In the latest edition of The Editors podcast, we once again argue about the propriety of the FBI’s actions after the firing of James Comey (warning: more shouting than usual!). David French, as always, manfully holds up his side against withering fire from everyone else, but I wanted to put a finer point on something.
The last time David and I disagreed about the FBI opening a counterintelligence probe into the president after he fired its boss, he wrote this in his final entry of the exchange:
Of course to say that the FBI can investigate the president is different from arguing whether it should in any given instance. My own view is that there should be a very high bar to clear before an attorney general should approve an investigation. If it turns out — once the facts are fully known — that the FBI’s decision to open a counterintelligence investigation turned largely on such acts as firing James Comey or giving erratic interview questions to Lester Holt, then I’ll retract my initial assessment that the investigation was prudent and judge that the FBI grotesquely abused its power. If, however, the decision (as I believe) turned on a number of additional factors — crucially including the multiplicity of troubling Trump team contacts with Russian operatives — then I’ll stand by my initial assessment (emphasis added).
Well, we now know more about this episode since we’ve heard directly from the key actor, Andrew McCabe about why he opened a counterintelligence investigation—and obstruction probe — into the president.
Here is how “60 Minutes” characterized it:
NARRATION: McCabe says that the basis for both investigations was in Mr. Trump’s own statements. First, Mr. Trump had asked FBI Director Comey to drop the investigation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts. Then, to justify firing Comey, Mr. Trump asked his deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, to write a memo listing the reasons Comey had to go. And according to McCabe, Mr. Trump made a request for that memo that came as a surprise.
MCCABE: Rod was concerned by his interactions with the president, who seemed to be very focused on firing the director and saying things like, “Make sure you put Russia in your memo.” That concerned Rod in the same way that it concerned me and the FBI investigators on the Russia case.
(You should read Andy’s piece on how shifty the wording here is on Russia, by the way.)
And here’s more from McCabe in his own words:
MCCABE: There were a number of things that caused us to believe that we had adequate predication or adequate reason and facts, to open the investigation. The president had been speaking in a derogatory way about our investigative efforts for weeks, describing it as a witch hunt, publicly undermining the effort of the investigation. The president had gone to Jim Comey and specifically asked him to discontinue the investigation of Mike Flynn which was a part of our Russia case. The president, then, fired the director. In the firing of the director, the president specifically asked Rod Rosenstein to write the memo justifying the firing and told Rod to include Russia in the memo. Rod, of course, did not do that. That was on the President’s mind. Then, the president made those public comments that you’ve referenced both on NBC and to the Russians which was captured in the Oval Office. Put together, these circumstances were articulable facts that indicated that a crime may have been committed. The president may have been engaged in obstruction of justice in the firing of Jim Comey.
So here is the former high-ranking FBI official who opened the counter-intelligence probe of the president setting out pretty much exactly the reasons for it that David said would be an abuse of power.
Maybe McCabe is hiding the ball and not telling us the real reason he acted the way he did? Well, he’s seemingly foreclosed that possibility:
“Are there other things that haven’t been made public at this point that contributed to the opening of the investigation of the president?” CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked McCabe in an interview.
“I’m not so sure that there are things that haven’t been made public,” replied McCabe, who was fired from the FBI on March 16, 2018.
I know from the podcast that David has low regard for McCabe and thinks, in addition to getting fired for lying, he’s perhaps still lying on his book tour. But this obviously should give us less confidence in his judgment rather than more.
In sum, I think David, a formidable polemical opponent, can handle anything I (or Michael or Charlie on the podcast) throw at him. But his position on this has been has been undercut by someone else — namely, Andy McCabe himself, whose actions (and by implication, judgment and good intentions) he’s been defending.
Something to Consider
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