Friday, June 15, 2018

The Global Aristocracy

In 1990 I published my third book, Politics and War: European Conflict from Philip II to Hitler.  It was, I see now, an analysis of the development of western civilization, viewed through the prism of eras of general war.  Its four sections dealt with the periods 1559-1659, 1661-1715 (the era of Louis XIV), 1789-1815 (the Revolutionary and Napoleonic era), and 1914-45.  It focused on what nations were fighting about, and whether they were successful in achieving it, which in turn led me to the nature of politics in each of these eras and how it led to, and affected, war.

When I began that book, the rise of the modern state had already been a major theme of European history for well over a century.  The founder of modern history, the German Leopold von Ranke, had placed this topic at the center of his work.  I concluded, however, after more than a year of working on the first period, that traditional interpretations had greatly exaggerated the speed at which anything approaching a modern state had developed in the European nations.  The key players in both the national and international politics of the late 16th and early 17th centuries, I found, tended to be great aristocrats rather than monarchs, such as the Duke of Alba in Spain, the Guise, Montmorency and Bourbon families in France, the Dutch nobles who led the Dutch revolt, and German noblemen like Albert von Wallenstein, the great general of the Thirty Years War.  They often commanded more resources than their monarchs, and their monarchs' attempts to compel their allegiance usually ended in disaster.  They also acted independently on the international stage, frequently making alliances with foreign rulers against their own.  They walked around with armed retainers, sometimes hired private assassins, and often raised armies of their own.  Some of them organized religious parties--both Protestant and militant Catholic--but the interest of their families always seemed to be their primary motive.  Because of their power and their monarchs' attempts to control it, every major European nation suffered through at least one long period of chaos during that tumultuous century.  Louis XIV, who was one of the heroes of the book, managed to tame the aristocracy in the second half of the 17th century by bringing them to Versailles and making them fight his wars, instead of their own.  He also subsidized his fellow monarchs, instead of their great aristocrats, and thus strengthened monarchy all over the continent. The result was a century of political, cultural and economic progress.

The Second World War, I concluded at the end of the book, brought this long era of international politics to an end.  The European powers--led by Germany--engaged in the two world wars in a struggle to become world powers, comparable in size and strength to the United States or the USSR.  They could not do so, and 1945 left Europe in the hands of those two victorious powers, divided into rival spheres of influence.  That order was collapsing by the time the book appeared in 1990, but that had happened too late to discuss.  Even more than ten years later, when I added an epilogue to a new second edition, I did not see where things are going.

Now that is clear.  The critical development of the twenty-first century, I am convinced, is the growth of a new global aristocracy, reflecting our new economy.  It is dominated by financial interests, energy magnates, and the leaders of the new technology in cyberspace.  It is allied with, or dominates, many of the governments around the world--including those of Russia and the United States.  (I really don't know what the situation is, in this respect, in China.)  It is having major impacts on foreign policy and war.  And it is relatively impervious to the workings of democracy, which it has learned, here in the US, to control.

It would take a long book and a lot of research to get a really clear and comprehensive picture of the new aristocracy's power, and I must confine myself to a few observations.  The new aristocracy is even more international than the old one.  Its members, whether from Russia, China, or the Middle East, are buying up high-end real estate in all the most desirable places in the globe--the places, like Paris, London, Vancouver, San Francisco, Boston and New York, became so desirable because their nations had strong political orders over the last few centuries.  Great aristocrats own most of the world's leading professional sports teams.  In the US, one family, the Kochs, have put together what is by far the most powerful private political network in US history. Other parts of the aristocracy exercise great influence on US foreign policy and have recently managed to torpedo the nuclear agreement with Iran. The new aristocracy has promoted, and benefits from, the new global economic order, and many of the agreements that have created and seek to expand that order now try to protect its enterprises from any government interference.  As Thomas Piketty showed, the new aristocracy has managed to hide a very large portion of its enormous wealth from scrutiny.

Last, but hardly least, two allies of the new aristocracy are now the heads of the Russian and American states.

