The blows to the FBI’s reputation just keep coming.
This week’s Senate hearings on the inspector general’s report into the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email scandal were missing a major witness, as the man who was second in command of the FBI during the Clinton investigation asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
That doesn’t mean former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is guilty of anything, but it doesn’t look good at all.
In his opening statement for the hearings on Monday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, noted that McCabe was not the only one who wouldn’t be testifying: Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former FBI Director James Comey were also no-shows.
“The Committee also invited Former Attorney General Lynch, Former FBI Director Comey, and former Deputy Director McCabe to testify today,” Grassley said.
“Mr. McCabe’s lawyer wrote that his client would rely on his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to avoid answering any questions here today.”
Of course, all Americans have a right to refuse to testify to the government on the grounds that their own words might be held against them in a criminal proceeding.
But when that American is, or was, also a high-ranking official in the country’s preeminent law enforcement agency, it doesn’t reflect at all well on that agency’s reputation.
And when it’s the same high-ranking FBI official who appears to have been part of a plan to derail Donald Trump from winning the presidency in the November 2016 election – and hand the nation’s highest office to a woman the FBI had just cleared of a potential criminal prosecution – it looks downright sinister.
Pleading the Fifth wasn’t McCabe’s first recourse. In a June 4 letter to Grassley, McCabe’s attorney, Michael R. Bromwich, requested immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony.
At National Review, columnist and former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy wrote that that was a sharp change in position for a man who had written an op-ed for The Washington Post in March proclaiming his innocence of any wrongdoing .
“If McCabe was being candid with the Post’s readers,” McCarthy wrote, “then it is hard to understand how he can now represent that truthful answers to the Judiciary Committee’s questions could incriminate him. More likely, McCabe is trying to make himself non-prosecutable.”
Demanding immunity, then pleading the Fifth when that demand is not granted, is not the kind of behavior Americans expect from highly placed law enforcement officers.
But McCabe’s actions — along with the failure of Comey and Lynch to appear to explain themselves in the face of the IG report — are exactly what Americans might expect from a man whose participation in the persecution of a political candidate named Donald Trump had stretched the bounds of law and custom past the breaking point.
The inspector general’s report stopped just short of reaching the conclusion that the FBI’s investigation of Clinton’s emails had been determined by politics, but that’s not stopping the truth from surfacing eventually.
No one familiar with the report’s contents could deny the bureau was staffed by personnel filled with contempt for Trump and Trump’s supporters, or that its end was entirely political.
McCabe taking the Fifth doesn’t mean he’s guilty of anything in a court of law, it’s true. But because of his position and the circumstances, it’s damning to Americans worried about the integrity of their government.
The FBI has spent decades building its own reputation for integrity. Now, thanks to the actions of Andrew McCabe, James Comey, and many, many more, the blows to that reputation just keep coming.
Americans deserve better.
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