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REVIEW: ‘The Threat’ offers a nuanced look at the always-complex challenges of trying to enforce law and order

Andrew McCabe has spent his life on the front lines and appreciates the stakes in a way most of us can’t. His passion is matched by his sense of urgency. It says something when some of the toughest folks in the land—FBI officials, former CIA officials—are frightened.

The Threat
Andrew G. McCabe
St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
Copyright © 2019 $29.99  288 pages

With Twitter, Facebook and instantaneous news, the easiest thing in the world is to trash someone, to impugn their motives, criticize what they’ve said or done. The judgment rendered is out there, multiplying like a cancer cell.

Millions of Americans know Andrew McCabe mainly because Donald Trump’s idea of Andrew McCabe propagates larger than life. To so many Trumpists, he’s just another Deep State traitor determined to undo the people’s choice for president—husband to Jill, who took money from “lock-her-up Hillary” to run for office, all while her FBI husband was “supposedly” investigating the Clinton email scandal. Talk about traitorous.

In reality, from February 2016 to January 2018, Andrew G. McCabe served as deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, replacing Jim Comey. Like his predecessor, he earned the wrath of our president, who didn’t appreciate that the FBI was deeply disturbed by and was investigating his campaign’s ties to Russia.

Somehow in our upside-down world, millions of Americans believe a bone-spur president who never held a real job and was given a $200,000 allowance at the age of 3 rather than war heroes and hard-working lifelong law enforcement officials.

The real Andrew McCabe worked his way up the ranks investigating and preventing organized crime. He began in New York, stopping gangsters who had emigrated from Russia to extort and blackmail local merchants. Promoted because of his good work, McCabe participated in and then led efforts to stop critical terrorist attacks. He played vital roles in the London airline bomb plot, the Underwear Bomber case, the Boston Marathon terror attack. In any world other than Trumpovia, he’d be regarded as a hero, repeatedly thanked for the lives saved, for the countless hours, days, and years he worked for the American people. Instead, he and his wife have been vilified in the public square by a man so less brave, so less dedicated to true public service.

“The Threat” offers the reader a chance to learn about the real Andrew McCabe. “The Threat” offers a detailed and balanced look at what life is like at the FBI. It’s an unvarnished portrait, for McCabe has learned along the way the critical value of owning up, acknowledging mistakes—partly because they are unavoidable when it comes to gathering intelligence and trying to stop crime, and partly because hiding and lying about mistakes always seem to backfire.

McCabe is acutely aware of the stakes involved, both personally, as he tries to rescue his reputation, and politically, because the agency he dedicated his life to is under constant attack. The ironies are often overwhelming. This supposedly Republican administration cozies up to despots like Vladimir Putin, countenances Kim’s torture of an American student in North Korea, then pampers the Saudi despot who ordered the dismemberment of a distinguished Washington Post journalist, all the while ignoring at best and humiliating at worst our law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

But Andrew McCabe has spent his life on the front lines and appreciates the stakes in a way most of us can’t. His passion is matched by his sense of urgency. It says something when some of the toughest folks in the land—FBI officials, former CIA officials—are frightened. And quite honestly, I didn’t quite appreciate why McCabe called his book “The Threat” until I had heard his story.

Andrew McCabe, left, and Rod Rosenstein. Photo: Melina Mara/Washington Post via Getty Images

There is so much that is important, fascinating and illuminating in “The Threat.” McCabe is a talented storyteller, always willing to acknowledge the gray between the black and white. He teaches, entertains and brings the people he works with, meets, even confronts, to life. His portraits of Rod Rosenstein, President Trump and Attorney General Sessions, for example, are fascinating.

