Columnist for National Review Andrew McCarthy spoke with Chris Buskirk and Seth Leibsohn about unpeeling all the layers of the ongoing story of the level of involvement of the Obama Administration in surveillance over former candidate and now President Donald Trump’s phone. They all discussed the Steele dossier, Nunes Memo, Grassley memo, and there is even a Gerald Ford joke worked into the mix. Listen to the podcast and read the transcript only at American Greatness.
Chris Buskirk: I am Chris Buskirk. He is Seth Leibsohn. Welcome back to The Seth and Chris Show. We’re joined by Andrew C. McCarthy. He is a columnist at National Review. He is a former federal prosecutor and he is the beneficiary of what I like to call the Andrew C. McCarthy Full Employment Act, which was one of the outgrowths of the Obama campaign and the Clinton campaign for President.
Andy, they’re never going to let you sleep as you unpeel the onion of the story of corruption during the final year of the Obama Administration, are they?
Andrew McCarthy: Boy, Chris, I will tell you, I have never, I’ve never seen a story like this that absolutely does not have a news cycle, maybe. I was a prosecutor still during the days of the Clinton, Lewinsky scandal, so maybe there was a story that maybe had a rhythm like this for a time but I’ve never seen anything quite like this. It’s amazing.
Chris Buskirk: Andy, before we get down to the entrée here, one of the appetizers is a bone that Seth would like to pick with you.
Seth Leibsohn: A resentment I’d like to process if you will. It was said that—
Andrew McCarthy: Oh my.
Seth Leibsohn: Yeah. No, it’s got to be done.
Chris Buskirk: I know. It’s not even Festivus and he’s still processing resentments.
Seth Leibsohn: No, it’s got to be done. It was said when Gerald Ford retired and moved to Palm Springs, he was moving to where the real power was because that’s where Frank Sinatra lived. That’s why I hang out with Chris Buskirk because every time I invite you on Andy it’s, “Oh, hockey game this, baseball game that.” Then Buskirk calls you and in a trice, “Yeah, I’m all good.”
Andrew McCarthy: He waited until the hockey season.
Seth Leibsohn: He understands the seasons go round and round. Okay. All right. Joni Mitchell ethics. Okay.
Andrew McCarthy: I will qualify, Seth, that my wife says hockey is the only sport with a 13-month season.
Seth Leibsohn: With a 17-month season.
Andrew McCarthy: The hockey season did end last week, so—
Seth Leibsohn: Hopefully you liked my Gerald Ford joke.
Andrew McCarthy: I did. Haha.
Seth Leibsohn: Yeah. You’re not getting that from Buskirk so consider it next time okay?
Andrew McCarthy: No, no, no, no.
Chris Buskirk: No, Seth is the specialist. He does all of the Gerald Ford material on the show.
Andrew McCarthy: He should send ’em to Chevy Chase.
Seth Leibsohn: Yeah.
Chris Buskirk: He’s kind of like a spot-up shooter in basketball. Like we bring him in for very particular plays for very particular situations but that’s it, the rest of the time-
Seth Leibsohn: It’s my understanding that there would be no math—
Chris Buskirk: Yeah, right.
Andrew McCarthy: Instant offense.
Chris Buskirk: Exactly. Instant offense.
Seth Leibsohn: That’s what I take.
Chris Buskirk: Andy, you—
Seth Leibsohn: There it is, there it is, yeah. Okay.
Chris Buskirk: Andy, I’m not sure if I’m even up to date. The last thing that I read that you wrote on this subject is the piece from, I guess, Saturday. “Grassley-Graham memo affirms Nunes memo, media yawns.”
Andrew McCarthy: Yes, well—
Chris Buskirk: Am I up to speed? Am I up to date with your stuff?
Andrew McCarthy: Well, no. I actually wrote a column today about the forlorn Schiff memo, which I proposed a procedure whereby we might be able to get that out without … which would probably disappoint Congressman Schiff because I think he doesn’t really want the memo out, he wants to have the claim that it’s being suppressed.
