We can expect a lot of forthcoming books about the Robert Mueller investigation, but Andrew C. McCarthy’s new book, Ball of Collusion: The Plot to Rig an Election and Destroy a Presidency, is unique in that it focuses on events leading up to the investigation. In fact, his book ends with Rod Rosenstein’s surprise announcement that he was appointing a special counsel, the very thing Democrats had been hoping for all along.
McCarthy contends that the real collusion in the 2016 election was between the Obama administration and the Hillary Clinton campaign. McCarthy argues that the Obama Department of Justice and the FBI first colluded to protect Hillary Clinton from being indicted for having a private and illegal email server, believing and hoping she would be the next president.
Then the Obama administration employed counter-intelligence resources to investigate ties between Donald Trump and Russia, first in the hopes it would taint his campaign, and then after the election with the knowledge that it would neuter his presidency and hinder a second term. McCarthy writes that this investigation was conducted under the guise of a counterintelligence investigation in order to skirt the constitutional restrictions of a criminal investigation.
McCarthy’s book is dense, but he doesn’t explain anything without first explaining its context. He delves deep into the laws governing Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act courts, the complex foreign relations between Ukraine and Russia, the various webs of relationships between major players like Christopher Steele, Glenn Simpson, Bruce Ohr, Natalia Veselnitskaya, Paul Manafort, Lisa Page, and Semion Mogilevich. Without such context, most news stories on the topic miss key points and misinterpret events.
McCarthy is not a Trump loyalist, and his book often points out when Trump or those in his circle made a wrong move. He has an entire chapter titled “Amateur Hour” where he excoriates the Trump campaign for taking a meeting with Russians to get dirt on Hillary Clinton and then lying about it. He admits that Trump’s rhetoric on Russia is often off-base, even disturbing. However, McCarthy rightly points out that although Trump and those in his orbit had ample relationships with Russians, there is no evidence that the campaign worked with the Russians to rig the 2016 election.
The Case Against Clinton
McCarthy’s book begins not with Trump, but with Hillary Clinton and the point at which she decided not to use her official State Department email system, but decided to skirt the law and use a private email server stowed in her home’s basement. McCarthy believes that Clinton chose to use such a server in an attempt to avoid FOIA requests and record-keeping requirements. He speculates that Hillary wanted to hide connections between the State Department and the Clinton Foundation. He and others have reported that the Clinton Foundation repeatedly received millions of dollars in donations from the very organizations that had business before Hillary’s State Department.
Clinton’s use of a private, unsecured email system broke laws regarding classified information and records-keeping requirements. Further, when Congress asked for her emails during the Benghazi investigation, she caused 30,000 of those emails to be destroyed, thus making her vulnerable to obstruction of justice charges. However, Clinton was never charged with any of these crimes.
In fact, the director of the FBI at the time, James Comey, had already written her exoneration statement before she was even interviewed. She was even allowed to have potential witnesses and co-conspirators in her FBI interview, reports McCarthy. Most at the FBI believed Hillary would be president and no one wanted to get on her bad side. Right before his official interview with Clinton, Agent Peter Strzok received a text message from Lisa Page not to go into the interview “loaded for bear” because it would convey to Hillary that the FBI was anxious to make a case against her.
McCarthy notes that there are several reasons Hillary Clinton was not charged for any of these crimes. President Obama had communicated with Clinton through her private email, which might have made him complicit. It was also unlikely that Loretta Lynch, who would likely stay attorney general under Hillary Clinton, would sign an indictment. In fact, Lynch told the FBI that they should refer to the Clinton email scandal as a “matter” and not an investigation.
McCarthy is good at pointing out hypocrisy. He reminds readers that right up until Trump was elected, increased business dealings with Russia were being lauded by Democrats. McCarthy points out that Hillary Clinton had been the Obama’s point person on relations with Russia for four years, during which time she promoted the “Russia Reset” agenda as well as Skolkovo, a suburb set to become Russia’s Silicon Valley. He also reminds us that it was Secretary Clinton who helped Russia get one-fifth of the United States’ uranium stocks.
Yet every handshake a Trump campaign advisor had with a Russian was scrutinized and held up as proof that a conspiracy was afoot. For example, Carter Page was painted as a spy for Russia when in reality he simply had unpopular political views about Russia. As McCarthy points out, politics cannot be a predicate for a counterintelligence investigation.
