In early 2017, as the shocking story of how the Obama Administration weaponized the world’s most powerful agencies against Donald Trump began to unfold, very few journalists were willing to confront that scandal amid the cacophony of Trump-Russia collusion. Andrew McCarthy was one of them.
From the pages of National Review to the set of Fox News, McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, explained complex legal procedures in layman’s terms. Americans unfamiliar with FBI counterintelligence probes or the workings of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court or Special Counsel rules were educated by McCarthy in a way that made it easy for the non-lawyer to grasp. McCarthy, a humble, humorous, and gracious man by nature, offered his expertise without the self-gratifying puffery ingrained in so many prosecutors. (Think James Comey.)
His new book, Ball of Collusion: The Plot to Rig an Election and Destroy a Presidency, includes and expands on this crucial work. In careful detail, McCarthy deconstructs the Trump-Russia collusion ruse; the wind-up of Crossfire Hurricane, the unprecedented investigation into a U.S. presidential campaign; and the ramifications of one of the biggest political scandals in American history. In addition to his knowledge and insight, McCarthy knows many of the players involved personally, including former FBI Director James Comey, former Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s attorney.
Further, McCarthy is no fawning booster of the president so his coverage of the scandal was not in the service of protecting Trump, his family, or his presidency. In fact, McCarthy contributed to the infamous “Against Trump” issue published by National Review in February 2016. “The threat against us has metastasized in our eighth year under a president who quite consciously appeases the enemy,” McCarthy wrote. “But the remedy is not a president oblivious of the enemy.”
The ball of collusion, as McCarthy describes at the end of his 456-page book, is “counterintelligence as a pretext for criminal investigation in search of a crime; a criminal investigation as a pretext for impeachment without an impeachable offense; an impeachment inquiry as a pretext for barring Donald Trump from reelection; and all of it designed as a straightjacket around his presidency.” (Don’t let the number of pages scare you out of reading it; the author’s writing takes up about 350 pages.)
The book’s 18 chapters cover a range of central and corollary subjects. The biggest takeaway is how this entire scandal fused the competing interests of the nation’s biggest egos—some of whom clearly suffer from narcissistic personality disorder. This list includes the president, former president Obama, Comey, Mueller, former CIA director John Brennan, former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe, and the collective Messiah complex of the Washington bureaucratic establishment and the national news media. McCarthy exposes the “small world” of partisan operatives, sycophants, apparatchiks, and deep pockets that populate the Acela Corridor and fuel the day-to-day turbulence of the American political climate.
For the last three years, Americans have been tormented by a dangerous power struggle waged by this claque of political actors who will use any means necessary in order to prevail. It is a black mark in history that will fascinate future historians; those historians undoubtedly will draw heavily from McCarthy’s book as a comprehensive account of what happened between 2016 and 2019, when Robert Mueller finally had to admit there was no evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin to influence the stunning outcome of the 2016 presidential election. As someone who has covered this scandal closely, I learned important new information from McCarthy about the timeline and the culprits involved.
McCarthy offers crucial background about the financial and political ties between Russia and the Clintons—yet somehow Hillary Clinton’s troubling past related to Russia did not provoke any FBI investigation. “Candidate Clinton and her husband had disturbing Russia ties, too,” McCarthy explained in the book’s introduction. “The Clinton campaign had not just Russia contacts; it had Bill Clinton meeting with Putin and taking a huge payment while Russia had important business before the State Department run by his wife,” McCarthy outlines in chapter 10. “It had Russian money pouring into the Clinton Foundation; its chairman, John Podesta, sat on the board of . . . a company into which Putin’s venture capital firm invested $35 million.”
But Carter Page gave a speech in Moscow.
A Multi-Pronged Plot
McCarthy provides an in-depth analysis of Washington’s unsettling relationship with Russia and Ukraine. Chapter four is a must-read: McCarthy explains how the Obama Administration manipulated intelligence for political purposes—yet another egregious example of how the Obama White House got away with bad behavior while their lapdogs in the media either ignored it or covered it up.
“No administration in American history was more practiced in the dark arts of politicizing intelligence than President Obama’s,” McCarthy writes. “Examples are legion.” This unchecked malfeasance led to the creation of the fabricated collusion ruse and the empowerment of ego-maniacs such as Brennan and Comey.