Most importantly, “The Threat” is motivated by McCabe’s deep concern that “the rule of law is under attack … Organized criminal networks from other countries target the United States. Hackers steal our data, violate our privacy, and undermine our institutions. Terrorists target the innocent. Dirty money corrupts business and politics. Our own government officials use the power of public office to undermine legal authority and to denigrate law enforcement …

Let me state the proposition openly: The work of the FBI is being undermined by the current president. He and his partisan supporters have become corrosive to the organization … he has called Jim Comey ‘a terrible and corrupt leader’; he has called the investigation of Russian interference in the elections and possible ties with his campaign ‘perhaps the most tainted and corrupt case EVER!’” (Emphasis added.)

Each of us has to decide whether to believe or dismiss those who tell us stories. Like jury duty, you look, you listen, you make judgments as you decide who or what to believe. The more I read, the more I came to believe and appreciate Andrew McCabe.

Quite frankly, he surprised me—for while the experiences he shares are often deadly serious, McCabe has a disarming sense of humor, a refreshing willingness to poke fun at himself. He creates an imaginary FBI FD-302 form, a glimpse at what his FBI application might have looked like. He imagines his parents tell investigating agents that while “they believe he is financially responsible and has not engaged in any conduct that would make him vulnerable to influence or extortion,” they nonetheless “were surprised by McCABE’s decision to become an FBI agent and do not understand why he would leave his law practice.”

To save critics time, McCabe admits as a freshman at Duke “he was placed on social probation after being caught in possession of alcohol as a minor.” That “in his junior year, McCABE was arrested by the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control for purchasing alcohol as a minor while possessing false identification. The charges were dropped and later expunged after McCabe performed 40 hours of community service.” That while “in 1993, McCabe received his J.D. from Washington University School of Law” nevertheless “several professors … described McCabe as an average student.”

Having managed to prove his worth to the FBI, he jumps ahead many years to offer his take on recent events—his boss, Jim Comey, was in LA; McCabe, acting director, was in a meeting when his secretary told him Attorney General Sessions wanted to talk to him: “Sessions was standing up, in front of his desk. He wore his suit coat. Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, and his chief of staff, James Crowell, stood there, too, both also wearing suit coats. The three of them looked at me with expressions of wariness or expectancy … For an instant it felt even like suspicion … What the hell was going on? …

“I don’t know if you’ve heard, but we’ve had to fire the director of the FBI. Time stopped for a moment. I should not have been shocked, but I was … I answered the attorney general: No, I had not heard that. He said, So we’re going to need you to be the acting director for some period of time. Yes, sir, I said, I’ll do that … I said, I should probably send out some sort of an announcement to our workforce. Sessions and Rosenstein looked at each other, as if they hadn’t thought of that. Rosenstein said, We don’t want you to put out anything until we hear what the White House has to say … Don’t do anything until you hear from us, and do not say anything about this to anyone, not even to your wife, until we get back to you …

“The people at the meeting I had left were still sitting there … I told them exactly what I had heard … The director’s secretary brought me an envelope for Jim Comey that had been delivered from the White House earlier that day … Inside the envelope was Rod Rosenstein’s three-page memo that purported to explain the cause for Comey’s termination—his alleged mishandling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. The memo came with a letter of transmittal from the attorney general to the president, and the president’s letter to the director, firing him … “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.” I wondered, Why would you put that in there? The answer would become clear as the weeks unfolded. The firing of Jim Comey gave new urgency to the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections … As we were sketching all this out, I got the message that the president wanted to see me at six thirty—in less than half an hour …”

Thus begins a chilling portrait of the bully who is our president: “The president was behind the massive Resolute desk … He stood up and came around to the side. We shook hands. The White House counsel, Don McGahn, was there, and the chief of staff at the time, Reince Priebus, and Vice President Mike Pence. None of them said a word. No one was sitting comfortably in couches or armchairs. A row of little wooden chairs was lined up in front of the president’s desk, and the three men were seated in the chairs like schoolboys who’d been called to the principal’s office. One chair was empty, and I took it.