Whether Donald Trump actually counts as a member of aristocracy depends on the answer to the mystery of how much money he really has himself.   Since I am quite skeptical about the extent of his fortune--like John LeCarre, I wouldn't be a bit surprised to find that he really has nothing at all--I am more inclined to see him as a useful front for the new order, rather than a full-scale member.  And what triggered this piece was a long article in yesterday's New York Times--one now doomed to be largely ignored amidst a new barrage of stories about the FBI investigations--about a certain Thomas Barrack, a Lebanese-American who has been a go-between between Donald Trump and various princes from the UAE and Saudi Arabia since the time of the Trump campaign.

The amazing Times story, written by David D. Kirkpatrick, is based on a journalistic coup. Some one gave the Times a long string of emails between Barrack, who heads his own financial firm, and the UAE Ambassador the the US.  When in 2016 Barrack wanted to introduce candidate Trump, the Ambassador told him that many people in the Gulf region were very worried by Trump's evident hostility towards Muslims.  Barrack reassured him that Trump had long-standing interests in the UAE and elsewhere.  In subsequent weeks he managed to build relationships between Trump and the Saudis as well--and Barrack suggested that Paul Manafort be brought into the Trump campaign.  After Trump won the election, Barrack exchanged emails with the UAE Ambassador talking about "a lot of things that we will have to do together.  Together being the operative word."  After the inauguration, Barrack also brought Jared Kushner together with the UAE Ambassador. He had previously bought up $70 million of Kushner's huge debt, growing out of his purchase of a New York skyscraper.

This was not the only channel between the Saudis and the leading Gulf states on the one hand and the Trump campaign on the other.  An earlier Times story, co-written by Kirkpatrick, described how Eric Prince, once head of Blackwater--a private army similar to those of early 17th-century Europe--arranged an August 2006 meeting among Donald Trump, Jr.; an "Israeli specialist in social media manipulation," who offered to help the Trump campaign; and a Republican donor, George Nader, who explained that the Saudi and UAE monarchies wanted to help elect Trump.  Since taking office, the Trump Administration has concerted numerous important actions with the Saudis, denouncing the Iran nuclear agreement, agreeing to the blockade of Qatar, and making a big new arms deal.

The media obsession with Trump's connections to Russia has obscured these and other Middle East associations,. which are at least as important. Meanwhile, Trump is in office thanks to American members of the new aristocracy, such as the hedge fund manager Robert Mercer, Breitbart's patron; David Pecker, the publisher of National Enquirer, who stopped some stories of Trump's affairs from appearing before the election; and Rupert Murdoch of Fox.  The Koch brothers didn't back Trump's candidacy but they have quickly made peace with the Trump Administration and have been able to implement a great deal of their agenda with its help.

Within the United States, a tradition arose about 120 years ago of robust reporting leading to the redress of grievances and the improvement of public life.  I and many others still find it hard to write about problems without sounding as if they can, and should, be fixed.  There will be no easy fix for these problems, however, regardless of what happens to Trump and his Administration.  They represent, I think, a fundamental  historical shift, comparable in scope to the growth of the Enlightenment state from the 18th through the 20th centuries, which they are now undermining.  We will be living in this world for a long time.  It is better to begin by facing reality.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Robert Kennedy - an addendum


I told some Robert Kennedy stories earlier this week on the anniversary of his assassination, but I didn't have room for my favorite ones.  They involved my own father.

Born in 1913--four years before JFK and a full dozen years before RFK--my father had been a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford in the late 1930s and begun a career as a Washington civil servant in 1939. He had a very rapid rise, and in 1948 President Truman appointed him Assistant Secretary of Labor for International Labor Affairs.  That meant that his career was now hostage to the whims of the American electorate--as it remained for the rest of his working life, through 1980.  In the fall of 1952, I understood that the presidential election was important to my whole family, even though i was only 5, and I remember my older brother, in the top bunk bed, telling me on Wednesday morning that Eisenhower had won.  My father delayed any impact on our family for two more years, managing to stay in DC on a temporary basis, but in early 1955 we moved to Albany, where he was a top aide to the new Governor, Averell Harriman.  Harriman, although almost 70, had presidential ambitions, but these came crashing down when he was beaten badly by Nelson Rockefeller in his bid for re-election in 1958.  At that point my father managed to put together funding for a chair in international labor affairs at the School of Foreign Service at American University, and we moved back to Washington in early 1959.

