Gone are the Clark Kent glasses as former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe casts himself the hero in a “60 Minutes” interview. CBS pitched McCabe fawning softball after softball to build up its protagonist in the Trump-Russia mythology.
But McCabe’s self-congratulatory arrogance resulted in several careless statements that cement his place as a key villain in the greatest law enforcement scandal in the history of the United States. Let’s walk through the interview to examine what we learned.
1. Conveniently Selective Memory
Take a look at these parts of the interview with CBS New correspondent Scott Pelley, from the transcript.
PELLEY: You seem to have a very clear memory of your conversations with the president. Why so?
MCCABE: I made memorandums to myself to make sure that I preserved my contemporaneous recollections of those interactions.
PELLEY: How did he [Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein] bring up the idea of the 25th amendment to you?
MCCABE: Honestly, I don’t remember. He, it was just another kinda topic that he jumped to in the midst of a wide-ranging conversation.
PELLEY: Rosenstein was actually openly talking about whether there was a majority of the cabinet who would vote to remove the president.
MCCABE: That’s correct. Counting votes or possible votes.
PELLEY: Did he assign specific votes to specific people?
MCCABE: No, not that I recall.
So the former acting director of the FBI claims to have heard the deputy attorney general propose deposing the president with a cabinet vote pursuant to the 25th Amendment of the Constitution and he doesn’t recall how the conversation came up or whether the deputy attorney general named any specific cabinet members who might vote to overturn the 2016 election. Il est gros mytho. That’s French for, “I’m skeptical.”
2. Making It a Crime to Fire Somebody
Can there be any greater job security than to position yourself so that if your boss attempts to fire you, he can be charged with obstruction of justice?
Pelley asked, “What was it specifically that caused you to launch the counter-intelligence investigation?” In response, McCabe dissembled, barely obscuring his true motivation.
And the idea is, if the president committed obstruction of justice, fired the director of the of the FBI to negatively impact or to shut down our investigation of Russia’s malign activity and possibly in support of his campaign, as a counter-intelligence investigator you have to ask yourself, ‘Why would a president of the United States do that?’ So all those same sorts of facts cause us to wonder is there an inappropriate relationship, a connection between this president and our most fearsome enemy, the government of Russia?
The CBS interviewer then probed McCabe’s smear, “Are you saying that the president is in league with the Russians?” McCabe couldn’t say that. But he did inadvertently reveal why he wanted to get an investigation rolling against the president.
I think the next day, I met with the team investigating the Russia cases. And I asked the team to go back and conduct an assessment to determine where are we with these efforts and what steps do we need to take going forward. I was very concerned that I was able to put the Russia case on absolutely solid ground in an indelible fashion that were I removed quickly or reassigned or fired that the case could not be closed or vanish in the night without a trace.
So to restate, McCabe opened these investigations so that if the president did fire him, he could claim the president was obstructing justice, making it a crime to fire McCabe. That’s exactly what McCabe later attempted to argue, that because he opened an investigation into the president, it’s per se obstruction of justice to fire him.
Consider this latest McCabe interview in light of another familiar quote: “I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office”—an apparent reference to McCabe—“that there’s no way he gets elected — but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40…”
Ironically, McCabe was not fired for striking at president or candidate Trump but for the only sin punished by our partisan DOJ: he leaked information that embarrassed Hillary Clinton.
What should a president do with a cop who trumps up an investigation to cow his boss into refraining from applying supervisory controls? This is a tricky question, because firing a law enforcement officer for a bogus investigation looks a lot like firing a good cop to obstruct justice. If President Trump was convinced that Comey was abusing his position in bad faith to perpetrate the Russia collusion hoax, firing Comey would have been an act of good governance, not obstruction.
3. McCabe Admitted It Was Personal
Many have noted that McCabe is prone to grudges and that the prosecution of Michael Flynn is McCabe punching back for Flynn exposing McCabe’s retaliation in a discrimination lawsuit. In the “60 Minutes” interview, McCabe described Trump as asking about his wife’s failed political career.
MCCABE: ‘What was it like when your wife lost her race for state senate? It must have been really tough to lose.’ And I said, ‘Well, it’s tough to lose anything. But my wife has refocused her efforts on her career. And he then said, ‘Ask her what it was like to lose. It must be tough to be a loser.’
PELLEY: What did you think?
MCCABE: No man wants to hear anyone call his wife a loser, most of all me. My wife is a wonderful, brilliant, dedicated physician who tried to help her community. So she is no loser. It was just bullying.
The bitterness in McCabe’s voice over Trump joking at his wife’s expense is palpable and understandable. To be clear, if the president made that joke, it was nasty and ill-considered. That doesn’t make the president a Russian agent or excuse a bogus investigation designed to smear him with that allegation.
4. The Misleading History of the Clinton Emails
In the show, CBS narrated a defense of McCabe’s involvement in the Clinton email investigation to spare him the effort of dissembling the facts into a plausible vindication: “Three months after Jill McCabe lost the election, Andrew McCabe was promoted to deputy director, number two under James Comey. Nine months after that, because of his wife’s campaign, he recused himself from the Clinton investigations.”