“The president was sitting on the front edge of his desk chair, leaning forward, with his arms in front of him on the desk. He is tall, and very large, and when he spoke he started to make blunt gestures with his hands—kinetic, coming at you. He started off by telling me, We fired the director, and we want you to be the acting director now. We had to fire him—and people are very happy about it. I think people are very happy that we finally got rid of him. I think there’s a lot of people in the FBI who are glad he’s gone. We had to do it because of all that—you know, the Clinton thing last summer and all his statements and everything, he really mishandled that. He had to go, because of those decisions he made, and for a lot of other reasons … (Emphasis added.)

“The president asked if I knew that Comey had told him three times that he himself was not under investigation. I said I was aware of that … A question was in the air: had I disagreed with Comey’s decisions on the Clinton case—mainly, Comey’s conclusion that Hillary Clinton should not be charged with a crime. I said, No, sir, I didn’t. Jim and I worked together very closely, and I was a part of those decisions.

“The president claimed there had been a rebellion inside the FBI and asked me if it was true that people disliked Director Comey. I replied that some people were frustrated with the outcome of the Clinton investigation last summer, but the general feeling in the FBI about this director seemed positive. He looked at me, with a tilt of the head, an expression of dismay or disagreement, or both. I had not given the answers he expected or wanted. The subtext of everything that he was saying to me, clearly, came down to this: Whose side are you on? … we were not having a conversation. He was not really asking me questions. He was probing me, to find out whether I was on board with him or not. This was my loyalty test …

“It’s a disconcerting experience to attempt a conversation with him because he talks the whole time. He asks questions but then immediately starts to say something else. Almost everything he says he subsequently rephrases two or three times, as if he’s stuck in some holding pattern waiting for an impulse to arrive that kicks off the next thing he wants to say. It all adds up to a bizarre encounter …

“He spent most of this meeting spewing stock phrases he often uses—You’re great, you’re terrific—all of which rang hollow … Then he said, Your only problem is that one mistake you made. That thing with your wife. That one mistake … He said, Yes, that was the only problem with you. You know, I was very hard on you during my campaign. That money, from the Clinton friend—I was very hard, I said a lot of tough things about your wife in the campaign.

The McCabe family. Photo courtesy GoFundMe

“I know, I told him. We heard what you said. My wife is a wonderful, dedicated, brilliant physician, and she decided to enter public life because she felt deeply about trying to help her community. I completely supported that decision at the time, and I support it today. He looked slightly uncomfortable. His tone shifted. Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, he said. She’s great. Everybody I know says she’s great. You were right to support her in that. Everybody tells me she’s a terrific person. Good luck to you, he said at last. He got up and slapped me on the back, and I assured him I would continue to lead the FBI in the best way possible …”

During his recent appearance before the House Oversight Committee, Michael Cohen was asked if he was asked or ordered by Donald Trump to tailor his previous congressional testimony about the Trump Moscow deal. Cohen said: “Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress. That’s not how he operates … In conversations we had during the campaign, at the same time I was actively negotiating in Russia for him, he would look me in the eye and tell me there’s no business in Russia and then go out and lie to the American people by saying the same thing …”

Andrew McCabe got the Michael Cohen treatment: the repeated imposition of a narrative that is patently false, a constant barrage designed to make you agree with him.

McCabe recounts his rigorous training regimen at Quantico, the variety of skills an FBI man/woman must master, like how to conduct an interview, writing a 302, dusting for prints, scouring documents, taking people into custody, etc. “The biggest shift entailed in learning to see the world like an agent is the shift toward altruism. It’s a huge change of mind-set to go from being Joe Private Citizen, where your worries are mainly about yourself—your own safety and happiness and health—to putting all that aside and saying, I’m going to worry about everybody else first … You start to think of your whole life, almost every minute of every day, in terms of readiness … Part of our firearms training was running shoot/don’t-shoot scenarios in a video-training module, to gain practice in making split-second decisions …