My father, like so many Democrats, was now focused single-mindedly on the 1960 election.  His preferred candidate, and therefore mine, was originally Hubert Humphrey, the leading Democratic liberal, but Humphrey's candidacy crashed and burned in the West Virginia primary, leading John Kennedy ahead.  At that point my father joined the many Democrats who were hoping that Adlai Stevenson would make a third run for the nomination.  That was the situation on about July 1, when I went off to music camp in Maine.  I was there, out of reach of any television, when JFK was nominated in Los Angeles.  When my parents picked me up at the end of the month, I got my first real lesson in politics.  Not only was my father now solidly for JFK, nothing he said gave the slightest indication that he had ever favored anyone else.

As he explained years later in an oral history for the JFK Library, my father had met JFK a few times, but did not know him well. His entree into the campaign was his fellow Rhodes Scholar, Byron White, who had gotten to know some of the Kennedys in 1938-9 when old Joe Kennedy was Ambassador in London.  White was working with Bobby Kennedy, the campaign manager, in Citizens for Kennedy, the non-party, independent campaign organization they had set up.  Early in the campaign, on a plane trip to Chicago, my father told White that the campaign had a problem with Jewish voters.

The problem, he explained, was that many Jews didn't like Jack, because they thought his father had been a pro-Hitler anti-Semite in the 1930s.  White, knowing my father, knew this was serious. "Why don't you talk to Bobby about it?" he asked--with the candidate's brother and campaign manager right on the same plane. "You're kidding," said my father. "No, he'll want to hear it," said White, and off they went up the aisle.  After introductions, my father took a deep breath and plunged right in.

Here it behooves me to step back for a moment and use my historian's perspective. The accusation against Joe Kennedy was particularly serious because it was truer than true--and while I'm not sure that my father knew that, RFK most certainly did.   But what I didn't learn until the late 1980s was that the Kennedy brothers had been dealing with this accusation at least since Jack's first Senate campaign in 1952.  Now, in August 1960, Bobby was not surprised or distressed by what my father said.  He denied the accusation, and assured my father that his father had given substantial contributions to Jewish charities. "I hope that wasn't last month?" my father replied.  No, said Bobby, it was "a respectable time ago."  He encouraged my father to put this word out to Jewish leaders, as other allies had presumably done in Massachusetts, and he did.  And in the very close election, the Jewish vote retained its Democratic allegiance.

In a second conversation, RFK quizzed my father about the situation in New York, where the Democratic Party was fractured into three or four different groups.  My father told him not to worry--all those groups were solidly in JFK's camp.  What was important was not to waste time and energy trying to bring them together. "That's good advice," Bobby said.  In two conversations, Phil Kaiser had established himself in RFK's mind as a man who would not shrink from giving one bad news when it had to be delivered, and who had good political sense.  That was all he needed to know.

When JFK narrowly won the election, his transition team decided to make a new kind of ambassadorial appointment, one that did not fall within the traditional categories of professional diplomats on the one hand, and big campaign contributors on the other.  They included academics (such as John Kenneth Galbraith, who went to India, and Edwin Reicschauer, who went to Japan); journalists (William Attwood went to Guinea); retired General James Gavin, who went to France; and diplomat in exile George F. Kennan, who went to Yugoslavia.  My father always thought that it was RFK who had put him into the mix, and Chester Bowles, a transition figure who become Undersecretary of State, decided he should become Ambassador to Senegal.  In the fall of 1962, I learned relatively recently, my father wrote a memo for RFK, then Attorney General, on how recent steps by the Administration--particularly forcing the admission of James Meredith into the University of Mississippi--had improved its standing on the African continent.

At the time of John F. Kennedy's death, my father was home on leave, lobbying for a new position, preferably in Europe.  With the help of his old boss Averell Harriman, he became the Minister, or Deputy Chief of Mission, in London, his dream job.  About four years later, early in 1968, he had one more encounter with RFK, by then a Senator from New York.  I never heard about this incident from him, which saddens me, because it made me quite proud of him.  My older brother, who witnessed it, told me about it after my father's death in 2007.