Similarly, Manafort was maligned for his work on behalf of Ukrainian oligarchs. McCarthy explains that during the Russian investigation the media often conflated things like working as a political consultant with working as an agent of Russia. In reality, much of Manafort’s work went against Russian interests. He hoped to convince his clients to turn westward instead of towards Moscow. McCarthy does not defend Manafort’s character or sugarcoat the laws he broke, but he does make clear that there is no evidence Manafort ever worked with Russia to influence the 2016 election.
A Pattern of Abuse
The biggest theme in McCarthy’s book is the Obama administration’s pattern of abusing the powers of U.S. intelligence agencies. He explains that from early on in Obama’s presidency he and his administration had learned how to spin intelligence to create a narrative. McCarthy outlines the Obama administration’s quest to redefine Islam as a case study in narrative crafting. For example, jihadist attacks now had to be referred to as “man-caused disasters” and “war against international terrorist networks” now had to be called “overseas contingency operations.”
In 2015, more than 50 analysts within the intelligence community complained that their reports on ISIS and al-Qaeda were being altered by senior officials to support the administration’s skewed narrative, McCarthy reports.
McCarthy also points out how the Obama administration manipulated the mainstream media. Since most news outlets could not afford overseas correspondents, they relied on the administration’s guidance on foreign affairs. This meant the media often blindly accepted any narrative the administration fed them.
For example, when Obama claimed that al-Qaeda was on the brink of defeat and that Osama Bin Laden was isolated and disconnected from al-Qaeda, he was not questioned. When thousands of documents seized from Bin Laden’s compound in 2011 proved him wrong, Obama simply refused to release them. McCarthy breaks down these events to show that the Obama administration had a pattern of manipulating intelligence to suit its political ends.
This pattern, McCarthy argues, continued during the Russia investigation. He writes that the use of skewed intelligence in the service of politically driven narratives was not something the Obama administration came up with just in time for the 2016 campaign. By then, it was old hat.
Challenging the Conventional Narrative
McCarthy notes the Obama administration made a habit of illegal surveillance and deceiving FISC. In 2011 Judge John D. Bates, the chief judge on the FISC rebuked the government’s pattern of deceiving the tribunal about the National Security Agency’s interception of wholly domestic communications.
This pattern continued all the way until 2016, as evidenced by the FISA warrant the FBI wrote on Carter Page. This warrant was deceptive because it relied heavily on Steele’s reports, reports that not only weren’t verified, but could not be verified. It also neglected to mention that Steele’s dossier was funded by the Clinton campaign.
Moreover, the FISC wasn’t told that Steele had openly shared his bias against Trump and was eager to make his reports public prior to the election, nor that some of Steele’s information had already proven false. (There is no Russian consulate in Miami.)
McCarthy explains that since Steele was a former agent he was not treated with the same caution as other sources. Generally, the FBI does not rely on a source who has no proximity to the people he is reporting on, and in this case Steele had not been to Russia for 20 years. This might be why much of what Steele wrote that was unique to him proved incorrect, and everything he wrote that was correct was already public knowledge. As McCarthy writes, “Steele did not discover anything. He simply echoed the narrative that the Clinton campaign was already spouting.”
McCarthy emphasizes that Steele was not actually the source of the information in the reports, but had gotten the information from someone else, who had gotten the information from someone else. McCarthy argues that vicarious credibility does not count — Steele’s credibility does not speak to the credibility of those who claim they actually saw and heard conspiratorial acts between Trump and Russia.
The biggest problem with the FISA warrant was that the information in it was unverified. The FBI and DOJ are expected to verify such information prior to submitting an application. McCarthy explains that the court is not an investigative body. They don’t have the resources to verify the claims themselves, so they trust the intelligence agencies to self-police. In this case and perhaps in others, this did not work. McCarthy argues the FISC system needs reform and that intelligence agencies need an adversarial entity like a prosecutor to challenge FISA requests in order to protect the rights of American citizens.
McCarthy further argues that it’s obvious Page was not the real target of the investigation — Trump was. Page was simply a conduit to get to Trump. Trump was “Candidate One” in Steele’s dossier, and if Trump’s campaign was being surveilled, he was being surveilled. McCarthy argues that even though the investigation was being conducted under the guise of counterintelligence, it was always a criminal investigation.
McCarthy makes a good case that the true collusion in the 2016 election was between the Obama administration and the Clinton campaign, not between Trump and Russia. At times he reaches too far and draws conclusions that the evidence does not yet support. However, more and more information is coming out every day, and perhaps McCarthy’s gut instincts on these aspects will prove true.
McCarthy’s biggest accomplishment in this book is giving the reader the legal and political context needed to rightly understand the Trump-Russia saga. This book challenges the conventional narrative of both the Hillary Clinton email scandal and the Trump-Russia investigation.