A few weeks ago, the Justice Department’s inspector general rushed out a draft copy of its report on Andrew McCabe to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Why? So that Sessions could fire McCabe 26 hours before he qualified for his full pension and retired.
Well, the final report has now been released and I’ve read it. But first, here are the background facts:
- As deputy director of the FBI, McCabe had oversight authority over all FBI investigations, including the Clinton email investigation and the Clinton Foundation investigation.
- A year earlier, McCabe’s wife had run as a Democrat for a state senate seat in Virginia. Like most Democratic candidates, she received money from a PAC controlled by Clinton pal Terry McAuliffe. During the 2016 presidential campaign, conservative media went berserk over this, claiming that McCabe had gone easy on Clinton because of his wife’s connections.
- Near the end of the 2016 campaign, the Wall Street Journal ran an article implying that McCabe had also tried to slow walk the Clinton Foundation investigation.
- In fact, McCabe had done just the opposite: in a phone call with the Justice Department he had refused to allow any political interference with the investigation. A few days after the original article appeared, McCabe authorized an FBI press liason to tell this to the Journal on background for a follow-up article that appeared on October 30.
Everyone accepts this as the basic background of the case. What’s more, as deputy director, McCabe was authorized to speak to the press on background or to allow others to do it for him. The question is: did McCabe lie about authorizing this disclosure to the Journal? The inspector general says he did, and lays out the following timeline:
- October 31, 2016: McCabe speaks to FBI Director James Comey about the Journal article. McCabe says he told Comey what he had done. Comey says he didn’t.
- May 9, 2017: The FBI inspection division, which is investigating a series of leaks, talks to McCabe. McCabe says he doesn’t know where this particular leak came from.
- July 28, 2017: The DOJ inspector general interviews McCabe, who says he doesn’t know who authorized the press liason to talk to the Journal.
- August 1, 2017: McCabe calls the inspector general to change his testimony. He now says that he recalls authorizing the disclosure.
- August 18, 2017: The FBI inspection division re-interviews McCabe, who confirms that he authorized the disclosure.
- November 29: The inspector general interviews McCabe again. McCabe confirms yet again that he authorized the disclosure.
The inspector general’s report concludes that McCabe lied multiple times: to Comey (#1), to the FBI inspection division (#2), to the inspector general (#3), and finally on November 29 when he told the inspector general his version of the conversation with Comey (#6).
McCabe has defended himself against all the charges:
- He believes his recollection of the conversation with Comey is correct, and it’s Comey who is mistaken.
- He says that the May 9 interview was about an entirely different matter and touched on the Journal article only briefly. “That is reflected in the fact that in a 12-page draft statement prepared by INSD, the WSJ article occupied a single paragraph.” McCabe says he never meant to imply that he didn’t authorize the disclosure.
- He says the July 28 interview was primarily about the FBI’s overall handling of the Clinton email case. “The OIG investigators assured him they would not ask questions about matters that could involve him.” When they suddenly asked McCabe about the Journal article, “He attempted multiple times to end the discussion as quickly as possible.” That caused him to flub his response, and two days later he called back to correct his testimony.
I don’t know any more about this than anyone else, but McCabe’s defense sounds sort of sketchy. That said, this whole thing is over the most trivial and common kind of leak imaginable: a senior official defending himself and the bureau—truthfully—against a newspaper article that was objectively incorrect.¹ The information McCabe leaked was intended to defend both himself and the integrity of the FBI, and it was literally no more than a sentence or two that was completely harmless. The biggest charge is that McCabe’s leak effectively confirmed that the FBI was investigating the Clinton Foundation, but was anyone really in any doubt about that anyway?
I dunno. The inspector general didn’t believe McCabe’s story and concluded that he had “lacked candor.” Maybe that’s a firing offense no matter what the issue is and no matter who does it. But it sure sounds to me like the kind of thing that wouldn’t normally get a guy fired 26 hours before his retirement unless the president of the United States was gunning for him. Obviously Trump was, and he issued his usual unhinged gloating over the downfall of an enemy after the inspector general’s report was released:
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 13, 2018
¹And not just incorrect: it was part of a coordinated campaign of character assassination from a presidential campaign.