I suggested a process by which we could do that but I do think that’s not nearly as important, Chris, as the Grassley-Graham memo, which really does in every important particular corroborate the Nunes memo. And I think takes off the table for all the time the two things that we’ve mainly been concerned about over the last several months, which is did they that is the Obama Administration, through the Justice Department and the FBI, present the FISA court with the Steele Dossier to get a warrant on a member of the Trump campaign?
Secondly, did they tell the FISA Court that the Steele Dossier was a product of the Hillary Clinton campaign? It turns out they did indeed use it and they did not disclose. Those are the two main important things. The Grassley memo makes clear that Nunes got those right.
Chris Buskirk: It wasn’t just once, right? You have to renew a FISA warrant every 90 days, so somebody’s signing off on this more than once in the whole cycle of things.
Andrew McCarthy: Yeah, that’s correct. They got the original one week we think, in fact, we’re sure about this now because of the information’s that’s come out. They got that one in, I think, it was October 21st of 2016 and then they got renewals in January, April and June.
Chris Buskirk: Right, so I think, what is the count? I think Comey signed off three times, Rosenstein once, Yates once.
Andrew McCarthy: Well, Comey at the FBI, because you have to get the head of the FBI and the Deputy Attorney General have to sign off.
Chris Buskirk: Right.
Andrew McCarthy: Comey, so the FBI the first three times. McCabe the last time. At the Justice Department, it was Yates twice, Dana Boente, who was the Acting Deputy before Rosenstein was confirmed, and then Rosenstein, the final one. I would point out a couple of things about this first because I think that there are points here that are being missed that are very important.
The first is that when you go up on somebody’s phone or on their communication devices, and I said “go up on them,” I mean if you’re the government, you start a surveillance on them, you not only get the forward going communication, you get whatever is in stored email and text.
Chris Buskirk: Oh, interesting.
Andrew McCarthy: That’s what you expect the people are setting up. Yeah, so I think this is an important point because what they were really expecting, I think, with the first warrant was to get a mother load of Page Trump campaign communication. They’re now making a big deal in the media saying, “Well, look, they waited until Page was no longer formally connected to the Trump campaign because they were very concerned. They didn’t want to do surveillance on someone who was officially attached to a campaign.
In fact, what they were doing was they got somebody who had just walked out the door of the Trump campaign or had the door closed behind him inside the Trump campaign. The important thing was whatever was in his stored emails and texts were from when he was in the Trump campaign, and I think that’s what they were going for.
The second thing I want to point out is that people say, “Well, after the first warrant, they relied on whatever the surveillance was yielding, and the Steele Dossier wasn’t important anymore.” The response to that is, “Then why did you leave it in the application?”
Because when a judge looks at the next application, he doesn’t just look at the new parts. Everyone is considered anew, and if they were withdrawing the Steele Dossier, because they hadn’t been able to corroborate it, which is true, they hadn’t, they had been trying but they hadn’t. They never let the Court in on that.
Chris Buskirk: Andy, this seems to me, when it comes time for these folks to defend themselves, whether it be Comey or Strzok or Page or Yates or Rosenstein, everybody’s going, these things always seem to boil down to a choice between one of two defenses. One is incompetence or sloppiness, and the other one is corruption. The Clintons have sort of mastered this dichotomy. They’ll say, “Mistakes were made. Oops, clerical error.”
Andrew McCarthy: Right.
Chris Buskirk: Do you kind of see that becoming the two choices, broadly speaking, for a defense of this action?
Andrew McCarthy: I think, Chris, a lot of people are not going to buy this, and certainly not buy it as far as it goes. I think their main defense is going to be good faith, and this is the way they’re going to try to make it fly. They believe the Steele Dossier, and that may seem crazy to us now looking at it nearly two years later when we know everything we know, including the fact that they were never able to corroborate it.