In January or February of 1968, before the fateful New Hampshire primary, my parents were again home on leave, and my father and older brother were entertained at the home of Byron White, now a Supreme Court Justice.  And who should also drop into the same evening party but Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York.  The subject of Eugene McCarthy's campaign came up, and RFK made clear that he regarded McCarthy as a stalking horse for himself.  Then Senator Kennedy brought up something else.  A year earlier, the London Embassy had become the focus of worldwide attention while Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin visited London for talks with Harold Wilson about the war in Vietnam.  The US had halted the bombing of the North for a few days and peace talks had been expected.  But suddenly, the visited terminated without anything happening, and the bombing resumed.  Exactly what had happened was not clear.

On that night early in 1968, RFK began grilling my father about what had happened.  "Was that all for show, or was there a real proposal?" he asked.  The answer would have interested him very much.  Wilson and the US Ambassador, David Bruce, thought they had a deal to open peace talks worked out, but the National Security Adviser, Walt Rostow--another fellow Rhodes Scholar of my father's--insisted on harsh conditions for talks which Hanoi would not accept.  But RFK did not learn about that night.

My father was a very loyal man, and he always believed he owed his diplomatic career to RFK.  But he also felt--like McGeorge Bundy--that "you can only work for one President at a time," and he still expected Johnson to be re-elected at that point.  He refused to tell RFK what had happened, even as the Senator, in my brother's recollection, got angrier and angrier, and eventually stormed out.  He felt a professional obligation to keep a secret, rather than to please the powerful politician who was interrogating him at that moment.

That kind of professionalism still survives among many Foreign Service officers, I suspect, but they are being marginalized in the new Administration.  Loyalty, now, isn't everything, it's the only thing. Both RFK and my father were men of another age.  They belonged to what most liberals today would see as a very narrow elite.  But that elite understood what politics and government were really about.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Saturday, June 02, 2018

What's Different About Trump

I have spent most of my adult life studying how modern governments work.  Foreign policy in particular traditionally requires the coordination of various bureaucracies and their leaders, which in turn requires some kind of structure.  I was fortunate to read a then-new book, Graham Allison's Essence of Decision, when I was in grad school, because it showed how that process and structure can change policy and effect outcomes.  The same insight has governed a great deal of what I have written.

Exactly how policy is made varies a lot from one country and one era to another, and some governments have been far more organized than others.  But from the 1930s through the 1990s, at least--the era in which I have the greatest expertise--decision-making in Washington generally followed one particular pattern, with variations.  Various bureaucracies contributed to most major decisions, and no big decision was reached without some sort of meeting involving the President and his cabinet members.  There were exceptions. Henry Kissinger appears to have carried on his negotiations with the North Vietnamese almost entirely on his own, and Colin Powell was not let into the decision to invade Iraq before it was made.  Even more remarkably, the Bush II Administration, I gradually became convinced, embarked upon the Iraq without ever drawing up a document explaining what it was doing, what it hoped to accomplish, and how it planned to get there. (As time went on, it became clear to me that my War College colleagues and I would have known some one who had seen such a document had it existed.)  No previous administration that I am aware of, however, made decisions like the Trump Administration.

A series of episodes have made clear that the President makes key decisions on his own, without a meeting to allow his cabinet members to have any input, and announces them publicly, often on Twitter, leaving his administration to scramble to implement or try to reverse them.  This was brought home to me a week or two ago when he decided to cancel the Singapore summit with Kim Jong-Il.  He may have consulted with John Bolton--whose own statements had provoked the negative comments from the North Koreans that prompted Trump's step--but Secretaries Mattis and Pompeo did not seem to have been consulted.  Bolton's replacement of H. R. McMaster is bound to help continue this anarchic process, because McMaster was an old school type who would have tried to bring everyone into the picture, while Bolton, like Trump, is too convinced of his own genius to care about consulting anyone else.  Trump made a similar unilateral move when he tried to ban transgendered people from the military, and he seems to have made some other quick decisions in response to things he has heard on Fox News.  His announcement yesterday that the Summit is back on probably reflects the influence of a different subordinate, but I doubt that there was any meeting to get everyone fully on board with it, either.  The drama over trade policy is playing out similarly, with various advisers trying to slant what the President is doing, without having any idea of what he might say or do next.

