A quarter century ago, Keith Schiller was a New York City transit cop patrolling the Number 3 subway line between Harlem and toughest Brooklyn from 8 pm to 4 am.
Just to get to his post, Schiller first had to take a cross-town bus from his command. He would then ride the full length of the line, take a meal break and then ride back the other way. His every tour in purgatory affirmed his lack of “a hook,” as influential connections were known among his fellow “cave cops.”
Schiller now has the biggest hook in the free world. And, as director of Oval Office operations and the President’s main bro, he traveled the six blocks from the White House to FBI headquarters late Tuesday afternoon. Schiller then hand-delivered a Manila envelope containing a letter from Trump terminating James Comey as the director of the FBI.
The message was essentially what a former fellow cave cop who worked with Schiller remembers as the standard line to an uncooperative passenger back in their days on the Number 3 line.
“Listen, pal, the best thing for you to do is to get off this train.”
One difference was that the passenger would not have been in the midst of an investigation involving the very guy who was ordering him off the train.
So began this week’s chain of events, which are not in fact likely to lead to another Watergate, but were from the very start so improbable as to warrant a laugh—if only there were anything even remotely funny about it.
“We’re not in the middle of a constitutional crisis,” a senior law enforcement official said on Wednesday. “We’re in the middle of a very bad joke.”
And the more you learn, the more absurd it becomes. Ask around how Schiller got to where he is and you hear the story of a day in 1998 when he chanced to see Trump’s second wife, Marla Maples.
By then, Schiller had “rolled over” from the transit police to the city police and started working narcotics uptown. He happened to be at the Manhattan District Attorney’s office on a drug case when he saw Maples there, as a complainant against her publicist Chuck Jones, whose fetish for shoes had prompted him to steal as many as 200 pairs from her. She was accompanied by a bodyguard.
As has been reported elsewhere, Schiller decided that there was no reason why he himself could not also be a bodyguard. An assistant district attorney in the Maples case agreed to call Trump’s director of security, who in turn agreed to give Schiller a try.
Trump and Schiller hit it off. The onetime cave cop has a steadiness shared by many of his kind from the era when radios worked only sporadically underground. Every one of them had experienced a moment of facing somebody considerably bigger and meaner on a moving train with help not coming soon. Every one of them had thereupon learned in the most urgent terms what is at their core. And that would surely appeal to a man who seems to have no core at all.
Schiller retired from the NYPD to work full time for The Donald. Schiller became head of security in 2014—his predecessor, Matthew Calamari, having been promoted to executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Trump Organization.
So there was steady Keith Schiller, constantly at Trump’s side during a campaign not even his boss thought was winnable. Trump seemed as surprised as anybody when election night ended in victory.
And with that result, somebody else joined Marla Maples in propelling the former cave cop to glory. That person is Vladimir Putin.
American intelligence officials have concluded that Russian hackers gathered a trove of embarrassing material on both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The officials believe that Putin cast the first and perhaps decisive vote in the 2016 presidential election by figuring that Trump would be worse for America and therefore better for Russia.
Trump took Schiller to the White House with him. And, by various reports, Schiller was often the only one keeping his boss company up in the private residence while Trump’s third wife, Melania, and their son, Barron, continued to live in New York.
Schiller did briefly head off to escort Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to Iraq. But Schiller was soon back at the White House, ever at his boss’s side while the world chattered about whether Kushner or Steven Bannon or Reince Priebus held the most sway.
But it was and is and always will be all about Trump and his whim of the moment. The White House tried to say that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had taken it upon himself to prepare the memo that led to Comey being fired. Trump set everybody straight.
“They’re creating a deceptive narrative and he’s running around telling the truth,” the senior law enforcement official said. “They can’t even get their lies straight.”
More often than not, Trump does not so much act as react to something he had seen on television and in this instance, it seems to have included the coverage of Comey’s testimony before Congress.
Trump no doubt resented Comey’s remark about feeling “mildly nauseous” at the thought he may have influenced the election. That was tantamount to saying that Trump had not won a great victory.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton had declared that she accepted full responsibility for her defeat, as should anybody who actually lost to Donald Trump. She then immediately set about blaming Comey. Those are just the kind of contradictions that Trump loves to Tweet.
And that combined with Trump’s resentment regarding Comey’s continued investigation into the Russian meddling. The result was the letter that Trump had Schiller deliver to FBI headquarters, bouncing Comey just like he was an unruly subway passenger.
The onetime cave cop had played a small but particular role in what Putin surely counts as a true victory.
“[Putin] didn’t engineer the firing of Comey, but he engineered the entrance of Trump,” the senior law enforcement official said. “He’s sitting back saying, ‘I’m liking my plan very much.’”
In the aftermath of Comey’s firing, a website frequented by retired FBI agents was eerily deserted. Traditionalist retirees who had been vocal about Comey’s failure to make a case against Hillary Clinton were silent. The absence of comment suggests they understood that the application of brute political force to remove a director of the FBI weakened what made the FBI the FBI, what had shielded the bureau from outside influence.
“If the FBI had it, they took it where the truth took them,“ the senior law enforcement official said.
The official noted that the FBI director is appointed to a 10-year term for a reason; it puts him outside the tenure of even a two-term president. The official spoke of the agents who are now working the Russian influence investigation.
“Do you think those agents now feel they have the insulation of the institution and the protection of the director?” the official asked.
Imagine how those agents felt upon seeing video of Trump happily meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, along with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, whose meetings with Jeff Sessions triggered the Attorney General’s recusal.
Who knows, perhaps there really was no active collusion on Trump’s part. Trump has on other occasions wildly praised Putin and declared his love for WikiLeaks, which even someone as reckless as himself might not do if he were actively conspiring with Russians.
Or maybe the meeting with the Russian diplomats was a way for Trump to watch it later on TV with his best bro Schiller and announce, “See! I’m innocent!”
If nothing else, Trump and Schiller appear devoutly loyal to each other.
However it goes, you can be sure that Schiller will be right there with Trump, who remains the greatest hook in the free world.
As they still say on the Number 3 train, watch the closing doors.