For those who have memories that last longer than nine minutes, you probably remember a time — let’s call it “last Tuesday” — when the battle lines were drawn, and they were very, very clear. Republicans knew that the FBI bureaucracy could not be trusted. It was out to get Trump. FISA-Gate proved the FBI’s corruption, and the inspector general was not to be trusted. The FBI cannot possibly police itself.
Balderdash, declared Democrats. How dare you question the patriotism and professionalism of federal agents. Don’t you Republicans profess to like law enforcement? The political components of the Justice Department are rotten to the core. The career civil servants, on the other hand, are the brave bulwark against Trump’s impulsive, lawless, amateurish authoritarianism.
Then, Wednesday, the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) recommended firing FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe for allegedly misleading investigators about his contacts with the media in the late stages of the 2016 presidential campaign. DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz is working on a report that reportedly will be highly critical of McCabe, and the findings apparently triggered the OPR’s review.
McCabe, readers may recall, is a favorite target of President Donald Trump. McCabe has been a central player in the FBI investigations of Hillary Clinton, Russian election interference, and potential Russian ties to the Trump campaign. He’s a potential witness in the obstruction investigation against Trump. Trump believes that McCabe is biased against him, in part because McCabe’s wife received substantial campaign assistance from Clinton friend (and former Virginia governor) Terry McAuliffe during her failed run for the Virginia state senate in 2015. Here are two Trump tweets from December:
How can FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, the man in charge, along with leakin’ James Comey, of the Phony Hillary Clinton investigation (including her 33,000 illegally deleted emails) be given $700,000 for wife’s campaign by Clinton Puppets during investigation?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 23, 2017
FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits. 90 days to go?!!!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 23, 2017
So Tuesday’s take was old and broken. Wednesday was a new day. The roles reversed. Republicans online were supporting the inspector general and the proud and nonpartisan civil servants in the OPR. Democrats online were decrying the allegedly obvious political corruption of the review process, a corruption that now had seeped into the permanent bureaucracy of the DOJ. And then, when the attorney general fired McCabe late Friday night, the Left truly erupted. No tweet better captured the fury than former CIA director John Brennan’s:
When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history. You may scapegoat Andy McCabe, but you will not destroy America…America will triumph over you. https://t.co/uKppoDbduj
— John O. Brennan (@JohnBrennan) March 17, 2018
Meanwhile, just as the Right was vigorously defending the integrity of the DOJ process, Trump weighed in:
Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI – A great day for Democracy. Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 17, 2018
Ahh yes, there’s nothing like a Trump tweet to reassure America that the process of terminating one of America’s most senior law-enforcement officers was completely fair, nonpartisan, and professional.
Oh, and keep in mind that all this sanctimony — all this fury — was unleashed online without the public, politicians, or pundits having seen the testimony that allegedly caused McCabe’s termination. No one knew the actual evidence, yet their rage and certainty were undiminished.
But that’s pretty much par for the course. Remember, we’ve just exited a news cycle where the public, pundits, and politicians opined authoritatively about the legality and credibility of FISA applications they hadn’t read. Instead of waiting for comprehensive reports or reviewing source documents, they sallied forth into online battle relying mainly on two shoddily written, hopelessly partisan memos from a terribly compromised House committee.
At this point American political hypocrisy is boundless. The same people who would parse and condemn Barack Obama’s public statements about ongoing investigations now urge us to ignore Trump’s tweets. Meaningless venting, they say. Conversely, the same people who told us that Obama’s public pronouncements had no impact on the good professionals at the FBI and IRS now tell us that Trump’s tirades are proof positive of political influence on the DOJ.
And Friday-night news dumps? Well, they’re suspicious only if we don’t like the news.
One of the most loathsome political stunts in recent memory was the claim of the Democratic Senate majority leader in 2012 that Mitt Romney had not paid income taxes for ten years. He made the claim without any foundation, and it was patently false. Yet he repeated the claim time and again, hammering home an idea that the wealthy Romney escaped his civic obligations while the rest of us schmucks paid our fair share. After the election, when the extent of Harry Reid’s perfidy was known, a reporter asked him if his tactics were “reminiscent of McCarthyism.”
His answer? “They can call it whatever they want. Romney didn’t win, did he?”
We fought a political culture war, and Harry Reid won. Or perhaps it’s better to say he was but one teacher among many. He was just another politician who taught us that winning isn’t just everything. It’s the only thing. Lie all you want. Argue against the very claims you just made. If you have standards, make sure they’re double standards. But if you win, then the accolades will roll down from the heavens. Your critics can be dismissed as those messy elitists who just don’t like your “tone” or “style.” And you’re doing it for a good cause. Always, you’re doing it for a good cause.
I don’t know yet if the DOJ’s decision to terminate McCabe was correct. I haven’t seen the evidence. And until I do, I’ll withhold judgment. But as for the current state of our public discourse? The evidence is in, and the judgment is clear. American partisans beclown themselves more each and every day.