It’s a testament to how crazy things have been this week that this memo — Andrew McCabe’s memorialization of opening the investigation into Donald Trump on May 16, 2017 — only got covered by obsequious propagandists on the frothy right. Judicial Watch liberated it via FOIA and actually had to focus on something else — Rod Rosenstein’s offer to wear a wire — to drive interest.
I suspect that’s because the memo paints McCabe’s own actions in favorable light (and Rosenstein in a damning light, both as regards his own integrity and his purported loyalty to Trump). Consider this paragraph:
I began by telling [Rosenstein] that today I approved the opening of an investigation of President Donald Trump. I explained that the purpose of the investigation was to investigate allegations of possible collusion between the president and the Russian Government, possible obstruction of justice related to the firing of FBI Director James Comey, and possible conspiracy to obstruct justice. The DAG questioned what I meant by collusion and I explained that I was referring to the investigation of any potential links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. I explained that the counterintelligence investigations of this sort were meant to uncover any [sic] the existence of any threat to national security as well as whether or not criminal conduct had occurred. Regarding the obstruction issues, I made clear that our predication was based not only on the president’s comments last week to reporter Lester Holt (that he connected the firing of the director to the FBI’s Russia investigation), but also on the several concerning comments the president made to Director Comey over the last few months. These comments included the President’s requests for assurances of loyalty, statements about the Russia investigation and the investigation of General Michael Flynn. I also informed the DAG that Director Comey preserved his recollection of these interactions in a series of contemporaneously drafted memos. Finally, I informed the DAG that as a result of his role in the matter, I thought he would be a witness in the case. [my emphasis]
The substance of this paragraph has been told before, albeit by certain NYT reporters who have consistently misunderstood the substance of Trump’s ties to Russia. Those tellings have always left out that McCabe also predicated a conspiracy to obstruct justice investigation (meaning, among other things, that Rosenstein himself was on the line for his actions to create an excuse for firing Comey). The emphasis, here, is also not focused exclusively on Mike Flynn but on the Russian investigation generally; as I’ve been meaning to show, Trump faced at least as much direct exposure given the investigation into Roger Stone, and his actions after he learned Stone was a target in March 2017 reflect that more than commonly understood.
By far, the most important detail in this paragraph, however, is McCabe’s definition of “collusion,” as he explained it the day before Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller to investigate what he would later call collusion. Collusion, for McCabe, is just “potential links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government,” not necessarily any criminal ties. McCabe made this statement at a time when FBI knew about neither the June 9 meeting to get dirt on Hillary Clinton nor Trump’s sustained effort to pursue an improbably lucrative Trump Tower deal, to say nothing of the fact that Trump’s campaign manager was sharing campaign strategy while discussing how to carve up Ukraine to Russia’s liking. That is, according to the definition McCabe used, the investigation did find “collusion.” Period, end of sentence.
Importantly, the first thing McCabe raised when discussing such — at that point hypothetical — links was national security, not criminal campaign finance or bribery exposure. That is, McCabe opened the “collusion” investigation to find out whether Trump’s — at that point hypothetical — links to the Russian government were making the US less secure. The answer to that question was not included in the Mueller Report; indeed, the most glaring evidence that those links did make the US less secure were very pointedly not included in the report.
This is an important lesson as the Ukraine investigation — which cannot and should not be separated from the Russian investigation — proceeds, one that has thus far been deemphasized again. Trump’s continued efforts to pursue policies — foreign and domestic — that personally benefit him don’t just amount to breathtaking corruption. They provide foreign countries more and more leverage to use against Trump to limit his policy options. Every time Trump does something scandalous with a foreign leader — and he does it all … the … time — it means those foreign leaders can hold that over Trump going forward and in so doing, limit his negotiating position. So not only do Americans lose out on having a President who makes decisions based on how they benefit the country rather than himself personally, but they also get a far weaker President in the bargain, someone who — if he ever decided to prioritize American interests over his own — would have already traded away his bargaining chips to do so.
Through his actions thus far as President, Trump has guaranteed he cannot pursue policies that would benefit average Americans, and he has done so not just with Russia and Ukraine, and not just because of his executive incompetence.
There is an impact that Trump’s “collusion” and corruption have on everyday Americans, whether they wear pussy hats or MAGA caps, an impact that Democrats have permitted Republicans to obscure. Trump’s actions effectively rob Americans of the powerful executive on foreign policy issues that our Constitution very imperfectly sought to ensure, without stripping the weakened Trump of the tools he can wield to punish those who call him on his weakness.
Because he always self-deals, Trump has made himself an intolerably weak President, one who makes the US less secure at every step. Republicans defending him need to be held accountable for weakening the US.
What we know of Bill Barr’s treatment of the ICIG referral on the Ukrainian whistleblower suggests he only reviewed it, cursorily, for criminal campaign finance violations — possibly not even the obvious presidential bribery prohibited explicitly by our Constitution it exhibits. Bill Barr did not, with the Russian investigation and has not with the Ukrainian referral, consider how by protecting Trump’s actions, he robs every American of what the Constitution guarantees: a President, not a man shopping for revenge and phallic symbols in foreign capitals. That’s why Barr had to totally distort the conclusions of the Mueller report on collusion: to hide what it is really about and to hide how enabling such activity by Trump hurts Americans.
Yet from the start, from the moment when McCabe opened an investigation into Trump, that’s what it was supposed to be about.