I can’t decide if Trump defenders are credulous or cynical. Do they honestly believe the official explanation for the firing of the FBI’s former deputy director, Andrew McCabe, or are they only pretending to believe it because they feel compelled to defend el jefe no matter what?
The Trumpistas claim to have been vindicated by Friday’s release of a scathing report on McCabe from the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz. The IG found that McCabe “lacked candor” — i.e., he lied, sometimes under oath — in denying to investigators that he had authorized a leak to the Wall Street Journal about an FBI investigation of the Clintons. The Journal had previously reported that McCabe’s wife, Jill, received $467,000 from a political committee linked to Gov. Terry McAuliffe in her campaign as a Democrat for the Virginia state Senate. This was deemed newsworthy because McAuliffe is a Clinton ally and Andrew McCabe oversaw the FBI’s Clinton email investigation — although not until after his wife lost the election.
McCabe was understandably eager to rebut accusations that he was showing political favoritism to the Clintons. So his aides revealed to the Journal that the FBI wanted to aggressively investigate corruption allegations involving the Clinton Foundation despite Justice Department skepticism. The IG determined that McCabe then misled FBI Director James B. Comey and internal investigators by denying that he had approved the leaks. While McCabe was authorized to disclose an FBI investigation if it was in the “public interest” to do so, the IG concluded that in this case he was acting in his personal interest.
If taken in isolation, as Trump defenders would like, this would seem a damning case, even though McCabe has denied any intent to mislead. But taken in isolation, there was also a damning case against Comey, as outlined in a letter written by Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein and released by the White House when the FBI director was fired last May. Rosenstein rightly criticized Comey for publicly lambasting Hillary Clinton for conduct that was judged noncriminal and for announcing that he was reopening the investigation into her email just 11 days before the election.
Any president would have been justified in firing Comey. But we all know that he wasn’t really canned because he was too mean to “Crooked Hillary.” Trump came clean two days later when he admitted that he was going to fire Comey “regardless” of the recommendation from Rosenstein in order to end the investigation of the “Russia thing.”
There is no such “smoking gun” in McCabe’s case. But it’s highly unlikely that his conduct, however unethical, was the sole reason Attorney General Jeff Sessions took the highly unusual step of firing him just 26 hours before he would have retired with his pension. “In 99 percent of cases, a federal employee is not at risk of losing a pension, even when fired,” reports Government Executive magazine. McCabe was treated more harshly than Robert Hanssen, an FBI agent-turned-Russian spy whose wife is able to collect part of his pension even while he is serving life in prison.
McCabe argues that he was targeted because he could corroborate Comey’s allegations that Trump obstructed justice. Trump’s public vilification of McCabe strongly supports that interpretation.
The president’s outrageous and unprecedented attacks on the FBI’s deputy director began on July 25, 2017, with a false tweet claiming “that the acting head of the FBI & the person in charge of the Hillary investigation, Andrew McCabe, got $700,000 from H for wife!” The next day Trump demanded: “Why didn’t A.G. Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation”? On Dec. 23, The Post reported that McCabe would retire in March when he could collect his pension. Trump was outraged: “FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits. 90 days to go?!!!”
When Sessions finally fired McCabe, as recommended by the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility, Trump exulted that this was “A great day for Democracy.” On Friday, after the release of the IG report, Trump was hyperventilating again: “DOJ just issued the McCabe report — which is a total disaster. He LIED! LIED! LIED! McCabe was totally controlled by Comey — McCabe is Comey!! No collusion, all made up by this den of thieves and lowlifes!”
So this is what Trump apologists want us to believe: that McCabe was fired completely on the merits and that the demands of the president to get rid of him had nothing to do with it. And if you believe that, you’re probably still convinced that the infamous meeting between the Trump campaign high command and a Russian lawyer was really about “adoptions.” Sure, Comey and McCabe made serious mistakes — but those mistakes were a pretext for Trump’s vendetta against the investigators who are hot on his trail.