’s cabinet were ‘ready to support’ efforts to remove the president by invoking the 25th Amendment.
James Baker testified last fall to the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees that he was told that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said two members of the Cabinet were on board with removing Trump from office.
Transcripts of Baker’s testimony show that the lawyer was approached by fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, according to Fox News.
Baker did not reveal the names of the two Cabinet officials.
‘I was being told by some combination of Andy McCabe and Lisa Page, that, in a conversation with the Deputy Attorney General, he had stated that he – this was what was related to me – that he had at least two members of the president’s Cabinet who were ready to support, I guess you would call it, an action under the 25th Amendment,’ Baker told the committees.
Baker testified last fall to the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees that he was told that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (seen in Los Angeles on February 7) said two members of the Cabinet were on board with removing Trump from office
Page is the former FBI lawyer who exchanged texts with Peter Strzok, who at the time was an agent with whom she was involved in an affair.
The texts, which were highly critical of Trump, were used by the president and his supporters to claim that the FBI higher echelon harbored an anti-Trump bias.
Trump has also accused the FBI of ‘spying’ on campaign officials through illegal wiretaps.
Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which has never been invoked, allows for the removal of an ‘incapacitated president who is unable or unwilling to discharge the powers and duties of his office’ by the vice president along with a ‘majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments,’ which is also known as the Cabinet.
In an interview with 60 Minutes, which will air on Sunday on the CBS network, McCabe told correspondent Scott Pelley about a plan to approach Vice President Mike Pence and ask him to invoke the 25th Amendment.
‘There were meetings at the Justice Department in which it was discussed whether the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet could be brought together to remove the president of the United States under the 25th Amendment,’ Pelley reported on CBS ‘This Morning’ on Thursday.
Pelley said McCabe told him they were ‘counting noses’ of Cabinet officials who would vote to remove Trump after he fired James Comey in May of 2017.
‘This was not perceived to be a joke,’ Pelley asserted on CBS.
The journalist said the conversation took place in the eight days between FBI Director James Comey’s dismissal and the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel.
Transcripts of Baker’s testimony show that the lawyer was approached by fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe (right) and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page (left)
Trump met with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, the day after he ousted Comey, the former FBI director, and the Russian foreign minister at the White House.
His campaign, several of his associates, including his one-time National Security Advsior Michael Flynn, were under federal investigation for improper contacts during the election with Russia at the time.
‘The highest levels of American law enforcement were trying to figure out what to do with the president,’ Pelley reported.
McCabe is the first person to confirm that the 25th Amendment came up in the meetings.
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The ex-law enforcement official was later fired himself over conversations with the media that an inspector general deemed inappropriate.
Trump has claimed that Comey, McCabe and cohorts of theirs who worked on Hillary Clinton’s email case and the Russian meddling probe were ‘crooked’ cops, and that’s why he got rid of them.
In a chapter of his new book, ‘The Threat,’ McCabe suggests Trump couldn’t be reasoned with.
He writes in an excerpt that appeared Thursday in The Atlantic that Trump ‘flew off the handle’ in a call on an unsecure line the day after he fired Comey over McCabe’s decision to allow the former bureau chief to hitch a ride from Los Angeles on a government plane that was flying back to Washington.
Comey was in LA giving a speech when he found out that Trump had fired him. McCabe said he decided as the acting head of the bureau that the threat posed to Comey’s life was imminent enough that he should remain under federal protection.
‘It was coming back anyway,’ he writes of the plane. ‘The president flew off the handle: That’s not right! I don’t approve of that! That’s wrong! He reiterated his point five or seven times.
‘I said, I’m sorry that you disagree, sir. But it was my decision, and that’s how I decided. The president said, I want you to look into that! I thought to myself: What am I going to look into? I just told you I made that decision.’
Previewing the next episode of ’60 Minutes,’ Scott Pelley, a correspondent for CBS, said Thursday that McCabe told him about a plan to approach Mike Pence, the Vice President of the United States, and ask him to invoke the 25th Amendment
McCabe derides Trump in the passage for his willingness to ‘comment prejudicially on criminal prosecutions’ and investigations ‘on ones that potentially affect him.’