In real time back then, I think if you think about what was going on, they thought, number one, that Steele had a lot of credibility because he had helped them with a big prior case, their FIFA Soccer prosecution, which was the Obama Administration’s biggest racketeering case, so he came to them with a lot of credibility.
I think these texts that we’ve seen make clear that at the upper echelons of the Bureau and the Justice Department, they did not think that Trump was fit to be President, so I think they were very much prepared to believe the worst of him. And when somebody who they regarded as having credibility like Steele brought them the worst, they were inclined to believe it.
Chris Buskirk: Basically, that sounds to me if their plea is good faith, their plea is really corruption and incompetence because they could not corroborate.
Andrew McCarthy: Yeah, well it’s indicative—
Chris Buskirk: Sorry, go ahead.
Andrew McCarthy: Well, I was just going to say they’ll say that it was urgent because there was this big, apparently, there’s this big Trump, Kremlin conspiracy.
Chris Buskirk: Hmm, well that’s leave that there. You hear the music. We’re going to go to a quick break. Andrew McCarthy is my guest. We’ll be right back. I want to delve a little further on this, Andy, because some of those claims, well, all of the claims really in the Steele Dossier, they’re just not credible, they’re tough to swallow at any time, I think. Anyway, I’d like to get your opinion on that. We’ll be right back with more of The Seth and Chris Show.
I am Chris Buskirk. He is Seth Leibsohn. Welcome back to The Seth and Chris Show. Can I start that over? Maybe I should get Hooked on Phonics as a sponsor. Welcome back to The Seth and Chris Show, where we are joined by Andy McCarthy. Ah, okay, I got that going.
Andy, the Steele Dossier, if their plea is that it was good faith and that people look at what’s in the Steele dossier as everybody who’s interested in it has, I just don’t see how that holds any water but do you think that’s the best they’ve got?
Andrew McCarthy: Well, I do think it’s the best they’ve got. I’m not suggesting that it would hold up.
Chris Buskirk: Right.
Andrew McCarthy: What I’m saying is that you gave me the possibilities of are they incompetent or are they corrupt and I don’t think that’s what they’re going to run with. I think also, the other thing, there’s a couple of overlays here, Chris, that I think are important to consider. That is, the other things that were going through their minds at the time are number one, “Hillary Clinton is certainly going to win.”
Take that and combine it with the fact that unlike the Hillary Clinton investigation that we spent so much time talking about at the earlier part of 2016, this investigation, this Trump, Russia angle was a counterintelligence investigation, which means everything is top secret.
In a sense, I think they probably at the beginning not only had a sense of urgency because of the nature of what Steele was arguing, the fact that they thought that Trump was unfit, the fact that they thought that Steele had credibility. But I think in a sense they also thought they were playing with the house money because no matter what they did it was never going to be revealed. It was always going to be under this black cloud of classified information, and Mrs. Clinton was going to win anyway, so nobody was ever going to press them on it.
Chris Buskirk: Right. They figured she’d win, and maybe they could earn some brownie points on the way by doing her a favor.
Andrew McCarthy: Yeah, but for certain, to the extent that they stonewalled Congress, if Congress ever was of the mind to look into this, it would have been like the Obama Administration and like Fast and Furious all over again. They would have just had the backing of the White House if they stonewalled Congress.
Chris Buskirk: This all sounds like a this basically sounds like the worst fears people have of the deep state, right? They kind of run according to their own lights, that they don’t feel like they have any obligation other than to themselves and to their cronies and other branches of the permanent political class.
Andrew McCarthy: I think that’s true. I also thought that Angelo Codevilla had a very interesting piece in American Greatness as you know, of course, about FISA in general.
Chris Buskirk: That’s right, yeah.
Andrew McCarthy: I think I have not been a FISA fan over the years. My FISA battles go back to the ’90s when I was a prosecutor. I’ve always thought it was dubious, unconstitutional and bad policy but one of the things that Angelo points out, which is really worth reexamining, because it’s been a big problem about FISA from the beginning, is that in the old days when we used to do this by the way the Constitution prescribes, this was done by the political branches.
