“I was speaking to the man who had just run for the presidency and won the election for the presidency and who might have done so with the aid of the government of Russia, our most formidable adversary on the world stage. And that was something that troubled me greatly.”
That was former acting director of the FBI Andrew McCabe’s description on CBS’ 60 Minutes of a May 10, 2017 conversation he had with President Donald Trump the day after former FBI Director James Comey had been fired.
Trump “might have” colluded with Russia, and with Comey now fired, he had to do something about it. McCabe was later fired himself for allegedly lying to investigators about leaking a story to the Wall Street Journal defending the FBI’s conduct in the Hillary Clinton investigation. McCabe says he was authorized by the FBI to release information to the media.
Then, McCabe huddled with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who he says offered to wear a wire to the White House to determine if President Trump had intended to end the Russia investigation by firing Comey.
“[T]he reason you would have someone wear a concealed recording device would be to collect evidence and in this case, what was the true nature of the president’s motivation in calling for the firing of Jim Comey,” McCabe said in the interview.
When the FBI general counsel, James Baker, shot down that idea, according to McCabe, Rosenstein’s next idea was to convince the Vice President and the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment — reserved for physical incapacity of the President, like if he’s in a coma, and is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” — to remove Trump from office. Rosenstein had denied a similar report in Sept. 2018, saying only that “Based on my personal dealings with the president, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment.” Now McCabe says he was serious.
When CBS’ Scott Pelley asked McCabe, “Are you saying that the President is in league with the Russians?” McCabe hedged, saying, “I’m saying that the FBI had reason to investigate that. Right, to investigate the existence of an investigation doesn’t mean someone is guilty.” McCabe doesn’t know if Trump was a Russian agent, or doesn’t believe he was. He is unwilling to say so publicly.
On May 19, 2017, former FBI agent Peter Strzok, who was leading the counterintelligence investigation into Russia, texted Lisa Page of the prospect of joining Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that “you and I both know the odds are nothing. If I thought it was likely, I’d be there no question. I hesitate in part because of my gut sense and concern there’s no big there there.”
On the other hand, Strzok speculated that it might be “[a]n investigation leading to impeachment” as he considered whether to join the probe. Getting rid of Trump would be a feather in his cap.
Later, Page would testify when questioned by U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) that “It’s a reflection of us still not knowing… it still existed in the scope of possibility that there would be literally nothing” connecting Trump to Russia.
At that point in the investigation, then, which began in the summer of 2016, by May 2017 the FBI still had no idea if supposed Trump campaign collusion with Russia was even real and were moving forward with plans to circumvent the 2016 election because of what Trump “might” have done.
The FBI was still relying on the dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele on behalf of the DNC and the Clinton campaign that alleged the Trump campaign had helped Russia with the hack of the DNC emails and publishing them on Wikileaks.
A Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant was in effect for at least Trump campaign advisor Carter Page (no relation to Lisa Page) since October 2016, based on the Steele dossier’s allegations, that presumably would have given investigators access to all his contacts, and his contact’s contacts. Carter Page was accused by Steele of traveling to Moscow in June 2016 to work on the collusion plot while he was there to deliver a commencement speech at the New Economic School.
If Steele was correct, then investigators should have been able to pin the DNC hacks on Carter Page. But after months of spying on him and the Trump campaign, transition and then administration, and even after the Roger Stone indictment last month, they still had nothing. Stone was accused of reaching out to Wikileaks after information that the DNC had been hacked was publicly available, indicating no foreknowledge by the Trump campaign of the hacks as Steele had alleged.
More than that, on July 13, 2018, when Russian intelligence officers were accused of hacking the DNC and John Podesta emails, although at times they were in contact with Americans, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein implored, “There is no allegation in this indictment that any American citizen committed a crime,” nor did the hacks alter any votes or the outcome of the election. Here the Justice Department appears to have publicly said that no Americans were involved with the hacking.
In May 2017, what the FBI knew was that Comey had been fired, and they thought they knew why. It was proof of collusion and a plot to obstruct the investigation. McCabe now says that the investigation into Trump did not begin until Comey was fired and that he briefed Congress in May 2017 after he launched the probe. It’s nonsensical, of course, they had been investigating Trump the whole time via proxy. More than that, firing Comey did not prove the Trump campaign had anything to do with the hacks. The investigation into Trump came as retaliation for firing Comey who had overseen the investigation into Russia, collusion and the whole nine yards.
In hindsight, maybe Comey was fired because they were leading a false investigation into the President, accusing Trump of being a Russian agent when he wasn’t, telling the President he wasn’t under investigation when he was. For lying to his face. But leaving that aside, before the FBI had concrete evidence that the Trump campaign were responsible for working with Russia to perpetrate the DNC hacks, officials were already discussing ways to remove Trump, including impeachment, the 25th Amendment and wearing a wire to the Oval Office.
They didn’t know if the charges were true, but they knew what the outcome was going to be. Trump had to go. And now we know based on everything the Justice Department has reached that the Trump campaign was not a party to the DNC and John Podesta hacks.
It is hard to overstate the gravity of what was being attempted in the upper ranks of the Justice Department. This was a nakedly partisan assault by the Justice Department and the FBI on the presidency itself to remove Trump who was duly elected.
It’s called a coup. More to the point, it was a failed coup. It sought to overturn the outcome of the 2016 election. And now as Attorney General William Barr takes the reins at the Justice Department, he is faced with the dilemma that if there are no real consequences for this coup, what’s to prevent the next one?
Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.