And because McCabe graduated from field work to the upper echelons of the agency, he’s able to offer a look at events from both the ground level and a much wider political perspective: “September 11 was the day that made everything look different from how it had looked before. This is true even in a literal way … everything south of Twenty-sixth Street was like a world under martial law … It looked like a winter morning after an eight-inch snowfall. Every surface was white. It looked peaceful. And it was quiet—the dust, like snow, muffled every sound. There were no people walking around, and there was no traffic …

“At another level … federal immigration services stopped all regular processes of deportation—no illegal aliens would be sent out of the country until the FBI cleared them of any connection to the 9/11 attacks. Second, at the same time, immigration enforcement became much more aggressive … Let’s say you were from the Middle East, and your neighbor had called the FBI and said, The person who lives next door comes and goes at odd hours, and he hangs out with other guys with Middle Eastern names, and I think I saw him wearing a turban once … All of a sudden, the U.S. was enforcing immigration laws in a way that it had not done for decades. Many, many people were picked up and thrown into deportation proceedings …

“The Immigration and Naturalization Service, as it was then known, quickly blew through all of its detention space. The INS started signing contracts to house detainees in county jails in New Jersey. The Passaic County Jail, the Orange County Jail—facilities with some hard-core inmates—started to fill up with immigration detainees who had not even been accused of a crime. These detainees were virtually all Middle Eastern. They were virtually all dark skinned. They were not treated with courtesy … guilty of nothing other than violating immigration laws that typically had not been enforced. (Emphasis added.)

McCabe on dealing with terrorism: “Working in counterterrorism means approaching every holiday with an overwhelming sense of dread … The work is grueling, devouring nights and weekends. You operate with zero margin for error. Worse, merely by identifying someone as a threat, you and the FBI take responsibility for that threat. If a terror subject comes on my radar, and I investigate and find nothing, but five years later the suspect launches a deadly attack, it’s on me. Why wasn’t that guy stopped five years ago?”

Rashid Rauf in 2006, arriving for a court appearance in Rawalpindi. Photo courtesy Birmingham Live

Looking for insight into today’s ongoing Mueller investigation, here’s McCabe, now running Operation Overt for FBI Director Mueller. Is there a U.S. connection to a London terror cell? Abdulla Ahmed Ali, discovered by MI5 during their investigation of the attack on the Underground, travelled to Pakistan. There he spent time with Rashid Rauf, learning to build liquid bombs with common chemicals like peroxide, hexamine, citric acid; bombs that could be detonated with AA batteries. Then, back in England, he began experimenting building devices.

McCabe writes: “By now, British investigators had cameras and microphones in the apartment where the experiments took place. Around the country, some twenty other subjects were being tracked. The conversations were sobering. After one young father took a child to play in a park on a weekend, he was overheard struggling openly with the knowledge that when he became a suicide bomber, he would never see his child again. He and his associates were forming a plan to take bombs on flights from London, we believed, to the United States, and then to kill themselves and everyone else on those flights.

“Whether I briefed Mueller face-to-face or by secure videoconference, I always brought a fresh link chart. Pictures, name tags, colored string, pushpins … because charts help us solve problems. Put somebody’s picture on the chart, and you find yourself thinking about that person … The chart was always changing—names appearing and disappearing—and in each meeting I had to talk through every single element that had changed since last time. Mueller would kick back in his chair, sitting up very straight … You could see him thinking, making connections, preparing questions. He might interrupt with a curveball—What happened with that guy who was going to the wedding in Massachusetts next week? —recollecting some little piece of information that I’d given him in the days before. I had to be ready for anything …

“Mueller leans forward only when frustrated … If he leaned forward, looking at the chart, and then smacked the side of his hand against his head—then it was all over … When the hand hits the head, Mueller is not with you. Does not put faith in what you’re saying. Or is just not following. You have not communicated a good position effectively.

