The Justice IG report has a treasure trove of loose ends that need to be explored…and they would be if Andrew McCabe were known to be a Republican or he’d served under a Republican president. One of the interesting sidelines is whether deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe ever told the FBI that his wife was running for a state senate seat in Virginia or that she was funded through the good offices of Clinton fixer and bagman Terry McAuliffe.
The controversy primarily centers about the propriety of McCabe overseeing the Clinton email investigation and the investigation of the Clinton Foundation from January 1, 2016, until his recusal on February 1, 2016. Let us stipulate up front that none of us have any way of knowing that McCabe’s politics influenced any of his decisions. But, at the same time, I think reasonable people can agree that him being involved in the investigation was somewhere on the spectrum between “very unwise” and “profoundly stupid.”
And the defenses have been lame. The typical one that the left goes with is used by PolitiFact focuses on the fact that his wife had lost her senate race in November, three months before McCabe became deputy director. This is nonsense. The issue was the political affinity shown by the McCabes towards the Clinton camp, and vice versa, by the acceptance and offering of some $675,000. Jill McCabe’s loss doesn’t change that.
The second defense, that McCabe got all proper permissions, looks a lot shakier today than it did.
The FBI released a statement that Andrew McCabe “consulted with top FBI headquarters and field office ethics officers for guidance, including briefings on the Hatch Act, to prevent against any actual or potential conflict-of-interest, in the event she decided to go forward.”
Based on that advice, the FBI said, when Dr. McCabe chose to run, Andrew “McCabe and FBI lawyers implemented a system of recusal from all FBI investigative matters involving Virginia politics, a process followed for the remainder of her campaign. During the campaign, he played no role, attended no events, and did not participate in fundraising or support of any kind.”
There are several problems with this. First, the people writing the statement worked for the guy the statement was about. Knowing what we know now, it is a solid bet that McCabe had a major role in drafting the statement. Second, we know the statement is a lie. When McCabe was fired he was under investigation for violating the Hatch Act because he did attend events, he appeared in her campaign communications, he made personal appeals on her behalf, and he did so, at least once, from his official FBI email account (read my post on this).
But there are other reasons to think that McCabe never asked anyone about his wife’s senate run.
Let’s go to the IG report. On October 23, the Wall Street Journal ran a story detailing, for the first time, the Clinton machine donations to McCabe’s wife the previous year. On October 26, McCabe was on a conference call with Loretta Lynch and others on the subject of leaks. Oddly enough, Lynch was much more concerned about leaks in the Eric Garner case than she was in the Clinton case. Let’s go to the IG report:
According to NY-ADIC’s testimony and an e-mail he sent to himself on October 31, McCabe indicated to NY-ADIC and a then-FBI Executive Assistant Director (“EAD”) in a conversation after Attorney General Lynch disconnected from the call that McCabe was recusing himself from the CF Investigation. According to NY-ADIC’s e-mail, McCabe told them “he may make a more formal decision at a later time.” NY-ADIC stated during his OIG interview: “I think [McCabe] couched it as like, hey, this is not final . . . I don’t know, I think he says he still has to talk about it.” NY-ADIC stated that he clarified with McCabe that unless McCabe told him otherwise, NY-ADIC would begin reporting to EAD on the CF Investigation.
So, from February 1 until October 26, no one at the FBI had any problem with McCabe being involved in the Clinton investigation. And now not only does his involvement come up in a call with the AG in such a way that McCabe muses aloud about recusing himself and a subordinate tells him, point blank, that he’s cutting McCabe out the investigation.
The next day, there is a better story. The scene is a conference call over the classified documents found on the laptop owned by Anthony Weiner. It looks as though McCabe had kept Comey and Justice in the dark about the discovery of the documents for well over a month. (Why, one might ask, did he do that?) So the level of trust might not have been all that high.
On October 27, 2016 at 10:00 a.m., Comey held a meeting with the Clinton E-mail Investigation team to discuss obtaining a search warrant for a set of Clinton related e-mails the FBI had discovered on a laptop belonging to Anthony Weiner, and taking additional steps in the Clinton E-mail Investigation. Special Counsel attended the meeting. McCabe was out of town, but joined the meeting via conference call. Shortly after the meeting began, the then-FBI General Counsel (“FBI-GC”) suggested, and Comey agreed, that McCabe should leave the call. Comey told us that he asked McCabe to drop off the call, and McCabe was “very unhappy about it.” Special Counsel also left the meeting. After discussions between FBI and Department leadership, on October 28, 2016, Comey sent a letter, over Department objections, informing Congress that the FBI was taking additional steps in the Clinton E-mail Investigation.
Accounts differ about the reason for excluding McCabe from the October 27 call. McCabe told the OIG that the reason stated on the call for dropping him related to the potential for discussion about classified information. However, Comey, [redacted], and and Special Counsel all told us that Comey asked McCabe to leave the call out of an abundance of caution because of appearance issues following revelations in the WSJ October 23 article about the campaign donations from McAuliffe-associated PACs to McCabe’s wife. McCabe discussed the issue of his participation in the Clinton e-mail matter further with Comey and FBI-GC by telephone later that day. After these conversations, McCabe sent a text message to Special Counsel stating: “I spoke to both. Both understand that no decision on recusal will be made until I return and weigh in.”
If McCabe had sought guidance about his wife’s run, and that run was already a year old, then there were no appearance issues at all. Beyond that, no one knew the conference call had taken place and it the existence of it would have been shielded under FOIA. So there was no “appearance” issue but there seems to be a lack of trust. Something that would be expected if the FBI and Justice leadership had been blindsided by the October 23 WSJ article.
What has me leaning to the “he lied to everyone” story is that the IG report is heavy with footnotes. Literally every fact in the report has documentation. But this one doesn’t.
The article contained an official FBI statement that McCabe “played no role” in his wife’s 2015 state senate campaign and was promoted to FBI Deputy Director months after his wife’s defeat “where, . . . he assumed for the first time, an oversight role in the investigation into Secretary Clinton’s emails.” According to the article, FBI officials stated that McCabe’s supervision of the Clinton E-mail case in 2016 did not present a conflict or ethics issues because his wife’s campaign was over by then.
What is striking here is that there is no reference in the entire report to when McCabe received advice on his wife’s campaign. Instead of referencing a date or footnoting a document, they fall back on the passive tense: “according to the article,” and “the article contained.” But there is a footnote for this paragraph.
In January 2017, the OIG announced it would conduct a review of allegations regarding various actions by the Department and the FBI in advance of the 2016 election, including allegations that McCabe should have been recused from participating in certain investigative matters.
So there is no reason for the IG report to rely on the WSJ article when it could have definitively said when McCabe got permission. In fact, the “according to the article” phraseology sounds much more like a dodge to keep from commenting on the truth or falsity of the statement. Even if you believe he consulted with his ethics adviser before his wife launched her campaign, there is no reason to believe that he mentioned the massive cash infusion she received.
All in all, the whole story makes a lot more sense if the FBI headquarters and Justice found out for the first time about McCabe’s Clinton ties on October 23, and the stench was strong enough that by November 1 he was removed from the case. McCabe knew the Clinton email investigation was underway when his wife received the donations–September 30 through October 29, 2015–and he had to suspect that those contributions would force his recusal from the investigation if they were known. So he did what any good little careerist would do. He didn’t say a word.