This style of Trump's, as I have said before, reminds me of the emperor William II of Germany (reigned 1888-1918), but William had many more constraints upon his behavior than Trump did.  His Imperial Chancellor had to sign on to all major decisions and he, in turn, generally consulted the Foreign Secretary and the heads of the Army and Navy before moving on a question of war and peace.  It is rather frightening to recall that one reason the First World War broke out in August 1914 was that the Emperor decided to back Austria-Hungary against Serbia, even at the risk of war, without a formal Crown Council to air the issues thoroughly, such as the one that had decided against war in similar circumstances in 1912.  Secretary of Defense Mattis, in my opinion, would refuse to order the American military into a major conflict without a formal decision involving all the responsible members of government.  But he is now the last establishment figure in Trump's senior foreign policy team.  Meanwhile, today's New York Times informs me that the Department of Justice has adopted a new doctrine authorizing the President to use force, at least from the air, any time he deems it to be in the national interest.

Trump's style reflects his views and those of many of his supporters.  He regards the Washington bureaucracies as a "deep state" that does not share his values and that needs to be tamed, and often ignored.  So do many Republican legislators and so do Fox News pundits.  And this view is not confined only to Trump supporters.  A recent article in the New York Review of Books by Noah Feldman bluntly asks the career prosecutors in the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York's office to indict the President and force him out of office, and thereby to usurp, in my opinion, a role which the Founders clearly gave to Congress.  But bureaucracy has played a critical role in modern government, including in the United States.  It is supposed to provide an enduring perspective based on a rational approach to problems and issues.  Bureaucratic processes of government are designed to give every involved party a fair hearing and to reach some kind of consensus.  Although they were never free from conflict and could certainly make huge mistakes, they served us relatively well at key moments in our history from the 1930s at least into the 1990s.

The at least temporary abandonment of such practices goes hand in hand with the Trump Administration's broader attack on the principles of the Enlightenment and the idea of objective truth.  It could have very serious consequences indeed.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Gleichschaltung in the Justice Department

The Trump Administration is trying to destroy the federal government as we have known it since the 1930s: a series of cabinet departments and agencies working for the public welfare according to principles of science and reason.  Washington, to be sure, has lost much of that role over the last few decades.  The SEC is a shadow of its former self, the regulation of the financial industry has been cut way back, and successive Republican administrations have crippled regulation of the energy industry.  Last week's New Yorker article by Evan Osnos shows that the battle has been personal, with the Trump Administration and its allies in right wing media targeting particular individuals and sidelining their careers, in one case based on completely false accusations.  Led by Newt Gingrich, conservative Republicans have been assailing federal bureaucrats for decades, and this administration is their chance to make nearly all their dreams come true.  That is what is happening in the Education and Interior Departments and at the EPA.  Congress, which is about to repeal much of the very moderate Dodd-Frank bill, has joined in the fun.

Trump's most personal battle with the bureaucracy, of course, relates to the Mueller investigation into the role of Russia in the 2016 election and many other related matters.  He admitted to firing James Comey to protect himself from that investigation and he has railed against Jeff Sessions (who had contacts with the Russians himself) for recusing himself from it and leaving his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, in charge of special counsel Robert Mueller.  Continually misrepresenting facts, the President and his allies in the House of Representatives are now arguing that a Democratic conspiracy within the Justice Department and FBI both exonerated Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation of wrongdoing in two separate investigations, and used planted evidence (the Steele dossier) and an as-yet-unnamed informant to start an investigation of his own campaign.  Devin Nunes, in particular--the chair of the House Intelligence Committee--appears to have been laying the groundwork for firing Mueller for some time.  But the President has not yet acted.

Many of us have tended to assume, based on Rosenstein's conduct to date and Trump's rants against his Attorney General, that the DOJ leadership was in fact protecting Mueller and the FBI against the White House.  Yet I am now convinced that that is only half true, and that countervailing forces are at work within Justice.  The reason is that I have now studied the FBI Inspector General's report on Andrew McCabe, the FBI Deputy Director who was fired in March.  We don't know much about how the investigation of McCabe began, but the report makes clear that McCabe was fired (in an attempt to deprive him of his pension after about 24 years of service) mainly for standing up to a misleading, pro-Trump story in the press at the height of the 2016 election campaign.