“The most memorable thing about briefing Robert Mueller, though, was the questions. Always the questions, welling up from his prosecutorial soul. Cross-examination is one of Mueller’s most basic forms of human interaction, and it’s the vehicle for one of his most basic traits: curiosity. He loved to get down into the details and fire off questions one after another in a firm, clear, resonant, courtroom voice …

“I learned early on that if I didn’t know something, it was infinitely better to say, I don’t know the answer to that, sir, but I will get it for you … Because everyone knew, in Mueller’s FBI, that legitimate questions do not go away … Sometimes it seemed the briefing cycle was more important than the information—were we working the briefing or working the threat? The truth is, they’re inextricably related, and you have to work both …

“While the Brits had been monitoring the network of collaborators in Britain, other intelligence services had been pursuing a vigorous ground operation to locate Rauf in Pakistan. When the Pakistanis nabbed him in the city of Bahawalpur, on or around August 9, it took the Brits by surprise. It took the FBI by surprise, too. Also airport security, everywhere.”

For those wondering if Mueller is almost done or why we haven’t heard from his team lately, McCabe explains how complicated the investigative process is: “Arresting Rauf was like taking a card out of the bottom of a house of cards. At that point, the whole investigation came down. When Rauf was taken into custody, all the suspects in the UK had to be taken into custody, because once they got word of his arrest, they could have rushed their plot forward or taken it underground. The timing of a takedown like this needs to be carefully choreographed. You don’t want to do it suddenly … You have to coordinate arrests and searches—more than twenty arrests, in this case, and more than fifty searches … Overt was a lesson in that basic tension within counterterrorism. Is it time to take this down, or do we need to let it go a little further?”

Some lessons McCabe offers: “The FBI does not have the luxury of assessing whether people are fully capable of doing what they suggest they might do … Constantly thinking, What do we have on this guy? Is he a felon who happens to be in possession of a firearm? Did he lie to Customs and Border Protection last time he entered on his flight from Pakistan? When he’s not in the mosque, is he selling coke on the corner? We’re constantly building into the case a disruption strategy … because flash to bang, the time between inspiration and action, tends to be quicker now. A suspect can be receiving instructions from Syria on his smartphone while he’s shopping at the grocery store—so we may need to take him into custody immediately at any time. In the event that he’s not a serious threat … There will come a time when we see that the guy doesn’t seem to have any true connections—sure, he’s following propaganda, he’s following Twitter feeds, but in reality he’s not talking to anybody overseas … So we will just take the case down—make an arrest if appropriate, or simply close the investigation.”

Najibullah Zazi. Photo courtesy New York Magazine

There’s much to be learned as McCabe talks about the High Rise case in Denver. Najibullah Zazi, the 24-year-old Afghani, was raised in Pakistan then moved to Flushing, Queens. He and his friends trained in Pakistan, then planned to detonate homemade bombs in the New York Subway on Sept. 11, 2009. We learn how McCabe helped to transform the chaos of a highly complicated and possibly deadly emergency into a coordinated and effective investigation. And we experience the art of effective interviewing.

Home from the Zazi case, Mueller asked McCabe to run President Obama’s High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG)—to “professionalize how the government conducted interrogations of high-value terrorist suspects detained overseas.” Mueller explained the job, then asked if McCabe had anything to say: “Sir, I’ll do whatever you want me to do. But if you’re asking my preference, what I would like to do is work counterterrorism. Mueller looked at me, cocked his head slightly to one side, and said, You know what I like to do? No, sir, I said. I like to try homicide cases. And look what I’m doing.”

