Such is the world in which we now live that I cannot say I was surprised to learn late Friday that former FBI Deputy Director Andy McCabe had been fired. A part of me wanted to think it was just a bad dream, but then a middle-of-the-night tweet, from President Donald Trump, confirmed the worst.
“Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI-A great day for Democracy,” Trump tweeted.
No, it wasn’t. Neither for the great men and women of the FBI, nor for our democracy – particularly not for our democracy, an ideal and a principle the president seems to offend on a daily basis.
But, as if that were not enough, the president had to give the knife he had the attorney general stick in Andy’s back a gratuitous little twist.
“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!”
Andy’s dismissal was yet another gut punch to a proud and distinguished institution. A blow to what is right and good in this country in the name of corruption and inequity. A dog whistle to the cult of personality that continues to inexplicably fever the minds of the president’s most ardent admirers.
Without a doubt, it was enough to make one wonder the true meaning behind the attorney general’s late-night attack on a good man’s reputation and pension.
I know Andy well, having worked with him closely in the FBI. He is a man of high ideals, honor and integrity, who has dedicated his life to the service of our country.
I also know, as he does, that the cardinal sin of any FBI employee, but particularly a Special Agent, is to demonstrate a lack of candor under oath.
It is a firing offense.
That makes the sequence of events leading to McCabe’s dismissal particularly confounding to me. The attorney general, who fired him, said Andy was dismissed for making “an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor — including under oath — on multiple occasions.”
To be honest, and I served for 26 years, I can’t remember the last time an FBI employee was fired for an unauthorized disclosure to the media, particularly if it wasn’t classified. There was no indication in the attorney general’s statement this was the case.
What’s more, McCabe has publicly stated he not only had the authority to make the disclosure, but asked his public affairs officer and an FBI lawyer to participate in the process, which, he said, occurred over a period of days.
Why on earth, then, would a man of McCabe’s experience, professionalism and dedication to duty identify such a course of action, include witnesses, and then lie about it?
It makes no sense.
As McCabe himself has said in a statement released after his firing, “The investigation subsequently focused on who I talked to, when I talked to them, and so forth. During these inquiries, I answered questions truthfully and as accurately as I could amidst the chaos that surrounded me. And when I thought my answers were misunderstood, I contacted investigators to correct them.” (Italics added for emphasis)
That seems reasonable and in accordance with the process as I understand it. Subject interviews—when the subject of an internal inquiry is interviewed—for instance, are never a “one shot, one kill” event. The signed, sworn statement the subject ultimately signs—which, somewhat counterintuitively is written by the interviewer, not the interviewee—is a matter of negotiation until the subject is satisfied the statement accurately represents his or her views. The statement is not completed until the subject signs and swears to it. What that means is there is inherently room for the kind of clarification, or correction, McCabe said he engaged in.
It also means, quite frankly, that internal investigators like Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) or FBI Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) – the “career professionals” who were involved in this particular matter – do not always get it right. I know, for instance, of several individuals who have been fired on account of an internal investigation that determined there was lack of candor, only to learn those same individuals were reinstated upon appeal. I cannot explain why, but I can say it happens.
And, in Andy’s case, OPR acted on the recommendations of OIG, which Andy said, and which we all know from reading the tweets, was under heavy pressure to get a result.
No, I do not intend this reasoning as an excuse for bad behavior. Lack of candor, as I have already noted, is a cardinal sin in the FBI. Thou shalt not lie. Our effectiveness as an investigative and intelligence agency is dependent on our integrity. If Andy lied, there should be a consequence.
But I simply can’t believe that he did. Especially not with everything that is at stake. My reasons for believing this are many.
For one, I have never known Andy to prevaricate. Nor, I am certain, would he have risen to his high office in the FBI if he lacked integrity. Neither could he have won the abiding confidence and admiration of great Americans and exemplary leaders like former Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper, former CIA chief John Brennan, and former FBI Director Jim Comey—all who have come to Andy’s defense in recent months—if he were a liar.
And, perhaps, most important of all, there were those witnesses.
To lie in the face of all that would not only have been a colossal error, but a shocking failure of character.
Sure, we all of us, are human. Sometimes even the best of us make inexplicable mistakes. But in this case, I go back to what was at stake.
The FBI has been under constant public attack from a vindictive and uninformed president. A man who is under scrutiny for his actions and those who are closest to him for reason that are not only extraordinary, but unprecedented in our history. Aiding and abetting an enemy foreign power’s attempts to undermine our sovereignty.
No, this is not an indictment of the president. But not only is there smoke, there is fire. The number of indictments and convictions already brought against prominent and high-ranking members of his campaign are indicative of that.
There is a likelihood there are more indictments to come. The plethora of revelations in the media about possible criminal conspiracies, corruption, and incompetence—which is not illegal, but can lead to illegal behavior when one holds the kind of power in a president’s grasp—has all of us rushing to our smart phones every morning wondering what is going to happen next in this great national tragedy of ours.
That, by the way, is the reason I believe McCabe has become the latest victim of tragic circumstance. Certainly, observers who say we should see the Inspector General report before reaching any conclusions about Andy’s reported actions, have a point.
But I don’t need to see it. In fact, there is no question in my mind the report is going to be critical. It is going to challenge the actions of FBI leadership in the wake of the Clinton e-mail investigation. It is going to question any decision made that was a violation of Justice Department conventions.
But they’ll be procedural criticisms. They won’t be matters of law. They won’t be a judgment on whether FBI leadership, for the sake of the country, chose the harder right than the easier wrong when it came to the tough decisions in the many unprecedented situations that have arisen in the last two extraordinary years not only in the history of the FBI, but our nation.
I was there for a lot of those decisions. I either participated in them or witnessed them first hand and I can tell you, often, it was a matter of, “Damned if we do, damned if we don’t.” But in no circumstances were the decisions influenced, as many claim, by bias, or politics, a lack of professionalism’s, or an intent to mislead, ourselves, or the public we served.
Yes, we often wondered how in the hell we got stuck in such a difficult situation, slammed on all sides by the toxic partisan politics of the moment.
But, I also say this with a convert’s passion and commitment. We always chose the right, for the sake of our country, our families, and our own self respect.
It was the only way to deal with the nonsense that was, and is, coming from places—like Congress and the White House—that should know better. It was the only way to preserve our own faith in a system and way of life that each of us were willing to defend with our lives.
It was a mission I know Andy was as committed to as I was, and why I simply cannot believe he is the “bad actor” the president would like us think he is.