Yoda is famous for saying, “Do or do not. There is no try.” I think Yoda and Andrew McCabe would be friends.
The former acting director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe wrote and released The Threat after being removed from his post last spring. McCabe was appointed acting FBI director after James Comey was unceremoniously fired via presidential tweet. Comey, McCabe, former FBI director Robert Mueller, former attorney general Jeff Sessions, and former deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein are the players in some of the more salacious stories in McCabe’s book about his work for the FBI.
McCabe’s tales of training and education were beyond fascinating; one of his first cases after getting out of Quantico focused on the Russian mafia in New York City. He breaks down the way that the FBI handles tips and converts actionable tips into investigations. It was both boring and thrilling to read about the simple act of opening an investigation — how many supervisors are involved, the number of reports that must be completed and how much evidence must be acquired. This boring, tedious work is the backbone of the U.S. intelligence service.
Getting the details right, in black and white, is imperative to doing the job well. McCabe is not shy about calling out individuals who have accused the FBI and other intelligence agencies of being politically motivated in their investigations. He describes his involvement in the Hillary Clinton e-mail scandal, and how due to the political nature of the case it was handled in the central office rather than the field office which would normally have jurisdiction. I had to chuckle when he talked about how field offices respond to central office folks coming in to take over a case, such as he had to when a high-value terrorist suspect had to be interrogated.
Accusing members of the U.S. intelligence services of being politically motivated is insulting to the oath they swear to take when they accept their positions. It’s also dangerous, as there are measures in place to prevent these institutions from being influenced by their political opinions. People who work for ANY government office follow exacting protocols to prevent their personal opinions from influencing their duties, whatever those duties may be, and suggesting that cases are opened in order to advance a political agenda helps to fan the flames of conspiracy theories and therefore destroy faith in the government as a whole.
One of the incidents recounted by McCabe describes how the phone rang in his office one day, and it was President Trump. McCabe was in a meeting with other high-ranking officials and they were talking about potential foreign interference in the 2016 presidential election. When he answered the phone, he noticed a few things — he had been called on an unsecured line, and the president was actually holding on the other line. He had not had a secretary call on the secured phone and then patch him through.
As illustrated in this video by my Senator, Sheldon Whitehouse, anytime members of the presidential administration want to talk to members of the Department of Justice there are strict protocols involved. At no point is it appropriate for the sitting president of the United States to call the acting head of the FBI to discuss an ongoing investigation into the election that put him in the White House in the first place…. and on an unsecured phone line.
What that interaction highlighted was a main theme of McCabe’s book. Rules matter. The Constitution matters. The laws, traditions, and etiquette that the residents of Washington D.C. follow once they are elected by the people or are sworn into office of their own volition are there to govern those who govern… to reinforce the respect for the institutions themselves amongst those who carry out the work of those institutions. People who do not follow the laws, traditions, and etiquette show a blatant disregard for the offices they hold, whether they are elected to those offices or not.
Follow the rules, or do not. Abide by the Constitution, or do not. Respect our democracy, our country, and the social constructs which govern it, including the independence of our law enforcement agencies, or actively work against it. There is no middle ground.