The Executive branch, if it decided to do a surveillance like this, it had to be accountable. It had to like step up and say, “We decided to do this. We decided this was okay,” and Congress was there to keep an eye on it to make sure that they played according to the rules and that they got caught if they didn’t as happened for example in the Watergate stuff.
I think there’s a good argument that by intruding a judicial role here, it kind of makes them bulletproof in a way because they could come back at you and say, “No matter how corrupt you think we were, no matter how incompetent, the fact is we went to a federal judge four different times. The federal judge read what we gave him and signed off on this.”
They have the defense that they told the Court what they were doing and got a warrant. Now I know that we’re going to make all the claims that they held out important details from the Court, but the fact of the matter is that that judicial warrant is something of an insurance policy for them.
Chris Buskirk: Yeah, Angela Codevilla, he makes a great case, he was a Senate staffer on the committee that wrote FISA originally, and so he says in the piece, I read it on the show last week, Andy. He says he argued against FISA at the time. He thinks it is ripe for abuse, that it sets up all the incentive that you describe here, which is basically to give the FBI and other agencies the power to do just what you said, which is to do whatever they want and then to hold up a piece of paper and say, “It’s not us. We followed the procedure.”
Andrew McCarthy: Yep, yeah. Because, Chris, also they take the position that if the FISA Court turns down a warrant, that that’s just an advisory opinion. They can go on ahead and do it anyway because it’s an Executive responsibility, and what the Judiciary, in the end, is really doing is giving them an advisory opinion that in an exigent case, they don’t have to pay attention to. What it is basically is when the judge issues a warrant, it’s an insurance policy for them, but if they don’t like what they hear from the judge, they reserve the right to ignore it.
Chris Buskirk: Andy, how far do you think that this thing goes? Michael Goodwin in the New York Post this morning, he had a column saying, “It’s all about peeling the onion.” You just keep getting layer after layer after layer. Where do you think we go from here?
Andrew McCarthy: Yeah, one thing I try to be careful with, Chris, is I don’t get too far out in front of what we have. Number one because what we have is so unbelievable, it’s hard to assimilate at times. Also, because to the extent that any of this critique has been valuable to people because I happen to have some experience with this that others don’t, I think it’s been because I’ve tried not to be wild and crazy and speculate on …
I think it’s just as crazy to say that you know where this is headed as it was for the left to say, “Yeah, we’re going to impeach Trump on all this.” Where we now see that that’s not heading in a trajectory toward impeachment at all. I think it was always foolish to think that it would. I’ve been trying to keep up with where we are and I do have a little bit of an ability to look over the horizon just because of my professional background with it, but where it’s ultimately going to take us, I don’t know.
I think anybody who told you they did know you should be very suspicious about that because so much of this is classified and so much of it we don’t know, and there have been so many crazy twists and turns that I just don’t think it’s a predictable situation right now.
Chris Buskirk: Do you have a sense for the politics of it? In other words, we see Trump basically at his highest approval rating right now. Do you have a sense that maybe this actually helps him?
Andrew McCarthy: Yeah, well I think that ultimately, I think people are going to say to the extent that there was collusion, it was the manner in which the Obama Administration put the intelligence and law enforcement arm of government in the service of a political campaign, not the way that the Trump campaign supposedly colluded with Russia.
Chris Buskirk: I always say on the show, I always say if you want to know what the Left is actually doing, just look at what they’re accusing conservatives of doing. That’s probably a good look into their playbook, and that sure seems to be the case here.
Andrew McCarthy: If they’re moving their lips, they’re projecting.
Chris Buskirk: Exactly right. Andy McCarthy’s been my guest. Andy, thanks so much for coming on, I appreciate it.
Andrew McCarthy: Thanks, guys.