Before we start praising Andrew McCabe as a whistleblowing hero, maybe we should ask ourselves how we feel about unelected operatives plotting behind the scenes to unseat a president.
For Trump fans who believe there is a “deep state” conspiracy to undermine the president, Thursday’s revelation by former FBI acting director McCabe that top Justice Department officials debated whether to recruit Cabinet members to remove the president via the 25th amendment only confirms their suspicions.
To a sizable swath of Americans, it looks like we elected a president fair and square according to the existing rules―and then, almost immediately after he assumed office, a group of high-ranking, unelected governmental bureaucrats plotted to overturn the election.
Imagine for a second if this had happened to Barack Obama.
In fairness, Trump isn’t Obama. And it’s likely that these officials in the Justice Department were sincerely concerned about Trump’s erratic temperament, sketchy character, and the possibility of Russian collusion. The question remains: Did they handle this situation appropriately?
Congress has the ability to conduct investigations (the Senate has uncovered no evidence of a direct conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia) and impeach a president. We have elections. In November, Democrats won the House back, providing yet another check on Trump’s power (and granting Democrats subpoena power). Moreover, Donald Trump will soon stand for reelection.
If those existing measures aren’t expedient enough, McCabe could have resigned in protest and immediately gone public with his concerns.
I believe they overreacted by talking about the 25th Amendment. Under the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, a president can be removed if the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet believes the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties” of the presidency. If the president contests this, a two-thirds vote in both chambers of Congress can remove the president.
Look, I’m sympathetic to their concerns. Trump obviously has authoritarian tendencies, and it’s easy to convince yourself that you have to take matters into your own hands to protect the republic against a Caesar.
It’s hard to fault them for being concerned about Trump’s ability to govern this nation, but there should have been someone in the room with an opposing viewpoint. So far, I’m not aware of anyone who fits that description. “What I fault them on,” says retired FBI Supervisory Special Agent James Gagliano, “is the group-think that went on, and the skirting of the rules. You have to do it the right way, or else everything else is tainted by the fruit of the poison tree. There was a large group there [that] had a prejudicial view of things.”
Indeed, it’s hard to get past the many appearances of impropriety among the investigators. McCabe has lied to the Inspector General. McCabe, who was tasked with leading the Clinton e-mail server probe, was also married to a Virginia politician who previously took money from Clinton loyalist Terry McAuliffe when McAuliffe was governor.
At the very least, this history does not engender trust. The well-publicized texts between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page show their disgust for Trump. Then there was Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, whose wife helped work on the Fusion GPS “dossier.”
On Monday, Trump took to Twitter to reinforce these arguments. “Disgraced FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe pretends to be a ‘poor little Angel’ when in fact he was a big part of the Crooked Hillary Scandal & the Russia Hoax - a puppet for Leakin’ James Comey. I.G. report on McCabe was devastating. Part of ‘insurance policy’ in case I won....” he tweeted. “Many of the top FBI brass were fired, forced to leave, or left. McCabe’s wife received BIG DOLLARS from Clinton people for her campaign - he gave Hillary a pass. McCabe is a disgrace to the FBI and a disgrace to our Country. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” Trump continued.
This whole controversy—which is really just a confirmation of what was reported back in September—might be old news were it not for McCabe now using the story to hawk his new book on 60 Minutes. “Why are they meeting him in the public square, why are they writing books and battling him on Twitter? This doesn’t instill confidence in people that they were investigating him fairly,” agrees Gagliano.
I’ll tell you why. A larger theme in the world of politics has been individuals promoting their brand (and book sales) ahead of the collective good of their country, party, or institution. Based on the opening salvo of his book tour, McCabe won’t be doing any favors for his colleagues who are sworn to serve and protect. I hope his book sales are worth it.
Pure motives don’t justify an attempt to overturn an election. Preservers of liberty might well fear a charismatic demagogue like Trump, but beware: the people who can wiretap their enemies and jail you for lying to them also pose a danger—particularly when they decide that the ends justify the means. In my opinion, they’re just as dangerous.