Guest Post By Margot Cleveland
After a week of teasing its upcoming sit-down with Andrew McCabe, on Sunday evening “60 Minutes” aired its full interview with the former FBI Deputy Director and his wife Jill. The half-hour interview with correspondent Scott Pelley was a gift to McCabe, offering him a national forum to spin everything from his firing for lying about media leaks to conversations he had with President Trump.
Here are five key take-aways from the interview.
Pelley Portrayed McCabe As An Unbiased Career Employee
Pelley opened his interview with McCabe by introducing him as “a lifelong Republican who had a sterling 21-year career at the FBI.” McCabe would later remind viewers of this fact, stating, “I’m a career FBI agent-government worker.”
So what. Many lifelong republicans oppose Trump, with some going so far as disowning the party and encouraging Americans to vote D down the line. The “career” label is no better. You know who else were career FBI agent-government workers? Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.
Pelley’s Set-Ups Were Fake News
Throughout the interview, Pelley and producers provided supposed background information to set-up McCabe’s comments. But “60 Minutes” flubbed the background facts, such as when Pelley said that “Mr. Trump had asked FBI Director Comey to drop the investigation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.” Although that’s long been a mainstream media narrative, it never happened.
Rather, according to a memorandum Comey wrote purporting to summarize a meeting he had with Trump shortly after the president fired Flynn, Trump said Flynn “hadn’t done anything wrong” in his call with the Russians. Comey’s memo continued: The president “explained that he just couldn’t have Flynn misleading the Vice President and, in any event, he had other concerns about Flynn.” Comey then added that Trump later:
“returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying that Flynn is a good guy, and has been through a lot. He misled the Vice President but he didn’t do anything wrong in the call. He said, ‘I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.’”
However, at no time in the memorandum did Comey claim to inform Trump that Flynn was a subject of a criminal investigation. And the White House expressly denied the media spin, stating:
“While the president has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn.”
Yet, “60 Minutes” stated unequivocally that “Mr. Trump had asked FBI Director Comey to drop the investigation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.”
Pelley also misled the viewing public by omission. After reporting that McCabe ordered two investigations of the president—one questioning whether Trump fired Comey to impede the Russia investigation and the second looking at whether Trump was acting on behalf of the Russian government—that led to the appointment of Special Counsel Mueller, Pelley noted that to date “Muller has obtained public indictments, convictions, or guilty pleas involving six Trump campaign associates, including the campaign chairman, plus 25 Russian intelligence agents.”
Of course, none of the charges against the Trump campaign associates had anything to do with Russia’s interference in the presidential election. But that’s not something viewers would know from Pelley’s coverage.
And then there was Pelley’s attempt to portray McCabe as an ethically-sensitive leader by stating that Andrew McCabe “recused himself from the Clinton Investigations” because of funding his wife Jill had received from a Clinton-connected PAC when she ran for state office in Virginia. But it appears that McCabe’s belated-recusal—it came one week before the 2016 election—was forced on him from higher up.
McCabe Also Played Fast And Loose With The Facts
McCabe also played fast and loose with the facts during the interview. For instance, McCabe claimed that after Comey’s firing, he put his head down and got to work “getting a special counsel appointed.” But unless McCabe had something to do with Comey leaking memos to his law professor friend who then passed the information on to the media, McCabe’s attempt to grab glory for Mueller’s appointment falls short.
Later in the interview McCabe dissembles some more when discussing the memorandum Rod Rosenstein wrote to justify the firing of Comey. McCabe claims “the president specifically asked Rod Rosenstein to write the memo justifying the firing and told Rod to include Russia in the memo.” But what about Russia Trump wanted Rosenstein to include in the memo was left unsaid, raising the specter of something sinister.
The simple fact remains, though, that while Comey privately assured the president that he was not under investigation, the former FBI director allowed the public to wrongly believe the Russia collusion investigation was also targeting Trump. And there would be nothing nefarious in asking Rosenstein to make that note in his memorandum.
McCabe’s Memos Might Not Be All That
McCabe revealed another tidbit during his friendly chat with Pelley: Like Comey, McCabe drafted memoranda following conversations with President Trump and he has turned those over to Special Counsel Mueller’s team. What exactly McCabe said in these memos is unknown, as is the question of their accuracy. But from the Flynn case, we know that McCabe’s memos haven’t always lined up with the other evidence.
For instance, in his memo detailing how FBI agents came to interview Flynn, the former FBI Deputy Director wrote “On Tuesday, 01/24/2017, as [sic] 1235, LTG Michael Flynn called via secured phone from [redacted] to my office number.” Yet, the Special Counsel maintained in court filings that “At 12:35 p.m. on January 24, 2017, the first Tuesday after the presidential inauguration, General Flynn received a phone call from then-Deputy Director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, on a secure phone in his office in the West Wing.” And former FBI agent Peter Strzok also maintained that McCabe had phoned Flynn.
While substantively who called whom may prove irrelevant, McCabe told Pelley that “I made memorandums to myself to make sure that I preserved my contemporaneous recollections of those interactions,” so any problems with the accuracy of those memos will call into question the accuracy of all McCabe’s memos.
Setting The Tone For An Impending Indictment?
McCabe spent the bulk of the interview painting himself as a dedicated, apolitical leader interested only in the truth and portraying the president as a volatile bully who was potentially a traitor. But the real bottom line from Sunday’s interview? Pelley pulled his punches and gifted McCabe nearly a half-an-hour of free network air time to slam the president, implicate Rosenstein in a soft-coup conspiracy, and plea his own innocence in any wrongdoing.
While McCabe probably enjoyed his 15 minutes of revenge, more importantly, the former deputy director needed to get out in front of any potential criminal charges that might be forthcoming under recently-confirmed Attorney General William Barr.
After all, nothing has yet come of the Office of Inspector General’s scathing report on McCabe’s conduct and the findings that on three separate occasions McCabe “lacked candor” when questioned under oath.
But McCabe told “60 Minutes” that “he was confused by the investigators’ questions and distracted by the Comey crisis.”
“There’s absolutely no reason for anyone and certainly not for me to misrepresent what happened,” McCabe said, “So no. Did I ever intentionally mislead the people I spoke to? I did not. I had no reason to. And I did not.”
Whether the DOJ will indict McCabe under the new leadership of Barr is yet to be seen. But if McCabe is indicted, he had better prepare for tougher questions than the ones “60 Minutes” lobbed his way on Sunday night.
Margot Cleveland is a senior contributor to The Federalist. Cleveland served nearly 25 years as a permanent law clerk to a federal appellate judge and is a former full-time faculty member and current adjunct instructor at the college of business at the University of Notre Dame. The views expressed here are those of Cleveland in her private capacity.