That story appeared on October 23--two weeks before the election--in Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal, which was supporting Trump.  Written by reporter Devlin Barrett, it was based on one fact.  In 2015, Andrew McCabe's wife, Dr. Jill McCabe, had waged an unsuccessful campaign for the Virginia state legislature, and had received almost half a million dollars in contributions from a Political Action Committee directed by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who was attempting to win a Democratic majority in the legislature.  There was nothing unusual or illegal about that, but Barrett then added that McAuliffe had long been close to the Clintons, and that Andrew McCabe--Jill's husband--"later helped oversee the investigation into Mrs. Clinton's email use."  In fact McCabe, who had then been the director of the Washington Field Office, had subsequently become Associate Deputy Director, and then Deputy Director, of the FBI--the latter the second-ranking position in the bureau behind James Comey.  But Barrett presented no evidence that he actually directed the Clinton investigation--which Comey had officially closed several months earlier--and the story even confirmed that Comey himself had made all the major decisions about it.   Still, the story had the clear purpose of suggesting that McCabe had gone easy on Clinton because a long-time Clinton ally had given money to his wife's campaign.  Then-candidate and now-President Trump has repeated the accusation many times every since, right up until this very week.

The story clearly impugned the integrity of the FBI in general and McCabe in particular.  Yet this turned out only to be a first salvo. The next day, Barrett told the FBI's director of the Office of Public Affairs (who is referred to throughout the IG report as the AD/OPA) that he was writing a followup story about another investigation dealing with the Clinton foundation and whether it had solicited money illegally while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State.  Barrett said he had learned that McCabe had warned agents "not to make a lot of overt moves" in that investigation during the campaign.  This accusation, as it happened, was essentially the opposite of the truth.  More than two months earlier, on August  12, McCabe had received a call from an unidentified Principle Associate Deputy Attorney General (referred to in the report as PADAG), expressing concerns that the FBI might take "overt steps" in the Clinton Foundation investigation during the campaign.   The conversation became heated and McCabe asked if the PADAG was asking him to shut down "a validly predicated investigation." The PADAG said no.  Both parties confirmed the substance of this conversation.  McCabe decided to authorize the assistant director for public affairs and another offical referred to as the Special Counsel to talk to Barrett to give him the true story of that call, after first contacting him to find out what he already had.  \They did.

Barrett's story appeared on line on October 30 and headlined page 1 of the WSJ on October 31, leading with matters relating to the new investigation of Anthony Weiner's computer and the re-opening of the email investigation, but going on to discuss the controversy over the investigation of the Clinton Foundation.  But as the IG report explains, it then moved on to the Clinton Foundation investigation.

        "The article identified McCabe as the FBI official who “sought to refocus the Clinton Foundation probe,” and reported that agents 'further down the FBI chain of command' had been told to “stand down” on the Clinton Foundation investigation with the understanding that 'the order had come from the deputy director — Mr. McCabe.' The article stated that '[o]thers familiar with the matter deny Mr. McCabe or any other senior FBI official gave such a stand-down instruction.' The article recounted the August 12 conversation between McCabe and PADAG (identified as an unnamed 'senior Justice Department Official'). It stated:

          According to a person familiar with the probes, on Aug. 12, a senior Justice Department official called Mr. McCabe to voice his displeasure at finding that New York FBI agents were still openly pursuing the Clinton Foundation probe during the election season. Mr. McCabe said agents still had the authority to pursue the issue as long as they didn’t use overt methods requiring Justice Department approvals. The Justice Department official was “very pissed off,” according to one person close to McCabe, and pressed him to explain why the FBI was still chasing a matter the department considered dormant. . . .  “Are you telling me that I need to shut down a validly predicated investigation?” Mr. McCabe asked, according to people familiar with the conversation. After a pause, the official replied “Of course not,” these people said.

           [end quote from IG report]

Now the purpose of the IG Report was not to find out the truth about who, if anyone, had tried to obstruct the investigation of the Clinton Foundation, and whether they had succeeded in doing so--however important those questions might be.  It is clear that revelations and serious accusations about that investigation were going to appear in the story whether McCabe authorized the contact with Barrett or not, and that that contact merely served to introduce some balance into the story as it appeared one week before the election.  The question the IG report addressed, was whether McCabe had done anything wrong.

