Give It Up, Dudes, There’s Nothing There

The McCabe family

The McCabe family

by James A. Bacon

The Wall Street Journal editorial page has doubled down on the newspaper’s insinuation that Governor Terry McAuliffe’s financial support for state senatorial candidate Jill McCabe was somehow linked to her husband Andrew McCabe’s handling of the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Drawing upon the Journal’s news report the previous day, the newspaper’s top editorial finds significance in the fact that “[McAuliffe], a longtime friend of Hillary and Bill, steered money to the campaign of the wife of a top FBI official.”

But the article did not demonstrate a quid pro quo, or even suggest what the quid pro quo might have been, and neither did the editorial.

As far as I’m concerned, former Secretary Clinton deserves all the scrutiny she gets for her Clinton Foundation ties, her decision to buck State Department policy by setting up her own jinky home-based server, her decision to destroy 30,000+ “personal” emails, thousands of which turned out not to be so personal, her repeated lies to the public, and the obstruction by her allies and even State Department officials to delay and thwart the email releases. There’s plenty to investigate. But the Journal does a dis-service by creating a flimsy distraction that can be used as evidence that Republicans and conservatives are just making stuff up. .

Here is the Journal’s logic:

Mrs. McCabe announced her candidacy the same month (March 2015) as the news broke about Mrs. Clinton’s private email server. Mr. McCabe was running the FBI’s Washington field office at the time, and he was promoted to the No. 3 FBI spot not long after the formal FBI investigation began in July 2015.

 

The FBI said in a statement that none of this is an issue because Mr. McCabe wasn’t promoted to the No. 2 position until February 2016, months after his wife lost her race, and only then did he assume “for the first time an oversight role in the investigation into Secretary Clinton’s emails.”

 

All of this asks voters to believe that Mr. McCabe as the No. 3 official at the FBI had nothing to do with the biggest, most sensitive case at that agency. This strains credulity. Before he became No. 3 at the FBI Mr. McCabe ran the bureau’s Washington, D.C., field office that provided resources to the Clinton probe. Campaign finance records show that 98% of the McAuliffe donations to Mrs. McCabe came after the FBI launched its Clinton probe.

McAuliffe, of course, has denied any skulduggery. He began recruiting Mrs. McCabe to run against Sen. Dick Black, R-Leesburg, for the 13th senatorial district, in February 2015, before the email scandal broke, said the governor’s office in the Times-Dispatch today, The recruitment efforts were led by Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam as part of a larger bid to re-take control of the state senate. I would conjecture that Democrats considered the seat, occupied by one of the most conservative members of the senate, to be more vulnerable than most. It is not implausible to think that the Dems targeted the seat and plowed money into Mrs. McCabe’s candidacy because they thought she could win.

One way the Journal could have buttressed its story was to talk to Northam and other leading Democrats. Did they find McAuliffe’s support for McCabe controversial in any way? Were they baffled that he poured so much money into her race? Or did Democratic Party leaders share the perception that McCabe was the best candidate with the best chance of beating Black? For the record, although McCabe lost the election, she did put in a strong showing against an incumbent, garnering 47.6% of the vote.

The Journal also could have talked to Thomas V. Mulrine, an Army veteran and attorney who had announced his candidacy before McCabe did. The T-D‘s Graham Moomaw did talk to him, and it turns out that he was a little miffed that McAuliffe had backed McCabe, calling it “unseemly” that the governor would recruit one Democratic candidate to run against another. “I think the citizens of the county ought to choose who their representatives are and not just have somebody foisted on them by somebody from afar,” Mulrine said.

One might ask why McAuliffe chose to intervene on McCabe’s side before the nomination. Is it unheard of in Virginia Democratic Party politics for the governor to get so involved in selecting candidates? If so, McAuliffe’s intense interest in McCabe might be cause for suspicision. But if McAuliffe involved himself in the selection of other candidates, then there is no need in McCabe’s case to invoke another explanation entailing a corrupt desire to influence the outcome of an FBI investigation.

Another tack would be to review McAuliffe’s oeuvre of spoken and written comments. Has the governor been an outspoken defender of Mrs. Clinton’s handling of the emails? If so, his public statements would support the Journal‘s suggestion that he felt he had a stake in the outcome of the FBI investigation. Conversely, if McAuliffe has been mum on the matter, his silence would undercut the insinuation that he was particularly exercised by the email scandal. I don’t recall McAuliffe expressing any views on the matter publicly. If he did, they were not covered prominently.