With the successes came the frustration of dealing with the endless politics that accompanied the job. There was a serious dispute between those who believed enhanced interrogation, torture and extended imprisonment at Guantanamo was not only ineffective but a repudiation of our values, and those who believed all terror suspects, even American citizens, needed to be considered enemy combatants. HIG’s first success was successfully investigating the Underwear Bomber. But with HIG, McCabe had: “crossed into the realm of law enforcement where politics exerts decisive influence on outcomes … I mean politics in two senses—one functional and necessary, the other toxic and obstructionist … The second kind of politics—party politics—means the execution of partisan strategy for purely political advantage, … [I] saw partisanship intensify to the point where it seemed almost to threaten the constitutional and legal system …”

Jeff Sessions and Andrew McCabe. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin

Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign endorsed torture, Guantanamo, and criticized trying foreign terrorists in normal criminal courts. And the appointment of Jeff Sessions as attorney general moved these issues from theoretical disputes to matters of policy. Re the real case of Spin Ghul, an al-Qaeda terrorist who killed two Americans in Afghanistan, then escaped prison in Libya. Until he was captured by the Italians who wouldn’t release him to us unless we agreed not to send him to Guantanamo. George Toscas, the deputy attorney general in the National Security Division, decided that trying Ghul here in the United States was not only an effective strategy but necessary to keep the Italians from releasing him. Sessions was furious.

McCabe writes: “And he did not just oppose bringing the detainee here—he was volcanically offended that we had even proposed it. This sent Sessions into a mode that I witnessed a number of times: He would grab the arms on his chair and prop himself up a bit higher in his seat. His face would redden. His voice would rise. Then he would stare, not at anyone in particular, but at the table, his eyes darting back and forth, as he berated us for treating terrorists like criminals. For giving constitutional rights to enemy combatants. He was not able to see the work as we saw it: as taking one more terrorist out of circulation.”

Jim Comey, now the FBI director, briefed Sessions. “Described the differences between the Sunni and Shia practices of Islam. Explained which terrorist groups lined up with which religious philosophies … Sessions believed that Islam—inherently—advocated extremism. The director tried to explain that the reality was more complicated … He seemed to lack basic knowledge about the jurisdictions of various arms of federal law enforcement. He also seemed to have little interest in the expertise and arguments that others brought to the meetings … I observed his staff to be somewhat afraid of him—reluctant to voice opinions because they did not want to make him angry.

“His major interest in any given topic tended to be the immigration angle, even when there was no immigration angle … Almost invariably, he asked the same question about the suspect: Where’s he from? The vast majority of the suspects are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. If we would answer his question, Sir, he’s a U.S. citizen, he was born here, Sessions would respond, Where are his parents from? The subject’s parents had nothing to do with the points under discussion. We were trying to get him to understand the terrorist threat overall. Trying to explore the question, Why are Americans becoming so inspired by radical Islam and terrorist groups such as ISIS that they’re going out and planning acts of terrorism against other Americans right here in this country? …

“He was very interested in narcotics trafficking … Someone had told Sessions that even if we knew in advance about every drug shipment destined to leave Colombia by boat or ship, the U.S. wouldn’t allocate enough vessels to intercept them. This made Sessions apoplectic. Drugs were flooding into the U.S., he believed, simply because we weren’t making the necessary interdictions … Why don’t we have more boats down there? … I’ll get us more boats … He seemed to think that the FBI had some kind of navy at its disposal, and that this navy was off doing other things …”

Then there’s the president: “In July 2017, the White House requested a briefing for the president on the Russian dachas … Both of them were closed in December 2016 at the direction of the Obama administration, as part of the sanctions placed on Russia for Moscow’s sustained interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. By the following July, the sanctions were about to expire, and the Trump administration had to decide whether to allow the Russians back into these properties or not. This was an important issue to the FBI, because we believed the Russians had used the dachas for intelligence purposes, not just as sites for diplomatic recreation … an administration official told a member of my staff that I should not attend. For good measure, the official added that ‘they’—unnamed powers in the White House—had decided to get rid of me as soon as a new director was in place … I decided that I would delegate the job. The briefers returned to the Hoover building when the meeting was over, and one of them came to my office … he was dumbfounded.