‘He is not just sounding a dog whistle. He is lobbying for a result. The president has stepped over bright ethical and moral lines wherever he has encountered them,’ said the former law enforcement official who Trump targeted on Twitter repeatedly.
Emphasizing his point, he said, ‘Every day brings a new low, with the president exposing himself as a deliberate liar who will say whatever he pleases to get whatever he wants.’
Trump tore into McCabe, the former deputy director of the FBI, on Twitter on Thursday morning after the former law enforcement official lifted the lid on conversations within Justice to oust the sitting president.
Trump invoked McCabe’s wife Jill’s failed candidacy for office in Virginia, where she ran for office as a Democrat with the financial backing of an organization that is close to Hillary Clinton.
The president suggested the connection to the former secretary of state who opposed him for the Oval Office caused McCabe to go easy on Clinton in the FBI’s probe into her use of a private email and server.
‘Disgraced FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe pretends to be a “poor little Angel” when in fact he was a big part of the Crooked Hillary Scandal & the Russia Hoax – a puppet for Leakin’ James Comey. I.G. report on McCabe was devastating. Part of “insurance policy” in case I won,’ Trump wrote in two-part tweet.
Donald Trump fired back at Andrew McCabe on Twitter on Thursday morning during a block of time in which he usually does have anything on his public or private work schedule
Trump invoked McCabe’s wife Jill, who ran for office as a Democrat in Virginia and lost. She had the financial backing of an organization that is close to Hillary Clinton
He said in a second message several minutes later, ‘Many of the top FBI brass were fired, forced to leave, or left. McCabe’s wife received BIG DOLLARS from Clinton people for her campaign – he gave Hillary a pass. McCabe is a disgrace to the FBI and a disgrace to our Country. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!’
Trump’s complaint about McCabe’s wife Jill stems from her failed 2015 run for a state senate seat in Virginia.
A statewide political action committee called Common Good VA contributed $467,000 to her campaign. Hillary Clinton headlined a fundraiser for the group shortly beforehand, raising $500,000 for it.
The PAC was run at the time by Terry McAuliffe, then the governor of Virginia. McAuliffe is a longtime Bill Clinton fundraiser and former Democratic National Committee chairman.
Jill McCabe’s campaign also received more than $207,000 from the Democratic Party of Virginia, over which McAuliffe exerted significant control.
Common Good VA was the largest single donor to the McCabe campaign.
WHAT DOES THE 25TH AMENDMENT SAY? CAN TRUMP’S CABINET REALLY TOPPLE HIM?
The 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution deals with presidential authority in the event of death or removal from office, and was ratified in 1967, in the wake of John F Kennedy’s assassination.
What does the 25th Amendment say?
It is in four sections, all dealing with the president leaving office during his or her elected term.
The first section states that the vice president takes over the Oval Office if the president dies or resigns – or is removed – something which the original Constitution did not clearly state.
Presidents of course can be removed by impeachment, a feature of the constitution from the start. They can also be removed through the 25th Amendment – of which more below.
Section II states that if the vice president dies, or resigns – or is fired – both the House and Senate have to confirm a new vice president. Until 1967, presidents could change vice presidents mid-term on their own if they got the vice president to agree to resign – not something that actually happened, but which was possible in principle.
Section III makes clear that the a president can temporarily delegate his powers to the vice president, and later reclaim them when he – or she – is capable of serving. This is most often invoked if a president is under the influence of surgical anesthetic for a short period of time.
Section IV is the amendment’s most controversial part: it describes how the president can be removed from office if he is incapacitated and does not leave on his own.
The vice president and ‘a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide’ must write to both the president pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House, saying that ‘the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.’
The term principal officers of the executive departments would normally would mean the cabinet secretaries.
So at least eight of the president’s 15 most senior Cabinet members, who , together with the vice president, must agree that a president should be removed before any plan can move forward.
Notifying the House Speaker and the Senate president pro tempore is the act that immediately elevates the vice president to an ‘acting president’ role.
The deposed president can contest the claim, giving the leaders of the bloodless coup four days to re-assert their claims to the House and Senate.
