Rod Rosenstein, Meet James Cannon
Washington is abuzz this week with the news that disgraced former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe told 60 Minutes that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and others at Main Justice were counting cabinet votes to remove President Donald J. Trump from office.
He alleges this discussion happened in the days after President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on May 9, 2017 and continued for a week.
This story was first reported on September 21, 2018, when the New York Times published yet another scoop: Rosenstein had privately discussed sending people in to record conversations with President Trump, in the hopes of exposing the chaos of his administration - and had discussed recruiting cabinet members to vote to invoke the Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, which provides for the removal of the President if he's unfit for office.
According to Times reporters Michael Schmidt and Adam Goldman, two pretty solid journalists, "Several people described the episodes in interviews over the past several months, insisting on anonymity to discuss internal deliberations." At the time, I told reporters on the record that I believed the story, and that Rosenstein should be fired.
In the end, he was not fired, though he should have been. The Department of Justice dispatched an unidentified source to claim Rosenstein was just joking around, and it was all in good fun. (Never mind that Rosenstein doesn't strike anyone as a person who runs around the office shocking colleagues with joy buzzer for a laugh.)
President Trump let it slide, and the Deputy Attorney General survived.
Even in September, everyone knew the story originated with McCabe, who had been fired unceremoniously for lying four times, three times under oath. He was quite openly angry about the sudden end to his career. Next week, he will release his new book to take more vengeance on his enemies. His 25th Amendment story alone should boost sales of "The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump" - the design of all of this, of course.
But Main Justice weren't the only folks out there thinking about how to rid the nation of Trump. Interestingly, as Rosenstein, McCabe and their cohorts quietly considered enactment of the 25th Amendment, journalist Allen McDuffee was reporting and writing a Medium post about how to use the measure to remove a President.
In his article, McDuffee retold how freshly minted White House aide James Cannon wrote a 1987 memo to newly appointed Chief of Staff Howard Baker saying they might need to remove President Ronald Reagan via the 25th Amendment. Baker just had replaced Don Regan, and he brought Cannon and others along to Pennsylvania Avenue with him. At the time, suffering through the Iran Contra scandal, Reagan was said to be grousing around the White House and decidedly unhappy - despondent, some staffers said.
In fact, Cannon had been on the job only a few days when he wrote the memo. President Reagan seemed disinterested, even unable, to dispatch his presidential duties, he wrote. Later Baker, Cannon and others secretly observed the President in a meeting to decide his fate, unbeknownst to Reagan. That sat at different angles around him, scrutinizing his every muscle move.
Reagan passed with flying colors, according to Baker and others interviewed when they were exposed just over a year later by Jane Mayer of the Wall Street Journal in her blockbuster 1988 book, "Landslide: The Unmaking of a President, 1984-88."
Cannon assisted Baker in the first weeks after Baker became chief of staff but left soon after that meeting to secretly observe Reagan. He reportedly declined a permanent White House post “for health reasons,” according to Jack Nelson of the Washington Post, in his coverage of Mayer's new book.
Today, we're talking about Rosenstein and his team like seditionists. Cannon, similarly exposed just over a year after his memo, was quietly derided but not publicly accused of high crimes. He was long gone anyway: Cannon had assisted Baker in the first weeks after Baker became chief of staff, but left soon after that meeting to secretly observe the President. Cannon reportedly declined a permanent White House post “for health reasons,” according to Baker.
I'm not quite sure about that, to be honest. Cannon, who left an enviable job in the White House, lived in good health to a ripe old age of 93 and died only in 2011. His pursuit of the 25th Amendment was certainly the talk of the West Wing; there is no way he could survive his own cleverness. He didn't have poor health, he had poor judgement, and he got fired. Cannon's Wikipedia biography doesn't even mention his time on the Reagan team, let alone his 25th Amendment gambit. His New York Times obituary dismisses his Reagan White House tenure in a sentence, again skipping his flirtation with the 25th.
In another accident of fate: Allen McDuffee actually published his completed Medium article on Reagan's near removal on May 17, 2017. Later that same day, Rosenstein and his ilk gave up on their removal gambit and instead appointed Mueller. (This McDuffee fella has the gift.)
Of course, the 25th Amendment is about removing the President of the United States for health reasons, not crime, and the Department of Justice has no Constitutional role. Rosenstein might as well have been discussing declaring war on another nation - this Constitutional action was not among his duties and certainly not his business.
So why is nobody asking the BIG question: if the Rosenstein cabal’s soft count had indicated there might be enough support in the cabinet to invoke the 25th, what did they intend to do next? Would they call the Cabinet member who hated the President the most? If not a call to the Secretary of Transportation, would they reach out to Vice President Pence?
At that point, even a middling federal prosecutor could paint a rather convincing portrait of conspiracy. A subsequent investigation will most likely prove Comey's allies in Main Justice wanted the President removed and were exploring all avenues to achieve their end - even avenues they weren’t authorized to take.
But it didn't work out that way. Their cabinet head count came up short, and Rosenstein did the next best thing: he appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel. The Deputy Attorney General didn't manage to remove Trump, but the President has been hog tied ever since.
Like James Cannon, Rosenstein likely committed no crime, but he should meet Cannon's fate. One day, a story about the Rosenstein push to remove the President under 25A-4 will be written. It’ll probably read something like Helen Thomas’ September 1988 account for UPI of how Cannon similarly menaced Ronald Reagan in 1987. Until then, like Cannon, the short timer in the Reagan White House who recommended a way to remove the President, Rosenstein should resign “for health reasons.”