CBS failed to address the fact that, between Jill McCabe receiving money from a Clinton ally and Andrew McCabe’s recusal, the former deputy FBI director was consequentially involved in the Clinton email investigation. Business Insider noted that McCabe was appointed deputy FBI director on February 1, 2016, and assumed an oversight role on the Clinton email investigation at that time. Subsequently, McCabe was among the FBI officials who reviewed and commented upon a draft speech exonerating Clinton months before the FBI actually interviewed her.
As reported by Newsweek, he knew about the Anthony Weiner laptop emails containing more potentially classified Clinton emails, but kept it under wraps until New York police officers threatened to blow the whistle on the cover-up. In the weeks leading up to the 2016 election, he agreed to step away from the Clinton email probe only after a Wall Street Journal article exposed the campaign contributions to his wife from a Clinton ally.
Even after publicly announcing his recusal from the Clinton email probe, McCabe continued to participate in the Russia investigation until Rosenstein forced his recusal. It should also be noted that McCabe received a significant promotion during the period Clinton was under investigation for her emails. There is currently no allegation that Clinton or any Clinton ally steered the promotion to McCabe to position him to help her in the email investigation.
5. McCabe Lobbied for a Special Counsel
In the CBS interview, McCabe says,“This was a situation that clearly called for the appointment of a special counsel who would bring a level of independence—And that’s the argument I made to the deputy attorney general.” This appears to be new information. While Rosenstein actually signed the memo appointing Robert Mueller, it’s not been known precisely who pushed him to do so.
Rosenstein appointed the special counsel on May 17, 2017. Keep in mind that on May 19, two days later, Peter Strzok, who worked for McCabe on the Russia investigation, wrote his lover, Lisa Page, “You and I both know the odds are nothing. If I thought it was likely, I’d be there no question. I hesitate in part because of my gut sense and concern there’s no big there there.”
At this point, McCabe surely would have known that the Fusion GPS Russian smear was paid for by Hillary Clinton and that months of investigation had failed to corroborate key details of the collusion theory. As I recently wrote, the FBI should have known that Clinton subcontractor Fusion GPS likely set up the Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 between Donald Trump Jr. and two Russians. This is because, as noted by The Hill, Fusion GPS employed Nellie Ohr, the wife of senior Department of Justice attorney Bruce Ohr, who actively fed Clinton’s opposition research to the FBI.
McCabe told CBS that before he launched new investigations into Trump, he “went back to the team,” which certainly would have included Strzok. Implausibly, McCabe asserted that Rosenstein came up with the idea of removing the president using the 25th Amendment. “Discussion of the 25th Amendment was, simply, Rod raised the issue and discussed it with me in the context of thinking about how many other cabinet officials might support such an effort. I didn’t have much to contribute, to be perfectly honest, in that– conversation. So I listened to what he had to say.”
Do you believe that? Consider an alternative scenario: Rosenstein discussed invoking the 25th Amendment or wearing a wire to record the president in reaction to McCabe’s account of the evidence of Trump’s collusion with Russia. It’s implausible that McCabe can’t recall how the topic of the 25th Amendment came up.
One reasonable inference is that McCabe presented an alarmist representation of the Trump/Russia narrative sufficient to frighten Rosenstein into believing radical action was necessary to “save” the country. If so, Rosenstein was so new to the job, only having taken the position in April 2017, that he would have been at the mercy of McCabe’s representation of the facts. McCabe’s alarm based on the flimsy Fusion GPS dossier would have contributed to the sense of crisis necessary to prompt the attempt to remove the president.
Did Strzok also tell McCabe in May 2017 that there was “no big there there”? It’s inconceivable that Strzok would have purposely deceived McCabe. And if McCabe knew Strzok didn’t believe the collusion accusation was supported by evidence, did McCabe share that reservation with Rosenstein? These are good questions for a CBS interviewer if they get another chance to question McCabe, or for federal investigators.
6. Still No Substantiation for the Russia Hoax
Missing from the interview was any serious attempt to substantiate the Russia hoax. Unburdened by any obligation to support his suspicions with evidence and after two years of investigating, McCabe continues to sling the Russia collusion smear.
In a separate interview on CNN, McCabe said, “I think it’s possible [that President Trump is a Russian asset]. I think that’s why we started our investigation, and I’m really anxious to see [whether] Mueller concludes that.” Based on what evidence does this former head of the FBI make this outrageous charge? If he said, CNN didn’t report it.
While the 25th Amendment is a constitutional process, it is no more legal or legitimate than the information relied upon to invoke the procedures. Thus, an attempt to remove the president using false information constitutes an effort to change executive power using extra-legal means. That’s why many refer to McCabe’s actions as a coup attempt.
Although I’m normally a harsh Rosenstein critic, I find myself defending him in light of McCabe’s efforts to pin the coup on him. History will decide whether McCabe is worthy of book royalties or a prison sentence for his confessed central role in the Trump-Russia hoax. We’re blessed by McCabe’s recklessness in giving the CBS interview, as it draws us one step closer to knowing the answer to that question.