CNN reported that Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe this week testified before the House Intelligence Committee and then before members of the House Intelligence, Oversight and Judiciary committees that former FBI director James Comey told McCabe that President Donald Trump had asked for a pledge of loyalty. Comey previously testified that the president had requested loyalty; Trump has denied that this took place.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, put out a statement slamming Republicans for holding a secret meeting of House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., with members of the House Oversight and Judiciary committees to discuss interviewing McCabe:
“Today’s ‘emergency’ interview with FBI Deputy Director McCabe was both rushed and unnecessary and further demonstrates that Republicans are desperate to distract from the Russia investigation and undermine the credibility of the FBI and Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation,” Nadler said in the statement. “This truth was laid bare when we learned last evening that a group of Republicans have been secretly meeting for months for just that purpose.
“After a day’s worth of questioning by Members from both Committees, what we learned today was that McCabe is a dedicated public servant who has committed his life to the FBI and its mission to uphold the law.”
A Nadler adviser told The Washington Post that Republicans’ conduct was “what we have come to expect from Republicans who continue to try and distract, discredit and undermine the special counsel investigation. This is all just a very silly attempt to undermine the FBI and re-litigate the [Hillary] Clinton investigation.”
Republicans grilling McCabe over the FBI’s handling of Clinton’s emails and their conspiracy theorizing substantiate our suspicions that GOP members of Congress have zero interest in conducting a serious investigation of the president’s possible collusion with Russia and obstruction of justice.
“President Trump has called Jim Comey a liar and likewise suggested that Comey committed a crime by lying under oath about their conversations,” Susan Hennessey of the Lawfare blog tells me. “Notably, Comey gave his account under penalty of perjury, while Trump, to date, has not. Comey also substantiated his story with contemporaneous memos.”
She continued: “Now we learn that Andrew McCabe can offer further corroboration that what Comey said was true and that he shared the details at the time. That means that, conversely, the deputy FBI director has testified the president is lying to the American people.” She argued, “I don’t think that many serious people genuinely questioned whether the famously, even notoriously forthright former FBI director or the president, who has a habitually tenuous relationship with the truth, was being honest. But to the extent there were any lingering doubts, McCabe’s testimony should put them to rest.”
The Republicans, by their conduct, implicitly recognize Trump’s weak defense to a potential obstruction charge. Contrary to the Trump attorney’s mumbo jumbo, they realize that a sitting president with a corrupt intent can be cited for obstruction of justice, although the case might need to be prosecuted after he leaves office.
Second, Republicans understand that if the fact pattern is believed, Trump at the very least committed an impeachable action (although not necessarily a criminal violation of federal statute) in pressuring the then-FBI director to lay off of Michael Flynn and curtail the Russia investigation. If the facts here were not so damning, Republicans would not find it necessary to call into question the credibility of the entire FBI.
Third, the Republicans will have their hands full if they go down this road. Not only McCabe but also other FBI officials may have been told of Trump’s pursuit of a loyalty oath from Comey. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency director Mike Rogers as well as other members of the White House staff may be privy to Trump’s statements about Comey and efforts to get Comey to relent from investigating Flynn. That’s a lot of people to discredit if the GOP is bent on circling the wagons around a president who has neither the law nor the facts on his side.
The spectacle of Republicans trying to cook up a spurious case of corruption against the entire FBI is strong evidence of their inability to take their constitutional responsibilities seriously. If we are to get a fair investigation and consideration of the facts as well as a mature examination of whether those facts rise to an impeachable offense, it likely won’t come with a GOP majority in control of the House and Senate.