The Journal also could have looked into the timing of McAuliffe’s donations to the McCabe campaign. The editorial writers found it significant that McAuliffe made 98% of the donations after the FBI launched its investigation. If McAuliffe had dispensed most of his boodle to other Democratic candidates before the FBI investigation but withheld money for McCabe until after the investigation was announced, such behavior justifiably would raise eyebrows. But if McAuliffe doled out donations to McCabe with more or less the same timing as other candidates — if he treated her the same as the others — the grounds for suspicion evaporate.

If the Journal did more digging, it conceivably might find some circumstantial evidence to support its insinuation. But I think it’s far more likely that digging deeper would expose the flaws in the newspaper’s logic. Are we really supposed to believe that McAuliffe recruited Mrs. McCabe to run for state senate but donated the big bucks only after the FBI undertook its investigation, presumably on the logic that her husband might find himself in a position to influence the outcome and feel so indebted to McAuliffe for supporting his wife’s candidacy that he would rig the investigation? That defies reason.

I hold the editors of the Wall Street Journal in high regard, but they jumped the shark on this one. The Obama administration’s decision to let Mrs. Clinton off the hook was disgraceful, especially given how it has prosecuted lesser mortals for less serious offenses. But the path to the truth does not run through Terry McAuliffe’s campaign contributions.

Update: It is reassuring to see that fellow conservative blogger Norm Leahy, writing in the Washington Post, had much the same reaction I did.

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One response to “Give It Up, Dudes, There’s Nothing There

  1. John Whitbeck, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, has written a letter to FBI Director James Comey, asking for an inquiry into McCabe’s involvement with his wife’s senate race. The letter reads as follows:

    I’m writing to you today in regard to the statement your agency released the statement with regard to Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and his involvement with his wife’s state senate race in 2015. Specifically, your agency stated that:

    “[Andrew McCabe] played no role, attended no events, and did not participate in fundraising or support of any kind.”

    After a cursory Facebook search, we found photos that clearly depict Mr. McCabe publicly supporting Dr. McCabe’s campaign as well as a mailer sent by the Democratic Party of Virginia with Mr. McCabe’s picture:

    These images are in direct contrast with the statement released today by the FBI. In light of the agency’s recent history, I formally request that the agency provide a sworn statement from Deputy Director McCabe that he did not attend any fundraisers, rallies, or any other political events with Gov. Terry McAuliffe on behalf of or accompanying Dr. McCabe during her campaign. I also ask that your agency take a second look at any role Deputy Director McCabe played in any investigation pertaining to Hillary Clinton or Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

    Easily disproven statements such as the one released by the FBI today are a major reason public trust in our institutions has eroded in recent years. Furthermore, in light of the news coverage surrounding the Hillary Clinton email case, we request that if there is an inquiry into Deputy Director McCabe’s conduct request, that the number of immunity deals be dramatically limited. We would hate to see the public’s confidence in our system of government eroded to greater degree.

    So, Whitbeck busted the FBI for speaking a little too categorically. But so what? Why does it matter if McCabe was tangentially involved in his wife’s campaign? What does that tell us?

    What matters is McCabe’s role in the FBI investigation. Show me that McCabe is a rabidly partisan Democrat along the lines of Lois Lerner (of IRS scandal fame), and you might have a point. But posing in a photograph with his wife (as seen on my post) strikes me as totally innocent and harmless.

    If Republicans want to pursue this line of logic, this is what they need to document:

    — What were McCabe’s responsibilities as Washington bureau chief? Was he in a position to influence the email investigation there?

    — What were McCabe’s responsibilities as No. 3 man in the FBI? Was he in a position to influence the investigation there?

    — What were McCabe’s responsibilities as No. 2 man in the FBI? How deeply was he involved with the investigation? Did he participate in the decisions to grant five Clinton associates immunity? Did he help frame the investigation so as to exclude the Clinton Foundation? There is considerable speculation as to how the FBI might have skewed the investigation in Clinton’s favor. Define the key decisions that stacked the deck, then identify who made them.

    Do that, and we might get somewhere. But I don’t see how McAuliffe’s campaign contributions to Mrs. McCabe are remotely relevant.

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