McCabe, though, feeds Trump’s favorite narrative in key ways.
McCabe is confirming that he, as acting FBI director, launched a counterintelligence investigation into Trump after James B. Comey’s firing. McCabe is also saying that the idea of invoking the 25th Amendment to try to remove Trump was somewhat seriously explored around the same time. (Lawyers were involved, noses were counted, Rod Rosenstein wasn’t joking, etc.)
It’s difficult to find a better example in the public domain of something that plays into Trump’s narrative that the “deep state” is working against him behind the scenes and trying to take him down. McCabe is literally confirming, on the record, that such an effort existed, however preliminary it was and however warranted you might think it to be.
The 25th Amendment story was broken by the New York Times, using anonymous sources, and at the time, Trump critics assailed the paper for publishing it. They worried it would be used as a pretext to fire Rosenstein. But if Rosenstein can be accused of nefariously working to take down Trump, now multiple people in positions of authority at the FBI can be, too. Trump and his supporters have even taken to (wrongly) labeling this an attempted “coup.”
As for the counterintelligence probe, this is something that was controversial even inside the law enforcement community, as the Times reported when it broke that news last month:
A vigorous debate has taken shape among some former law enforcement officials outside the case over whether F.B.I. investigators overreacted in opening the counterintelligence inquiry during a tumultuous period at the Justice Department. Other former officials noted that those critics were not privy to all of the evidence and argued that sitting on it would have been an abdication of duty.
Sure, Trump has to put up with McCabe suggesting he might be a Russian asset and passing along secondhand stories about Trump believing Vladimir Putin that North Korea isn’t a threat. That’s liable to get under Trump’s skin. But it’s also not all that shocking in the context of the last two years. Meanwhile, the ball has been moved forward on one of Trump’s favorite narratives, on two fronts.
The other thing is that, whatever you think of what McCabe is saying, he has baggage. He was fired just a day before he would have been able to collect a full retirement after Trump applied pressure, yes. But he had also been the subject of a blistering inspector general’s report that he leaked and misled investigators. Prosecutors have looked into whether to charge him criminally. As a witness for the Trump opposition, he is objectively tainted.
Having watched many of McCabe’s interviews, I’ve been impressed with his performances. He comes off as credible and serious. He’s a better messenger than Comey, in many ways. But just because he’s saying things some people want to hear doesn’t mean he’s helping the cause. Catharsis isn’t necessarily strategic.
Trump has now tweeted about McCabe nine times in the past six days, and on Wednesday afternoon, he compared him to a “poor man’s J. Edgar Hoover.” It’s possible Trump’s just consuming McCabe’s appearances one by one and reacting. It’s also possible he likes all of this because the same message helping McCabe sell books could help Trump solidify his base against the supposedly nefarious establishment efforts to take him down.