Donald Trump’s supporters want to see porn actress Stormy Daniels and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe silenced and sidelined. But after an explosive 24 hours that featured an unprecedented legal threat from a sitting president against Daniels and the public firing of McCabe Friday, Trump’s two troublesome adversaries have a bigger platform than ever before.
By Saturday, Daniels and McCabe were the subject of wall-to-wall cable news coverage — much of it unflattering to the president. And the White House was back on the defensive, facing uncomfortable questions about whether the president’s repeated criticism of McCabe influenced Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to fire him, and whether Trump was directly involved in efforts to silence Daniels.
The sequence of events began late Friday night, when Trump, through his personal lawyers, weighed in for the first time on the legal fight stemming from allegations that he had an affair with Daniels. The president’s team asserted that Trump has the right to seek more than $20 million from Daniels for repeatedly violating a non-disclosure agreement.
If Trump’s lawyers follow through on the threat, discovery and depositions could result, pushing Trump further into the middle of the legal fight over the allegations, on which Trump has avoided commenting in public.
Michael Avenatti, Daniels’ lawyer, pounced on the president’s legal tactic, casting it as a strategic misstep.
“This clearly was not well thought out before it was done — either that or they haven’t been paying attention over the last two weeks,” Avenatti told POLITICO in an interview Saturday afternoon.
“These tactics only work if the other side blinks and in our case neither my client nor I have any intention of blinking. As a result, the president and Mr. Cohen have only compounded their problems by bringing suit against my client for $20 million of bogus damages,” Avenatti said, referring to Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer.
Cohen did not respond to a request for comment.
Before the public could digest the Daniels news, Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday night announced his decision to fire McCabe, just over 24 hours before he was set to retire, rendering him ineligible for his federal pension.
Sessions insisted his decision was the result of internal reviews that concluded McCabe violated Justice Department policies and was not forthcoming with investigators probing FBI actions before the 2016 presidential election. But McCabe and his allies worked furiously to raise doubts about the Justice Department’s official explanation for his firing.
In an interview with POLITICO published on Friday night, McCabe said his firing was connected to a broader effort to discredit him for his likely cooperation with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
“But at some point, this has to be seen in the larger context,” McCabe said. “And I firmly believe that this is an ongoing effort to undermine my credibility because of the work that I did on the Russia case, because of the investigations that I oversaw and impacted that target this administration.”
“They have every reason to believe that I could end up being a significant witness in whatever the special counsel comes up with, and so they are trying to create this counter-narrative that I am not someone who can be believed or trusted,” McCabe added. “And as someone who has been believed and trusted by really good people for 21 years, it’s just infuriating to me.”
Saturday’s news cycle further complicated the situation for the White House. First came Trump lawyer John Dowd’s call for an end to Mueller’s investigation — which Dowd initially said was made in his official capacity as Trump’s lawyer before later clarifying that his statement was made in a personal capacity.
Then POLITICO and other news outlets reported Saturday that McCabe, like former FBI Director James Comey, kept memos detailing his interactions with Trump, and handed them over to Mueller.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on McCabe’s firing.
Amid all of this, Trump was watching everything unfold from the White House, where he has no public events on his schedule this weekend. In an indication he is following the events on cable news — as he almost always does — Trump repeatedly tweeted his disdain for the critical coverage of the McCabe firing.
“The Fake News is beside themselves that McCabe was caught, called out and fired. How many hundreds of thousands of dollars was given to wife’s campaign by Crooked H friend, Terry M, who was also under investigation? How many lies? How many leaks? Comey knew it all, and much more!” he wrote on Twitter Saturday afternoon.
Less than 10 minutes later, Comey, who will soon publish a book recounting his experiences, shot back: “Mr. President, the American people will hear my story very soon. And they can judge for themselves who is honorable and who is not.”
Elana Schor and Darren Samuelsohn contributed to this report.