Elections

Andrew McCabe Report Explodes Republican and Democratic Myths Alike

Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe testifies before the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Capitol Hill, May 11, 2017. (Eric Thayer/Reuters)
Everyone’s narrative is taking a hit.

With the news yesterday that the Department of Justice inspector general had referred his findings regarding former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe to the U.S. attorney in Washington for possible prosecution, it seemed as if a narrative had been finally laid to rest. It turns out McCabe was no hero of the #resistance. He was a bureaucrat who lied, and tweets like this one, from former CIA director John Brennan, did not age well:

When you read the inspector general’s report, released last week, a clear picture emerges. McCabe not only leaked sensitive information to the media in violation of relevant DOJ policies, but he lied about those leaks to his boss, James Comey, and to internal investigators. Indeed, the “lack of candor” is so clear, so brazen, that one wonders how McCabe conducted his post-termination public-relations campaign, which included an emotional op-ed in the Washington Post, knowing full well the truth would eventually come out.

Specifically, McCabe authorized subordinates (namely, the now-infamous Lisa Page) to talk to Wall Street Journal reporter Devlin Barrett not just about an ongoing FBI investigation into the Clinton Foundation but also about rifts between the FBI and the Obama DOJ. Then, after these carefully planned leaks, McCabe misled Comey, FBI investigators, and the inspector general regarding several material facts.

In other words, not only did he deserve to be fired, but prosecutors should carefully consider whether to bring charges. He is no martyr. Every dime of the $567,996 raised on GoFundMe for the “Andrew McCabe Defense Fund” should be refunded, with an apology. He’s a victim not of Trump-administration vindictiveness but rather of his own misdeeds.

But let’s step back from a moment from the narrow question of McCabe’s termination. The inspector general’s report is fascinating in other ways. It deals a blow to two different narratives, one Republican and the other Democrat, revealing that the emerging story of the “deep state,” the Trump administration, and the 2016 election is far more complicated than partisans have portrayed.

First, think about this — the deep state did indeed attack late in the 2016 presidential election, and it torpedoed . . . Hillary Clinton. The foundation of an immense amount of contemporary Republican political paranoia is the unshakeable conviction that the permanent law-enforcement bureaucracy preferred Clinton to Trump and that it took actions designed to both help Clinton win and delegitimize Trump if she lost.

The emerging facts, however, indicate that Comey, McCabe, and even Page departed from DOJ policy late in the campaign to hit the Clinton campaign, hard, with news that (1) confirmed that the email investigation had been reopened; (2) confirmed the existence of an FBI investigation of the Clinton Foundation; and (3) exposed deep rifts with the Obama DOJ, including McCabe’s dramatic confrontation with a senior Obama official who “expressed concerns about FBI agents taking overt steps in the CF Investigation during the presidential campaign.”

McCabe “pushed back,” reportedly asking, “are you telling me that I need to shut down a validly predicated investigation?”

Taken together, this is explosive stuff. And it’s especially explosive when you consider that just as the FBI was announcing the reopening of the email investigation and leaking the existence of the foundation investigation, it was sitting on news that it had been investigating Trump-campaign contacts with Russia since July.

None of this excuses the FBI’s decision to exonerate Hillary in the email scandal by applying a made-up legal standard, but that decision can’t be separated from the repeated, significant blows the FBI dealt to Clinton in the months that followed. So, are you sure the FBI was trying to help Hillary? Are you sure that it’s been waging a clandestine bureaucratic war exclusively on behalf of Democrats? Don’t these facts, at the very least, complicate the worst Republican conspiracy theories?

But lest Democrats feel too vindicated, let’s turn to the next myth — one of their own. If you spent five minutes perusing Twitter after McCabe’s termination, you would have walked away utterly convinced that the Trump DOJ acted vindictively. It fired McCabe because Trump hates McCabe. Even worse, it fired him on the eve of retirement to inflict maximum misery on a good man. And it did all these things because the Trump DOJ is corrupt, hopelessly tainted by the president’s authoritarian demands for loyalty and fealty.

But the facts tell a different story. The inspector general uncovered real wrongdoing. The Office of Professional Responsibility, which recommended his termination, was presented with actual evidence of lack of candor. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had ample reason to fire McCabe.

The FBI helped beat Hillary. And the Trump DOJ can still do things by the book.

When you take a broader view of the DOJ’s behavior since Trump’s inauguration, you see a series of actions that not only have infuriated the president on occasion, but also have demonstrated the DOJ’s commitment to the rule of law. Sessions was right to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was right to appoint a special counsel after Trump fired Comey. The DOJ has been right to so far resist partisan calls for another special counsel to investigate so-called “FISA-gate.”

In fact, the more we learn about the 2016 campaign, the worse the Obama DOJ looks. The inspector general’s report and the Comey book tour represent a reminder of its improper pressure and improper behavior — from the pressure to call the Clinton email investigation a mere “matter,” to the tarmac meeting, to the president’s own comments dismissing the scandal, and to the pressure placed on the FBI to refrain from taking “overt steps” in the Clinton Foundation investigation. An allegedly “scandal-free” administration seems to have placed its thumb on the scales of justice.

We may have to wait years to learn the full story of the 2016 election. Indeed, some facts may remain forever hidden or forever disputed. But the McCabe inspector-general report should serve as a reminder to maintain an open mind. As my friend Ben Shapiro is fond of saying, “Facts don’t care about feelings.” The legal corollary is that evidence is indifferent to your narrative. So, here we are. McCabe is no hero of the #resistance. The FBI helped beat Hillary. And the Trump DOJ can still do things by the book. Ponder those truths while we wait for the next shoes to drop.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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