Former FBI Director Andrew McCabe lasted into the second week of the news cycle after being fired by Attorney General Sessions over the weekend. His dismissal was accompanied by a shift in tone from the press, and by Monday, the usual suspects on MSNBC’s Morning Joe had memory-holed McCabe’s alleged transgressions for which the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility had recommended his firing in the first place.
Throughout the three-hour panel, the Inspector General’s report, which accused McCabe of displaying a “lack of candor” (read: lying) to federal investigators, was mentioned only very briefly. For the remainder of the show’s coverage of McCabe, panelists speculated wildly about what nefarious purpose his firing might have served.
MSNBC contributor John Heilemann made overtures to a narrative that even he admitted sounded like a “conspiracy theory,” supposing that perhaps Sessions had fired McCabe in order to save his own job. This idea resurfaced numerous times during subsequent discussions, such as when journalist Benjamin Wittes worried that the Attorney General might have been “executing what he thought to be the President's will in delivering a scalp that the President had demanded.” Wittes added that he would “reserve judgment” on whether McCabe had in fact misled federal investigators – though he offered no such courtesy to the President or Sessions.
The primary thrust of Heilemann’s argument dealt with the notion that perhaps Sessions ought not to be able to fire anyone involved in the Russia probe for any reason, because he had recused himself from participating in the investigation. New York Times columnist Matt Apuzzo agreed. “A narrow reading of this would suggest that this doesn’t have anything to do with Russia,” he admitted. “But if course if you just pull back the lens a little bit, it becomes really hard to separate Andrew McCabe from Russia.”
Georgetown University professor Neal Katyal later echoed this same sentiment, complaining that the Attorney General had come back, “like, from the dead, to all of a sudden say, ‘Oh, no, I’m going to mete out punishment to this deputy director,’” despite his recusal.
Host Mika Brzezinski and BBC journalist Katty Kay took a different route, theorizing that the firing had been motivated by the President’s own pettiness. Kay explained:
He views the world through a prism of win/lose. If somebody else is winning, if Andrew McCabe is getting his pension, that is a win for Andrew McCabe, therefore it must be a lose for Donald Trump.
“Especially about money,” Brzezinski chimed in. “Trump is obsessed with money.”
Heidi Pryzbyla of NBC News had yet another, more conspiratorial reading of the situation: that Sessions had acted because of the President’s tweets expressing his support for ousting McCabe. “All of a sudden, after these tweets and these comments, there’s a race to fire Andrew McCabe 24 hours before he was supposed to retire,” Pryzbyla remarked, conveniently ignoring that the apparent “race” to fire McCabe might have been due to the Attorney General’s Sunday deadline to make a decision before McCabe’s resignation took effect.
Katyal also ignored this inconvenient fact. When Pryzbyla asked him whether there might be any evidence of communications in which the President had ordered the firing, he answered, “I bet they don’t take any notes or anything like that because they all know they’re engaged in something nefarious here.”
For all the conflicting theories and speculation about the Attorney General’s motives, there appeared to be one point on which every panelist could agree. None present seemed willing to believe that Sessions could possibly have been acting on the findings of the nonpartisan FBI Office of Professional Responsibility, which had unambiguously recommended that McCabe be fired.