Ari Fleischer, former White House Press Secretary under George W. Bush — who was in that position during 9/11 — has an interesting op-ed today in The Hill about his single brush with outgoing FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. In it, he acknowledges he has never met McCabe, but he was supposed to. And the story of that missed meeting “proved…that he has a ‘circle the wagons and protect James Comey at all costs’ approach that is inconsistent with the type of behavior our nation should expect from a man who, at the time, was leading the FBI,” Fleischer writes.
Here’s what happened. In January 2017, I was invited by then-FBI Director Comey to deliver the keynote address for a major meeting of law enforcement directors from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. These English-speaking countries are called the Five Eyes nations. In addition to the FBI director and his foreign counterparts, the heads of the Drug Enforcement Administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement were to attend. The meeting was a big deal.
As someone who is an admirer and supporter of the FBI, I looked forward to going and sharing what I learned about how to communicate in a crisis. Having been the White House press secretary on Sept. 11, 2001, there was a lot I wanted to share with the Five Eyes leaders.
One month before the event, Comey was fired and McCabe became acting FBI director. The day prior to the event, Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He acknowledged telling President Trumphe was not under investigation, and he admitted he provided FBI memos to a friend so they could be leaked to The New York Times.
That evening, I went on Fox News and was mildly critical of Comey. I said when President Trump sought a one-on-one meeting with him, he should have resisted it, a statement Comey himself made at the hearing. The next morning, about an hour before I was due at the 9/11 Museum, I was on another TV show and again was mildly critical of Comey. I questioned the ethics of his leaking FBI memos to a private citizen so they could be given to the press. I also said I saw no evidence of collusion between President Trump and Russia.
I left the show, got into an FBI car and headed downtown for the counterterrorism training event. That’s when my assistant called me to tell me that she got a call from the acting FBI director’s office telling me not to show up. No explanation was provided.
Fleischer goes on to say that McCabe eventually called him and confirmed that he had heard the Fox News segment and it was, indeed, what prompted him to cancel the presentation, something Fleischer had spent considerable time preparing for.
McCabe is of course implicated in the events leading up to the much-awaited Devin Nunes memo that is scheduled for release sometime today (assuming the Trump administration doesn’t change its mind at the 11th hour). In fact, once his superiors got a look at the memo, prior to releasing a public statement that they had concerns about what the memo contained, McCabe quietly went on leave that will end with his retirement. The rumor is he was asked to make that move.
To read Fleischer’s account, the FBI will be well served to have McCabe gone.
It is McCabe’s right to be close to Comey. It is his right to see Comey as a mentor. But it was wrong of him to retaliate against someone because he didn’t like what they said about Comey on a news show. The FBI I know is better than this.
Not under Andrew McCabe, apparently. Retaliation is, oddly, what many in the mainstream press say has prompted the imminent release of the memo. That Trump is retaliating against the Clinton-funded dossier.
We can speculate about that. But, according to Fleischer, retaliation from a Clinton-supporter like McCabe needs no speculation. He admitted as much in the phone call to Fleischer.