“I remember asking, How did it go? and watching him shake his head in response, then explain that the briefer on the dachas spoke for no more than a few minutes. For practically the whole rest of the meeting, the president talked nonstop … North Korea had recently conducted a test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, potentially capable of striking the U.S.—Kim Jong-un had called the test a Fourth of July ‘gift’ to ‘the arrogant Americans.’ But the president did not believe it had happened. The president thought it was a hoax. He thought that North Korea did not have the capability to launch such missiles. He said he knew this because Vladimir Putin had told him so.

“The PDB briefer told the president that this point of view was not consistent with any of the intelligence that the United States possessed. The president said that he believed Putin. Then the president talked about Venezuela. That’s the country we should be going to war with, he said. They have all that oil and they’re right on our back door …” (Emphasis added.)

McCabe offers interesting insights into the Hillary Clinton email affair and Comey’s decision. He adds important information about the supposed Peter Strok and Lisa Page conspiracy—and even though he is limited by his intention to sue, some important information about his firing. Meanwhile, in the midst of continuing chaos, McCabe does his best to convince Rod Rosenstein to appoint a special counsel. And when it becomes apparent that like his predecessor, Jim Comey, his days are numbered, he works extraordinarily hard to make sure their investigatory work will continue on.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from “The Threat,” it’s that, because the stakes are so high, the process is especially important to folks like Comey, Mueller and McCabe. The need to figure things out, to adequately assess threats, to intercede in time and stop what could easily be devastating attacks is so very critical. And McCabe has clearly developed a certain modesty along the way, a willingness to acknowledge mistakes, to right wrongs in the service of both more efficiency and justice.

McCabe writes: “For most of the FBI’s history, until the mid-1970s, the Bureau was accused—with cause—of investigating people and groups based on their political beliefs or social activism rather than on any actual threat. Exercising a hold over powerful individuals, in the form of subtle or not-so-subtle blackmail, was another motivation: Thick dossiers were compiled on figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy. Intelligence cases on some political figures sometimes went on for years, pointlessly and unjustifiably … In 1976, Attorney General Edward Levi issued the first set of official guidelines to govern the FBI’s domestic operations. For the first time, the agency had a clear set of ground rules that, if followed, would ensure that the FBI executed its mission fairly, independently, and according to the law.’

“For an FBI agent, watching the president seek to interfere with the ordinary process of justice is especially galling—an affront to our constitutional system … The president, by calling the Russia investigation a witch hunt, is basically telling the judge, the system, and the investigators: This is what I want to happen. In the end, whatever Trump does, he will not get his way. Even if he were to fire Bob Mueller, the various investigations and prosecutions now reside in too many hands and too many locales to be contained. But that’s beside the point. The president is doing exactly the thing a president is not supposed to do. There are no shades of gray here. The president is trying to destroy what Americans have long assumed about who we are and how the justice system works …” (Emphasis added.)

I’ll leave you with a last look at the pettiness of our president. He called McCabe to arrange a visit to FBI headquarters: “After we agreed on a time to meet, the conversation turned in another direction. The president began to talk about how upset he was that Jim Comey had flown home on his government plane from Los Angeles after he had been fired.

“I told him that I had talked to Bureau lawyers … Even though he was no longer the director, the existing threat assessment indicated he was still at risk, so he needed a protection detail on his trip home. Since the members of the protection detail would all be coming home, it made sense just to bring them back on the same government plane, the one they had used to fly out there. The plane had to come back anyway.

“At this, the president flew off the handle: That’s not right! I don’t approve of that! That’s wrong! He reiterated his point five or seven times. I said, I’m sorry that you disagree, sir. But it was my decision, and that’s how I decided.

“He said, I want you to look into that! … The president asked, Will Comey be allowed into the building? Will he come back in, to get his personal stuff out of his office? I said I didn’t think he planned to come in. His staff was going through his office and packing his personal effects, which would be taken to his residence. The ranting spiraled: I don’t want him in the building. I’m banning him from the building. He should not be allowed, I don’t want him in FBI buildings. I waited until he had talked himself out.

