Editorial: The McCabe Firing Is Not About Everything

Andrew McCabe, the former deputy director of the FBI, was fired on Friday by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions had received a report from the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General following a probe into McCabe’s conduct while he served in the FBI. McCabe, who took over as acting FBI director after the dismissal of James Comey, stepped down as this investigation process began in January 2018.

McCabe stood accused of improper dealings with the media on the issue of the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. The OIG investigation found that McCabe “made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor—including under oath—on multiple occasions.”

The OIG report hasn’t been made public. That will need to happen if DOJ wishes to dispel accusations of partisanship in McCabe’s firing, but it’s hard to believe that the inspector general’s conclusion is based on nothing. Ordinarily the investigation and recommendation procedure is held in high regard; both the OIG and DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility have served as two checks on politicization and improper conduct at the FBI.

Why is this time different? The answer: .

McCabe was named acting FBI director in May 2017, after President Trump fired James Comey over frustrations with the FBI’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Trump soon began to needle Comey’s replacement, suggesting that McCabe was incapable of impartiality. On July 25, 2017, Trump tweeted about McCabe, “the acting head of the FBI & the person in charge of the Hillary investigation, Andrew McCabe, got $700,000 from H for wife!” Then on December 23, 2017, after the Washington Post reported that McCabe planned to retire in March once eligible for his full pension, the president tweeted of him scornfully: “How can FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, the man in charge, along with leakin’ James Comey, of the Phony Hillary Clinton investigation (including her 33,000 illegally deleted emails) be given $700,000 for wife’s campaign by Clinton Puppets during investigation?”

To clarify: Jill McCabe had run as a Democrat for the Virginia state senate in 2015 (she lost), and some of her donors were associated with Hillary Clinton. Perhaps that’s a legitimate reason for the president not to appoint McCabe to the top job at the FBI, but it’s hardly a reason to impugn the man’s honor. It violates no ethical rule for one’s spouse to run for office or to accept campaign donations from people who have supported Hillary Clinton. (And while we’re sympathetic to the claim that contributing to Hillary Clinton demonstrates bad judgment, it’s a charge Trump—who donated to Clinton in 2002, 2005, 2006, and 2007 and gave $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation—might want to avoid making.) If Andrew McCabe supported his wife’s candidacy in his capacity as an FBI official, that would be grounds for punishment or dismissal, but as far as we are aware, he hasn’t done anything of the kind.

Another charge leveled by the president against McCabe, again on Twitter, has to do with the Mueller investigation. McCabe has indicated his willingness to corroborate Comey’s testimony on obstruction of justice charges against the president. In December McCabe testified before the House Intelligence Committee (in private hearings) that he was cooperating with the Mueller investigation. This past Saturday, McCabe said he had been keeping memos of his interactions with Trump and planned to share those memos with Mueller.

To Trump, deputy director McCabe was scheming behind the president’s back by cooperating with an investigation he thinks “should never have been started,” something that’s “phony.”

But the investigation was started—launched by a top Department of Justice official who’d been appointed by Trump himself. Of course McCabe, one of the nation’s highest-ranking law enforcement officials, is cooperating with the investigation.

What’s truly appalling here is the president’s childlike inability to keep his mouth shut—or his Twitter idle. McCabe was fired, and the OIG report, once it’s made public, seems likely to justify that firing. But the focus won’t be on McCabe and the reasons for his dismissal. By tweeting attacks on the Mueller investigation, McCabe, and the FBI itself, Trump has ensured that the story will instead be the degree to which the president sounds panicked and defensive about the Mueller investigation. For people otherwise convinced that McCabe should have been fired, in other words, Trump’s obsessive tweeting suggests that he has something to hide—even if he doesn’t.

McCabe’s firing may have had nothing to do with anything but his own conduct. We don’t know yet. But if McCabe is guilty of an “unauthorized disclosure to the news media” and a “lack of candor,” Trump’s self-incriminating tweets put us in mind of that famous quip usually attributed to Talleyrand: “It’s worse than a crime; it’s a blunder.”

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