A growing rift between fired FBI Director James Comey and fellow detractors of President Donald Trump is being exacerbated as Comey continues his media tour to promote his new book.
Most prominent are the three current and former FBI officials famous for their intense opposition to President Trump. One of these officials is also-fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, with whom Comey once led the Bureau. The two others are McCabe’s former charges, disgraced FBI counterterrorism agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page.
McCabe, who through his wife had ties to Hillary Clinton ally and former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, repeatedly attracted the negative attentions of the president’s supporters, first for not immediately recusing himself from the Clinton email investigation and especially after more evidence of potential and actual bias against the president among his employees emerged.
The Daily Beast reported Tuesday that it was Comey, perhaps inadvertently, who started the ball rolling that eventually led to McCabe’s dismissal when he ordered the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to investigate certain leaks to the media in 2016.
OIG released its full report on the misconduct that led to McCabe’s firing Friday, revealing for the first time that Comey and other top FBI officials condemned McCabe’s behavior and contradicted his account of how information was disclosed to the Wall Street Journal in October 2016.
Comey has been no kinder to Page and Strzok. Lovers in an extramarital affair, the two exchanged texts and emails revealing an intense dislike of candidate and then president-elect Donald Trump and their hopes for an “insurance policy” against his election. In a USA Today interview made public Monday, Comey claimed he had no knowledge they were seeing each other. He calls Strzok and Page’s conduct “terrible judgment” and said, “It really bugged me.”
The McCabe report fills in the outline of the already reported accusations that Attorney General Jeff Sessions used to justify McCabe’s firing – namely that he lied to OIG investigators on three separate occasions about his authorization of disclosures to the Wall Street Journal regarding a call he received from a high ranking DOJ official. The call seemed to pressure McCabe to keep discrete an investigation into what is now understood to be the discovery of Hillary Clinton emails on Anthony Weiner’s computer so close to the 2016 elections.
It is now undisputed that McCabe instructed an underling to leak the call, and the fact he had pushed back on it, to a Wall Street Journal writer. This was something completely within his authority to order, but, according to the AG’s report, he initially denied having done so. He then is reported to have claimed, under oath, to have discussed the matter with Comey – something the then-FBI director strongly contradicted in his own OIG interview. The report reads:
Comey told us that, prior to the article’s publication, he did not have any discussions with McCabe regarding disclosure of the August 12 PADAG call. According to Comey, he discussed the issue with McCabe after the article was published, and at that time McCabe “definitely did not tell me that he authorized” the disclosure of the PADAG call. Comey said that McCabe gave him the exact opposite impression: I don’t remember exactly how, but I remember some form or fashion and it could have been like “can you believe this crap? How does this stuff get out” kind of thing? But I took from whatever communication we had that he wasn’t involved in it. . . . I have a strong impression he conveyed to me “it wasn’t me boss.” And I don’t think that was by saying those words, I think it was most likely by saying “I don’t know how this shit gets in the media or why would people talk about this kind of thing,” words that I would fairly take as “I, Andy, didn’t do it.” And I actually didn’t suspect Andy, after conversations with [my chief of staff], my worry was, was his aide [Special Counsel] doing it.
“In his testimony to the OIG, Comey disputed the notion that this disclosure was ‘in the best interest of the FBI,'” the report explains:
Comey acknowledged that one could argue that the disclosure shows that FBI leadership “is battling the pencil-pushing bureaucrats across the street [at Main Justice]” and “trying to do the right thing by way of the investigators in New York and Andy [McCabe] is their champion,” but Comey said he “wouldn’t have bought this argument” because it is outweighed by the fact that the disclosure would confirm the existence of a criminal investigation and harm FBI-DOJ relations. Likewise, FBI-GC told us that the problem with the disclosure was that “to put it bluntly, it throws DOJ under the bus,” while accomplishing very little in terms of countering the narrative that the FBI was politically motivated. In FBI-GC’s view, disclosure of this single conversation amounted to “a lower level effort to influence the narrative when the narrative is at a much higher level and going at a trajectory that it was not possible to change through something like this.”
In the report’s conclusions, it becomes clear OIG believes McCabe lied under oath about Comey having approved the leak. “Further, after it became apparent that the OIG knew about his role in the disclosure,” the report concludes, “McCabe sought to legitimize his actions by falsely claiming that he had told Comey that he authorized the disclosure and that Comey was fine with his decision.”
Until the release of the report, it had been assumed Comey and McCabe were close allies, the two having made strong statements of support when the other landed in hot water with the administration. For example, in January Comey tweeted, “Special Agent Andrew McCabe stood tall over the last 8 months, when small people were trying to tear down an institution we all depend on,” returning the favor of May 2017 when, after Trump fired Comey, McCabe told Congress, “I hold Director Comey in the absolute highest regard. I have the highest respect for his considerable abilities and his integrity, and it has been the greatest privilege and honor of my professional life to work with him.”
Discussion of McCabe and his apparent dispute over the how the leak was handled was noticeably absent from Comey interviews with ABC News and USA Today to promote his book A Higher Loyalty. Neither has McCabe made any public statements as to his apparent dispute with his former boss.
That did not, however, stop some other anti-Trump figures from attacking Comey in his new moment in the sun. “Nobody is satisfied with anything he’s been saying,” a “longtime Clinton adviser” told the Hill, with another Clinton ally, Patti Solis Doyle, adding:
I think he displayed unreliably poor judgment in the Clinton investigation by bucking [Department of Justice] procedures and having a press conference when there were no charges brought, and I think he has displayed incredibly poor judgment in the timing of this book before the end of the [Robert] Mueller investigation.
Combined with Comey’s insinuation that yet another scandal may come to light regarding his former boss, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the fired FBI director finds himself with few unequivocal allies among prominent enemies of the Trump administration as he reenters the public eye.