“Finally, toward the very end of the conversation, he said, How is your wife? I said, She’s fine. He said, When she lost her election, that must have been very tough to lose. How did she handle losing? Is it tough to lose? I replied, I guess it’s tough to lose anything. But she’s rededicated herself to her career and her job and taking care of kids in the emergency room. That’s what she does.

“He said, Yeah, and there was a tone in his voice that sounded like a sneer. He said, That must’ve been really tough. To lose. To be a loser. The conversation concluded shortly after that, with the president saying he thought I would do a good job and that he had a lot of faith in me.”

But, of course, the president had no faith in McCabe, especially after he learned about McCabe’s May briefing to the congressional leadership about the status of the Russia investigation and the fact that Rosenstein had agreed to appoint a special counsel. “When I came out of the Capitol in the early evening of May 17, it felt like crossing a finish line. It felt as if I’d been sprinting since the night of May 9 … If I got nothing else done as acting director, I had done, now, the one thing I needed to do. The Russia investigation was on solid ground. Everybody who needed to know about it knew about it. … If anyone tried to close it down, it could not be done in secret.”

“When the first tweet came—July 25, 2017—I was already hanging by a thread … “Problem is that the acting head of the FBI & the person in charge of the Hillary investigation, Andrew McCabe, got $700,000 from H for wife!” … To be referred to by clear implication as corrupt. To have my wife be referred to by clear implication as corrupt. It was shocking … Soon there would be more tweets. …

On Dec. 19, 2017, McCabe testified before the House Permanent Select Committee on corroborating Jim Comey’s version of the president’s attempts to get Comey to stop the investigation of Michael Flynn. It was thought that the inspector general’s report on McCabe and the Hillary Midyear investigation would be released the following spring. But after McCabe’s testimony, the inspector general informed one of his staff members that the report on McCabe would be out sooner than expected.

McCabe continues: “The president’s tweets resumed within a few days of my testimony … The whole family was at home getting ready for the holidays when I was sent a screenshot of his latest tweet: “FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits. 90 days to go?!!!”

“In January 2018, after conferring with the IG, Chris Wray called me in to a one-on-one meeting on a Sunday night and demanded that I leave the position of deputy director—but also asked that I announce I was stepping aside voluntarily. I refused to make what I considered to be a false statement and instead went out on leave, intending for this to last until my retirement.

“A Report of Investigation of Certain Allegations Relating to Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe,” … determined that I ‘lacked candor on four separate occasions.’ This report was used as a pretext for dismissal. The attorney general ordered my firing on March 16—twenty-six hours before my planned retirement. I received word, as Comey had, by watching the TV news. The president marked the moment with a tweet: “Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI – A great day for Democracy. Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!”

“I do not want to get down in the mud with the president. I do feel that I have an obligation to stand up and say, You can’t do this. You can’t just continue to attack people with an endless string of baseless lies. No one should be able to do that. The president of the United States especially should not … And I understand that it is meaningless to be called a liar by the most prolific liar I have ever encountered. But I will say this. Donald Trump would not know the men and women of the FBI if he ran over them with the presidential limo, and he has shown the citizens of this country that he does not know what democracy means. …

“Hundreds of thousands of people in government devote their lives to the work of the United States of America. Millions upon millions of ordinary citizens serve their communities and make up the backbone of institutions of every kind. All of these people, in ways large and small, stand up for what they believe in—it’s an abiding characteristic of our nation. If ever we lost that capacity, we’d be lost. But that capacity is something that real Americans will never lose.”

For Democrats, big and little d, for liberals, for leftists, even, McCabe offers a nuanced look at the always-complex challenges of trying to enforce law and order. And “The Threat” has helped me appreciate how much, in the face of the monumental cowardice of Republican politicians, the nation has come to rely on the rigor, commitment, skills and integrity of men like Comey, Mueller and McCabe. Read “The Threat.”


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