The next several chapters delve into the multi-pronged plot to sabotage the Trump campaign and derail Trump’s presidency. McCarthy confirms that—contrary to dubious claims by the New York Times and faithfully regurgitated by Trump foes—the FBI investigation was not initiated by an alleged drunken conversation between Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos and an Australian diplomat in the spring of 2016.
That ruse—which McCarthy calls an “unlikely story”—was an attempt to camouflage the way the dossier compiled by British political operative Christopher Steele, who was working on behalf of the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee, supplied the probable cause to launch Crossfire Hurricane, the official name of the counterintelligence probe into four Trump associates, three of whom are named in the dossier. (A document filled with still-unproven accusations.)
“Steele’s project was not intelligence-gathering,” McCarthy explains. “It was the crafting of a campaign narrative about a traitorous Trump-Russia espionage conspiracy. That’s why Steele and [Fusion GPS chief Glenn] Simpson peddled the information to the media at the same time Steele was feeding it to the FBI and the Justice Department. The Clinton campaign’s Steele dossier was the sheer political spinning of rank rumor.”
“This Should Never Happen”
McCarthy profiles the various spies deployed to infiltrate and monitor the Trump campaign, easily debunking another faux media narrative that the Obama Administration didn’t spy on Trump.
“The indignant anger over questions about the Crossfire Hurricane undercover operations . . . is misplaced,” he writes in Chapter 12.
The book’s chapter on the FISA warrant against Carter Page offers a crucial primer in advance of the anticipated report by Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department’s Inspector General, on how Comey’s FBI manipulated the secret court to get an order to spy on Page for a year. McCarthy admits his own miscalculation about how FISA might be abused after procedures were loosened following the 9/11 terror attacks.
“Back then, it seemed ridiculous to believe the FBI and the Justice Department would resort to FISA pretextually,” he concedes. “I was wrong. What I didn’t factor in was the possibility that, for political reasons, the upper ranks of the FBI and the Justice Department might decide to do an investigation by themselves. This should never happen.”
But in Trump’s case, of course, it did.
Comey’s “weasel moves” (that he insists he didn’t make but did repeatedly make when it came to Donald Trump) led to his ouster in May 2017. McCarthy is critical of the president’s handling of Comey’s firing, an assessment which is up for dispute. I strongly disagree that Comey was undeserving of his humiliating public dismissal because he “had served the United States well in many capacities over many years.” Comey will be—and should be—remembered for how he defiled the world’s most powerful law enforcement agency to gratify Barack Obama’s contempt for Donald Trump and the Republican Party. The inspector general recommended three criminal charges against Comey in his latest report; it’s very likely Comey will be implicated in more abuses as investigations into his conduct continue. But McCarthy does give an otherwise fair description of one of the most bitter president-FBI director relationships of all time.
The final chapter pores over the stretch of time between Comey’s firing and the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which Comey successfully prompted by leaking one of his memos documenting a private conversation with Trump to the New York Times.
“The collusion narrative had served its purpose,” McCarthy concludes. “The collusion narrative, seeded by the Obama administration, tilted by intelligence leaks and tended by constant media care accomplished its objectives. A special counsel . . . was imposed, despite the absence of criminal predicate, to monitor the Trump presidency.”
The Scandal Is Far from Over
If there is any criticism of McCarthy’s book, it is that he gives short shrift to the insidious role played by the anti-Trump news media. While McCarthy offers some examples of how news organizations such as the Times, CNN and the Washington Post eagerly reported classified information to fuel the collusion plotline, the destructive conduct of the media—including reporters, columnists, editors, cable news hosts, and various contributors on both sides of the Trump-hating political aisle—warranted more coverage. For example, MSNBC, which served as a nonstop organ of the collusion deception, only received three mentions in the book.
To his credit, however, McCarthy generously commends other journalists such as The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway, Tablet Magazine’s Lee Smith, the Daily Caller’s Chuck Ross, and the Wall Street Journal’s Kim Strassel for their invaluable reporting on the scandal.
Even though the Mueller investigation is complete, this scandal is far from over. The public impatiently awaits the results of pending inspector general reports; criminal inquiries into McCabe and former FBI General Counsel James Baker; and an expansive investigation launched by Attorney General William Barr into what the Obama Administration did in 2016 and 2017 to try to destroy Donald Trump.
My guess is that McCarthy will have a chance to write a follow-up to this exceptional book.