As if on cue, the Democratic Party’s kept media launched into spinning last week’s firing of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe as a craven political move by the Trump Administration, and an assault on the “independence” of the Bureau as a whole.
Candice Will, named by Mueller to head the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility in 2004, runs an office of career lawyers whose job it is to ensure Bureau employees abide by FBI rules and regulations. Think of them as the office of internal experts about the FBI playbook. These people are the antithesis of partisans. Their track record is not usually one of recommending that people be fired, but rather disciplinary actions that are more on par, typically, with slaps on the wrist.
Lost amid the media-manufactured outrage is the fact that the OPR recommended Andrew McCabe be fired based on the initial findings of an investigation by Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz. President Trump recently expressed his dismay that Horowitz is an Obama appointee. Turns out, Horowitz’s internal investigation, and the OPR’s follow-up inquiry, are the whole basis for McCabe’s firing. Attorney General Jeff Sessions merely had to agree with the findings and recommendations of career FBI lawyers that McCabe should be terminated.
Knowing that, McCabe’s firing looks less like “assault on the FBI” and much more like an attempt by career personnel to protect and rehabilitate the Bureau’s image and integrity.
But if the “assault” metaphor is still appealing, maybe it’s better to say the OPR’s actions were an assault on the destructive behavior of senior FBI management in defense of the institution. You cannot have a deputy director displaying “lack of candor”—a polite way of saying “lying to investigators”—and not see that as damaging to the FBI’s upright culture. If the deputy director can lie to investigators with impunity about leaking to the press, it sets a dangerous precedent for the future of our nation’s top law-enforcement agency.
In fact, Andrew McCabe is a product of an environment fostered by former FBI Director James Comey. In Comey’s world, it was fine to tell the President-elect Donald Trump that he was not under investigation, while his agents—including, perhaps, McCabe—were leaking to reporters that an investigation was underway. In Comey’s world, you jumpstart an independent counsel investigation, not with evidence or through the processes set down by the Justice Department, but by sending hearsay memos to a buddy to leak to the press and helping spark public outrage that triggers an open-ended probe.
If only these men had shown the “courage” of their convictions under the previous administration. Perhaps the “Fast and Furious” investigation might have had a different outcome? Maybe the Bureau would have conducted a real review of the airport tarmac meeting between Comey’s boss, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and former President Bill Clinton? Maybe the American public would know more about the alleged bribery scandal involving Russians attempting to infiltrate the U.S. uranium industry? Or perhaps Comey might have written memos about his discomfort over being pressured to re-write memoranda concerning Hillary Clinton’s illegal email server? Or perhaps Comey or McCabe might have gone to the FISA court to admit their efforts were based on political dirty tricks, not sound intelligence gathering?
None of that occurred, of course, which is why Comey and McCabe sound so self-serving and a growing swath of the public now looks at the FBI with doubt and suspicion figuring that maybe, just maybe, the fix is in.
If the McCabe firing is any indication, the Justice Department inspector general’s report is likely to reveal an FBI broken at the top, with senior leadership viewing themselves above the rules, rationalizing—through a warped sense of ethics—behavior that would lead to the firing and possible prosecution of any rank and file FBI agent.
Let’s hope the inspector general’s report also sheds more light on the behavior of the FBI’s senior lawyers like James Baker, who signed off on FISA applications that were based heavily on the Steele Dossier, a violation of the Woods Procedures and a deeply troubling precedent of using partisan propaganda to secure secret surveillance on an American citizen on U.S. soil.
If we are to retain faith and trust in our institutions, especially those in charge of helping maintain law and order in this country, then Americans need to know the Justice Department and the FBI are, in fact, trustworthy. Knowing what we do about the behavior of McCabe, Comey, and their colleagues Peter Strozk and Lisa Page, honesty and ethics haven’t been a priority. Restoring the people’s trust is going to take a very long time.
Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images