Q&A: “Garage Logic”
Podcaster Joe Soucheray takes the Center’s John Hinderaker on a tour of Gumption County.
American Experiment’s John Hinderaker interviews attorney and policy analyst Andrew McCarthy about the slippery slope of presidential investigations.
You have been writing for several years about the Russian collusion story and related matters. Your new book, Ball of Collusion, brings it all together. Tell us how that book came to be and its key messages.
While I have concluded that there really was collusion in connection with the election, it did not involve Trump being in cahoots with Kremlin to undermine the election. The most sinister collusion came from the incumbent administration putting law enforcement and intelligence apparatus toward getting Hillary Clinton elected President and damaging Trump’s campaign. And when they couldn’t prevent Trump from being elected, they hamstrung his ability to govern on the agenda that he ran on.
My original idea for the book was to do a case study on the Clinton emails investigation followed by a case study of the Trump/Russia investigation and defy people to say that both of these things were handled with the same quality. I always want to fall out of my chair when I hear Jim Comey’s congressional testimony and some of his public statements. I think highly of Comey. But it defies reality for him to say that the same set of investigators handled these cases exactly the same way with exactly the same quality of justice. It’s obvious to anybody who used to do this for a living, as I did, that the investigators bent over backward to avoid making a case on Clinton, and they scorched the earth to try to make a case against Trump.
I quickly found that because the narrative was so sprawling, I’d have to write two Russian novels if I wanted to comply with my original plan. It would be a thousand-page book. So, I found a piece of the Trump/Russia case that I could break off and write a complete book about it, even though the story was still unfolding. That’s always a scary part for a writer: There would always be the possibility that the book could come out, and events would supersede it.
Ball of Collusion lays out how the Obama administration’s intelligence and law enforcement officials collaborated to try to guarantee Hillary’s election, smear President Trump and his campaign, and undermine his ability to govern once he was elected.
I think about the damage that’s been done to the Presidency. A lot of people don’t like Trump, and anyone who reads the book will see that I find the way he conducts himself to sometimes be frustrating and counterproductive. But it’s worth looking at how people allow Trump’s personality to affect their brains. Trump derangement syndrome is a real thing. A number of our colleagues who’ve always been reliable commentators have let Trump get to them in a way so that they can’t analyze anything. By looking at all this in terms of the Presidency rather than the President, I hope people will see how damaging it has been. If you allow an administration to get enveloped in a flimsy investigation, you are not going to attract quality people into the government in the numbers we need to do the important jobs that have to be done. You’re not going get those kinds of people if you create a siege mentality around the administration, which I think is exactly what they’ve done with Trump. What’s supposed to happen when you join the government and know you’re going to have to hire a lawyer the next week?
The left has contributed to that damage in several ways. Left-wing activists have lent a hand, too, by accosting members of the administration in restaurants and things of that sort. It is getting a little hard to understand where we’re going to find people who are patriotic and self-sacrificing enough to serve in the next Republican administration.
It’s an enormous problem, and it should not be allowed to be turned into a Democratic campaign pitch: “You know, now that we’ve made it impossible for Republicans to govern, you need us because we’re the only ones who can come in and make all the levers work.” That’s the kind of argument that should be very off-putting to people.
Can we now say definitively that the Trump/Russia collusion story was a hoax?
I resist using that word because it’s fraught with politics. There were connections between Russia and Trump and the people around him that I found disturbing. But at the same time, they were perfectly legal and entirely appropriate. My beef is that since the Soviet Union collapsed, our government tried to take the position that Russia is a perfectly normal country that could be a strategic ally. I sided with Mitt Romney’s response during the 2012 presidential debates with Obama that Russia is our most important geopolitical foe, and the Democrats, no less than Obama, fought that. So, I’m glad to see the Democrats now see Russia as a problem.
It’s fine with me if you want to point out all of the disturbing connections between the Russians and people who are connected to Trump, including Trump himself. But then let’s treat everybody the same way. Let’s look at the Clinton ties to the Russians, the Democrats’ ties to the Russians, and everybody else who’s had ties to the Russians for the last 30 years.
We have to distinguish between knowing the Russians versus colluding with them to impact the 2016 presidential election.
And that goes straight to the weasel word “collusion.” It’s a telling word choice. If you had a conspiracy, you wouldn’t be talking about collusion, you’d be talking about conspiracy. The left talked about collusion because it’s kind of an amorphous general term that actually can be a perfectly benign connection You and I are colluding by having this conversation. It doesn’t mean that you’re doing anything criminal. The only collusion that should have been material in connection with Trump and Russia was whether there was a conspiracy to commit cyber espionage, as that was the allegation: Russia interfered in the presidential election, and Trump not only knew about it but was an active participant. There was never a shred of evidence that Trump was involved in a criminal conspiracy with Russia. So, to go back to your original question, that part of it absolutely is a hoax.
The most interesting thing to ask right now is how long did Mueller know it was a hoax? There’s some reason to think that the government was investigating this going back into 2015. One piece that doesn’t get enough attention is the fact that the last FISA warrant was issued in June 2017, which meant the government would have to renew the authorization in September 2017. By then, Mueller was in charge and fully up to speed. He would have been the one to go into court and reaffirm all the allegations the Bureau made about a Trump/Russia collusion. But he didn’t do it.
