NRPLUS Conference Call with Rich Lowry and Andy McCarthy

(NRO Illustration: Elijah Smith)

Last Friday, NR editor in chief Rich Lowry spoke with NRI senior fellow Andy McCarthy to members of the NRPLUS group on a private conference call. The pair discussed the impeachment process in the House of Representatives, Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report on the origins of the FBI’s investigation into Donald Trump’s campaign, and took questions from NRPLUS members.

Rich began by stating what we all know now: Trump will be impeached. Andy’s first thoughts were about Rich’s column from the day before, in which Rich wrote that the impeachment feels rather unhistoric and unexceptional. He added that it portends bad things for the future, because it could make impeachment a trivial matter. We knew Trump would be impeached, and the House Democrats settled on the Ukraine issue not because it was the most outrageous misstep Trump had committed but because it was the “fast and nasty” way to do it. Andy said that he hasn’t figured out whether Trump’s impeachment has so trivialized impeachment in general that it’s going to be something no longer rare or whether it will be so discredited that we will only have future impeachments when we want to have them. He’s just not sure how to work that out yet.

Rich next asked Andy about Andrew Johnson’s impeachment, which played badly and likely caused a lengthy cessation in impeachment proceedings. Andy agreed about the Johnson impeachment’s impact, and added that it helped make the lead-up to Nixon’s (ultimately abandoned) impeachment riveting, with many people very into it and aware of the details. By the time Clinton was impeached, it was 25 years later and people still had a pretty good historical memory of Nixon’s. So Johnson’s is the only one for which we really have to read the history books to understand.

Andy observed that Johnson’s impeachment includes a lot that is worth study for the Trump impeachment. For one, it showed that the Constitution means what it says in the sense that the House is in charge of impeachment and the Senate is in charge of the trial, and nobody can tell the Senate how to run the trial. The Senate can give the House the back of the hand by refusing to take up articles and by acquitting. Johnson was served eleven articles of impeachment, which Andy called “ridiculous,” and yet the Senate only took up three for discussion and only tried him on one (for which they found him not guilty). It’s a historical curiosity what happened to the other 8 articles, but it seems they just disappeared. Andy clarified that the Senate certainly has rules about impeachment now that it didn’t have then, so today, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has to take up the articles, but the Constitution doesn’t mandate that.

Next, Rich turned to Inspector General Horowitz’s report on the origins of the FBI’s investigation into Donald Trump’s campaign, asking Andy what he makes of Horowitz’s conclusion that there was no political bias to the investigation and it was properly originated. Andy began his response by observing the similarities between this report and the report on the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server. In both cases, we came away from the reports thinking that we knew what happened. Horowitz is very tepid about drawing motivational conclusions, but allows the reader to draw his own conclusions about what the subjects of the investigation did from what he reads.

The minus, Andy explained, is that Horowitz states his conclusions in “legal gobbledygook,” which lends itself to real distortion in people’s political rendering of what the conclusions actually mean. Remember that we had two weeks of leaks from this report, and where did the leaks come from? Well, Horowitz shared his conclusions with people whose conduct was scrutinized in the report itself, meaning that it’s likely that these witnesses leaked the report and put a self-serving spin on the report’s conclusions. What was put out includes those conclusions Rich mentioned, that the bias was absent and the investigation was properly originated.

Andy also pointed out that Horowitz said in his report that in the opening of the investigation he could not find “positive evidence of bias,” which is a very legal conclusion that doesn’t mean what most people think it means. The opening of the investigation is a very administrative act, and it was unlikely that bias would be present in the decision to open an investigation. This absence of positive evidence of bias is not about the wiretaps, the FISA surveillance, or the choice of informant or use of informants. For any of these, bias is far more relevant.

Andy continued with his discussion about the Horowitz report for a few minutes, and afterward, Rich turned to a question from an NRPLUS member who asked about the propriety of a potential statement from Attorney General Bill Barr and the statement U.S. attorney John Durham has already made about Horowitz’s report. Andy started with Durham, observing that he would’ve preferred Durham to have said nothing at all, but reminded listeners that Durham wasn’t reacting to Horowitz’s report but a false report that Durham agreed with all of Horowitz’s conclusions published in the Washington Post. Durham, Andy explained, is someone who doesn’t talk to the media. In order to knock down this false story without directly reacting to “the media,” Durham addressed his response to the story as a general response to the report. That said, Andy acknowledged that maybe Durham shouldn’t have said anything at all.

Andy believes that Barr, however, as attorney general should make a statement and say what the Justice Department thinks about the report. It is a rendering on behavior about the most important component of Barr’s agency, so the attorney general has the ability and responsibility to address it. Andy pointed out that because Horowitz recommended changes, it’s important for Barr to say how Justice will respond to that recommendation. Barr has been careful in his statements to say that he has not gotten to the bottom of the bias question. He said that in testimony and he’s said it in public statements. But we should hear something from him.

Andy and Rich continued their discussion of the Horowitz report and impeachment, and took additional questions from members. A recording of the call is above. Thank you to those who joined us, and we look forward to seeing you all for the next one.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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