Congress then has two days to convene – unless it is already in session – and another 21 days to vote on whether the president is incapable of serving. A two-thirds majority in both houses is required to make that determination.
As soon as there is a vote with a two-thirds majority, the president loses his powers and is removed, and the vice president stops acting and is sworn in as president.
But if 21 days of debate and votes ends without a two-thirds majority, the president gets back his powers.
What could happen to trigger the 25th Amendment?
Vice President Mike Pence and eight of the 15 ‘principal’ Cabinet members would have to agree to notify Congress that President Donald Trump was incapable of running the country.
That group is made up of the Secretary of State, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Secretary of Defense , Attorney General, Interior Secretary, Agriculture Secretary, Commerce Secretary, Labor Secretary, Health and Human Services Secretary, Transportation Secretary, Energy Secretary , Education Secretary, Veterans Affairs Secretary and Homeland Security Secretary.
Their formal notification would go to the House Speaker and, in the senate, to the ‘president pro tempore’, the Senate’s most senior member. As soon as the letter is sent, Pence would become ‘acting president.’
Alternatively, Congress could set up its own mechanism to decide if he is fit for office – maybe a commission, or a joint committee. Pence would still have to agree with its conclusion and then write formally to the Speaker and president pro tempore.
Or another possibility is that the pool of ‘principal officers’ is considered to be bigger than the 15 and a majority of that group call Trump incapable.
What if Trump does not agree?
If Trump claims he is capable of holding office, he would write to the House Speaker and the president pro tempore of the Senate within four days, setting up three weeks of intense debate in both houses of Congress.
Trump would be removed from office if both two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate agreed with Pence and his cabal.
If either of both chambers fell short of that mark, Trump would retain his powers and likely embark on a wholesale housecleaning, firing Pence and replacing disloyal Cabinet members.
Are there any loopholes?
The 25th Amendment allows Congress to appoint its own panel to evaluate the president instead of relying on the Cabinet – the men and women who work most closely with Trump – to decide on a course of action.
It specfies that some ‘other body as Congress may by law provide’ could play that role, but Pence would still need to agree with any finding that the president is incapable of discharging his duties.
If Democrats were to take over both the House and Senate, they could create such a panel with simple majority votes.
That commission could hypothetically include anyone from presidential historians to psychiatrists, entrusted to assess the president’s fitness for office.
Another loophole is that it does not spell out that the Cabinet is needed to agree, but says that the ‘principal officers’ of the departments are needed. That term is undefined in the constitution. In some departments legislation appears to name not just the secretary but deputies and even undersecretaries as ‘principal officers’, so many more people could be called in to the assessment of Trump’s fitness.
Could Trump fire Pence if he rebelled?
Yes, in principle. If Trump smelled a whiff of trouble – if Pence and a cabal of Cabinet members, or Pence and a panel assembled by Congress seemed ready to judge him incapacitated – he could dismiss his vice president with the stroke of a pen to stop the process.
But installing a more loyal VP could be problematic since the 25th Amendment includes its own poison pill: Both houses of Congress must vote to approve a new vice president.
That means Trump would find himself up against the same Congress that would vote on his fitness for office, unless the process were to unfold in the weeks before a new Congress.
Theoretically, a Democratic-controlled Congress could make life dramatically more difficult for the president if it came into power in the midst of the constitutional crisis.
One scenario has appeared to stump presidential historians, however: Firing Pence before the process is underway, and then leaving the vice presidency vacant, would give Congress no practical way forward. That would present its own constitutional crisis.
Is there any precedent for this?
No. Only Section III, the voluntary surrender of presidential powers, has ever been used – and only very briefly.
In December 1978, President Jimmy Carter thought about invoking Section III when he was contemplating a surgical procedure to remove hemorrhoids.
Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush both voluntarily relinquished their powers while undergoing procedures under anesthetic.
Section IV has also never been invoked, although there have been claims that Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff Donald Regan told his successor, Howard Baker, in 1987 that he should be prepared to invoke it because Reagan was inattentive and inept.
The PBS documentary ‘American Experience’ recounts how Baker and his team watched Reagan closely for signs of incapacity during their first meeting and decided he was in perfect command of himself.
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