As to that, the whole IG report tends to confirm, in spades, the immortal words of Richard Nixon: "What really hurts is when you try to cover it up."  The report accuses McCabe of "lack of candor" in a number of conversations with FBI officials about the disclosure of the August 12 conversation to Barrett, beginning with a conversation he had with his boss, James Comey, on October 30.  Unfortunately there was no contemporary record of that conversation and the two men had different recollections.  McCabe claimed that he told Comey--who earlier in the day had complained about all the leaks in the piece at a staff meeting--that he had authorized the disclosure of the August 12 conversation, and that Comey had not especially reacted to this.  Comey on the other hand said that while he did not remember McCabe explicitly denying that he had authorized that disclosure, he gave him the impression that he had not done so.  And oddly, while Comey discusses President Trump's accusations about Jill McCabe and McAuliffe's contributions in his memoirs, they say nothing at all about this controversy or about the investigation of the Clinton Foundation.

It was in May 2017 that FBI officials began investigating McCabe's role in the disclosures in the October 30 WSJ piece.  The report does not mention this, but various officials in the bureau, the Justice Department and the White House seem to have been working at cross purposes at that time.  It was on May 9 that FBI officials interviewed McCabe about this matter for the first time.  That, remarkably, was the same day that President Trump fired James Comey.  The IG report says that the McCabe matter was added to an ongoing investigation of leaks, and does not tell us, of course, if this step was part of an orchestrated purge that began with Comey's firing.  What is rather amazing is that on that same day, McCabe became the Acting Director of the FBI and remained so until September.

McCabe did deny in that meeting, and in several ones subsequently, that he had authorized the disclosure of the content of his August 12 conversation.  He did not, however, sign and return a sworn statement that was drafted after that meeting.  In July he was asked about the issue again said that he "may have" authorized the special counsel to talk to Barrett, and in August he confirmed that he had authorized the leak.  While McCabe hadn't launched a sustained cover-up, he had told a falsehood to investigators on at least one occasion.  But had he been covering up wrongdoing on his part?

As the IG report acknowledges, McCabe, as Deputy Director, was one of the bureau officials authorized to make disclosures to the press, and the assistant director for public affairs, who helped handle the contact with Barrett, was another.  Such disclosures had to be deemed in the best interests of the Bureau.  The IG found McCabe guilty of a serious offense, leading to his firing and possible criminal charges, because they argued that he was only protecting himself and not the Bureau.  In my opinion that argument is absurd.  The accusation that bureau agents had been told to stand down in their investigation of the Clinton Foundation and the implication that they had done so impugned the integrity of the bureau and leading officials had every reason to be concerned about that.

When an incident has serious consequences for one of the parties, it behooves us to ask who really made it happen.  George Zimmerman, in my opinion, should have been convicted of taking Trayvon Martin's life because there is no doubt whatever that he, for no good reason, started the confrontation between him that ended when he shot and killed him.  In the cases of police shootings of unarmed men, some of the encounters were started for no good reason by the police while others began with serious offenses by the eventual victim.  In this case, in which a career and a pension, not a life, are now at stake, what started the ball rolling was Devlin Barrett's stories implying that McCabe had somehow been bought by the Clintons, and arguing that the Justice Department and the Bureau had stopped the investigation of the Clinton foundation.  The only thing McCabe really did was to try to refute the latter allegation which, based on undisputed facts, was false, at least as Barrett reported it.  We don't know how Barrett and his editors were convinced that the contribution to McCabe's wife was newsworthy, or who told him the foundation investigation had been muzzled.

Rod Rosenstein may have protected Robert Mueller so far and may intend to continue doing so.  But others within the FBI and the Justice Department--as well as the Republicans in Congress--have evidently accepted the Trump White House's view of reality and have tried to enforce it on McCabe.  Others may follow.  In the year or so after taking power in January 1933, the Nazis achieved the Gleichschaltung--that is, the coordination, or bringing into line--of the key bureaucracies of the German state. They did so by installing new leadership, firing some dissident bureaucrats, installing some Nazis in key positions, and intimidating the rest of the holdovers.  This is happening, as Osnos shows, at State, Interior, the EPA and elsewhere, and the McCabe matter tells me that there is an attempt to make it happen in Justice, perhaps the most important department of all. Stay tuned.