“Acting FBI director contradicts White House” is now dominating headlines across the media. Of course, it’s only half the story. When Andrew McCabe, the acting director of the FBI, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee today, he not only contradicted what the administration had been saying about firing of James Comey but also nearly every anonymously-sourced scoop that dominated coverage yesterday.
Most reporting on McCabe’s testimony focused on the fact that he undercut the White House’s assertion that dissention among the FBI’s rank and file precipitated the firing of Comey. Need it be repeated, the administration’s case – that the director was fired for his unprofessional actions towards Hillary Clinton – is risible. In fact, watching the interim FBI director sit in front of a Senate committee plainly debunking Trump’s core justification for the dismissal is just another reason to view yesterday’s reaction as needlessly hysterical.
The Acting FBI Director also said that there has been no effort to impede Russia investigation – which was the driving insinuation of virtually all coverage yesterday. Whatever Trumpian reasons the president had for firing Comey, McCabe testified that there has been no obstruction by the administration. And unless Trump names some lackey to shut it down, this will almost surely remain the case.
We don’t even know if Trump himself is the focus on any FBI inquiry. Yet, here’s how the Associated Press covered another aspect of McCabe’s testimony:
BREAKING: Acting FBI director calls Trump-Russia investigation “highly significant,” contradicting White House claim.
— The Associated Press (@AP) May 11, 2017
Well, not exactly breaking.
McCabe was asked about the FBI’s probe of Russia’s meddling into the presidential election, which encompasses a number of facets that have nothing to do with the president. McCabe answered that such an investigation was “highly significant” – he said nothing about Trump. So the White House’s contention that the Russia investigation was one of the “smallest things” on the FBI’s plate is untrue. As is the assumption that investigation is about Trump.
Second, the acting FBI director told the Senate that he knows nothing about an organizational request for additional resources for Russia investigation. This was a huge story yesterday. A number of major news organizations, relying on scores of anonymous sources, reported that mere days before he was fired Comey had gone to the Justice Department and asked for more prosecutors. This would create a timeline that proves obstruction. Well, McCabe says that the FBI has all the resources it needs. Sarah Isgur Flores, spokesperson at the Department of Justice, denied that Comey has asked for any resources.
Now, it’s possible that Comey made the request without telling anyone, including his top deputy – despite the significance of the investigation–and that the DOJ subsequently lied about it. At the very least, though, this puts New York Times’ breathless reporting into question since it offer no evidence.
Third, ABC News and others had reported that Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein was on the “verge of quitting” over the Comey firing – which would also lend credence to the idea that this was an obstruction of justice. Two anonymous Justice Department officials refuted that report. “Didn’t happen,” one told NBC News. They could be lying, as well. But then a reporter for a local station did what no major news organization was able to and asked Rosenstein if he was quitting. He responded “no, I’m not quitting.”
Reporter: Did you threaten to quit?
Again, perhaps Rosenstein is also lying. The difference, of course, is that both McCabe and Rosenstein have now gone on the record – one of them under oath – to make these claims. On the other hand, the accusations that dominated the frenzied coverage of yesterday were driven exclusively by anonymous sources with agendas. It seems increasingly easy for these people to dictate coverage. Obviously, reporting relies on anonymous sources. But at some point even Trump skeptics have to ask themselves: maybe we’re being played?