And by that time, almost everybody who was involved in this investigation had gone. Peter Strzok was gone, Lisa Page was gone, Jim Comey gone, and Andrew McCabe. Everybody had either been fired, reassigned, forced to retire, or encouraged to retire. So, it seems to me that you can actually fix a date and time when Mueller had to have known that there was nothing to this. But why keep the investigation going for almost another two years then? I think that is what people ought to be wondering: Why was there still an investigation? And, why was there not an interim report that assures the country that we’re satisfied there was no evidence of criminal collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia? It’s the least they could have done since they went public with the allegation.
You give these people more credit for good faith than I do. I think Mueller’s goal was to torment the Trump administration, discredit it in the eyes of the American people, and make it harder for the Trump administration to achieve policy successes, with a view toward defeating him in 2020.
My point in the book is that there is no other rational way to look at this. One thing we always used to say about terrorism is maybe we should believe what they say. When terrorists tell us they’re going to do things, maybe we ought to listen to them. We have the text from investigator Peter Strzok, in which he talked about having an insurance policy. And we lawyer nerds know that an insurance policy doesn’t prevent catastrophes from happening; it’s a protection plan against what happens when the catastrophe occurs.
The catastrophe being that Trump wins the election.
The Strzok text explained that this investigation was basically going to monitor Trump in the highly unlikely event that he got elected. And this is precisely what they did. If you take Strzok seriously, it seems obvious that once this investigation continued, it would hamstring Trump’s ability to govern. It’s hard to believe that this was not thought through before it happened. But what’s most interesting is I wouldn’t have believed it if somebody had told me a year, or even a few months, before Trump was elected that they could continue to investigate the President of the United States while he was President, under circumstances in which he could have shut down the investigation. I would have said they’d never be able to pull it off.
It’s like the Obama Department of Justice never went out of existence.
Exactly. The only way they could do it is the way Comey pulled it off. He looked Trump in the eyes and told him he was not a suspect, that he was not under investigation, and that they were just looking at people around him. This way, they structured the investigation around him even though Trump’s name is not on a file, and Trump is not listed in a FISA application. They told him he was not a suspect, and then they investigated the case hoping to get a case against him. Then, Comey goes before Congress in March 2017 and makes a public statement that anybody with an IQ of 11 would figure meant that they were obviously investigating Trump. Comey is too smart not to realize that his congressional testimony would tell everybody in America—and certainly the media—that the President was under investigation for colluding with Russia.
So, let’s talk about impeachment. To put a positive spin on it, people must be impressed with the Democrats’ alacrity to move from the failed Russia collusion theory—which was blown out of the water by the Mueller report and Mueller’s abysmal performance in front of Congress—to talking about Ukraine and impeachment within what, a day or two?
Mueller’s testimony blows up on July 24th, and then Trump has this conversation with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25th. And obviously, the anti-Trump people in the national security apparatus got wind of the conversation and leaped on it. That’s what they were looking to do for a long time. I think the Democrats learned from Mueller that it doesn’t pay politically to let something drag out. Their takeaway from the Mueller investigation is if they ever got another impeachment opportunity on Trump, they would have to do it fast and nasty. So, they’re trying to be quick about it because it’s hurting their political agenda.
It’s the theory of collusion. This was never about impeachment. It was never about counterintelligence. It was never about building a criminal case. I’m not saying that the left wouldn’t impeach Trump if they could, and they wouldn’t make a criminal case on him if they could, but from the very beginning this has been about making Trump’s Presidency as short and ineffective as possible. This has always been a political agenda to bruise him up so that he is unelectable by the time we get to the 2020 election.
It’s remarkable how much he’s accomplished in three years notwithstanding the siege that he’s under.
The rebuild of the judiciary has certainly been tremendous. But I worry that a lot of Trump’s policy successes—just like a lot of the policies that Obama pushed forward—are being done by the authority that Congress gives to the President. And that can be reversed by the next President. These new judges, on the other hand, will be affecting the direction of the law for the next generation.
There could be a lot of institutional damage as a result of all the things you and I have been talking about. Maybe that’s not all bad. Trump went to Washington to fight the swamp. I think he’s learned that the swamp was worse than he thought.
The law enforcement and intelligence branches of government are certainly worse than I thought. I largely agree that things are worse than people imagined. If you believe in the American system of government where the people that we elect to run the government are the ones who make the policy, then it’s a pretty backwards idea that the President is there to implement whatever the bureaucracy tells the President to implement. I have one hesitation about all this: the counterintelligence powers are critically important to protecting the United States, particularly against terrorist organizations.
I worry that we’re going to be a lot less safe as a country if, at the end of all these investigations, we find that we’re not able to hold people accountable for what happened here. The natural response to that is going to be Congress and the public wanting these counterintelligence powers to either be peeled back or completely repealed. These powers weren’t created for our elections. They were created to fight threats from foreign powers, including transnational terrorist organizations that attack civilian centers in stealth. If you don’t have these powers being used for the reason they were created in the first place, we can’t protect the country. That, to me, is the biggest thing that hangs in the balance.
Andrew McCarthy, author of Ball of Collusion: The Plot to Rig an Election and Destroy a Presidency, recently spoke at events sponsored by Center of the American Experiment in Rochester and Golden Valley. McCarthy is a Fox News contributor and a columnist for National Review. He first achieved national acclaim as the Assistant United States Attorney who led the 1995 prosecution against Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman and eleven others who bombed the World Trade Center.