Review the Clinton email scandal, the Steele dossier, the insertion of at least one FBI informant into the Trump campaign, the misleading of the FISA court by FBI and DOJ officials intent on monitoring U.S. citizens, and, now, the inspector general’s report. There emerges a common denominator: the surety by all involved that Hillary Clinton would be president, and the need to prepare for that fact.
Examine the IG’s transcript of a random, pre-election series of electronic chitchat between high-ranking FBI employees:
15:07:41, Agent 1: “ . . . I’m done interviewing the President — then type the 302. 18 hour day . . . ”
15:13:32, FBI Employee: “you interviewed the president?”
“Trump can’t win” explains the salty language also of the Page-Strzok text trove, where the two paramours talk of Trump supporters that they “can smell” and an “insurance” plan to preclude Trump’s nearly nonexistent chances. (“I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration . . . that there’s no way [Trump] gets elected — but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40.”)
Perhaps the most iconic example of deep-state bias was the following Page-Strzok exchange:
Page: “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!”
Strzok: “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.”
When high-career FBI and DOJ officers go on to refer to American voters as smelly, “retarded,” ignorant, and feces (easily trumping Hillary’s own “deplorables” and “irredeemables” and Obama’s “clingers”), they do so because they assume their candor to each other will earn rewards rather than punishments. More generally, they count on their illegal and unethical behavior becoming known and thus résumé points rather than grounds for later firing and jail.
In such an incestuous Washington world, one presidential candidate, an abject outsider and sure loser, was a hopeless “idiot,” ”loathsome,” a ”menace” and a “disaster.” In contrast, as another (unnamed) FBI agent boasted to a female counterpart, “I’m . . . with her.” What he meant was not so much that he was obviously a Clinton partisan and a would-be born-again feminist, but rather that he was a partisan of someone who was going to shortly be president, and that he was an enemy of one who would pay a big price for his eccentric and uncouth bid.
So recalibrate the following questions:
Why would a seasoned careerist like Andrew McCabe allow his spouse to receive nearly $700,000 in campaign donations from Clinton-affiliated organizations, only later to become a chief investigator of the Clinton email scandal, or why would he so clumsily leak to the press and lie about it afterwards? Easy answer: He wisely played the odds and knew that his future FBI ascendency was assured, given that he had helped exonerate the soon-to-be president, Hillary Clinton. His only rub would be competing with other post-election sycophants who would all be vying for President Clinton’s patronage, each claiming that his own particular improper, illegal, or unethical behavior trumped that of the others.
Why would Loretta Lynch endanger her reputation with an adolescent stunt like agreeing to a weird jet-plane meeting on an Arizona tarmac with the old conniving schmoozer Bill Clinton? (What are the odds that two friends accidentally bump into each other in charter jets at the same time at one of the nation’s roughly 5,000 airports?) Answer? Such a concession was not entirely adolescent by Lynch’s savvy calculations. Not only was her improper behavior unlikely to become publicized; far more important, the Clintons, once Hillary was elected, would probably have either retained Lynch as AG or promoted her to the Supreme Court as a careerist reward for noble service rendered. We can imagine that Lynch would have reported to President Hillary that she had forced Comey to drop the word “investigation” and only with a wink and nod had “recused” herself from an investigation that she intended would lead to only one result.
Why would the last boy scout James Comey, in clumsy fashion, reinterpret a federal statute about handling classified communications so that it would suddenly include “intent” as a newly invented criterion for being found in violation of the law? Why, as investigator and prosecuting attorney, would he shut down, open up, and then shut down his investigation of Clinton at the height of the election season? Why would he for so long ignore the Wiener laptop evidence?
Comey later himself answered those questions by his admission that he assumed Clinton would be president. As he stated, he thought his (Potemkin) investigation would give her legitimacy after her exoneration.
A losing Hillary Clinton may now be mad at Comey, but that is only because the deep-state pollsters’ sure 90 percent odds of her winning proved laughable. Had she won, Hillary probably would at least have listened to Comey as he pleaded that his exoneration of her email impropriety and the way in which he had assigned partisans to her case were proof — along with her victory — that he deserved praise and rewards, not firing. Comey’s 2016 calculus was always that Clinton had likely done something wrong but would be president, while Trump probably had not broken the law but certainly would not be elected.
Why would Hillary, John Podesta and the DNC be so childish as to hire the likes of a reckless egotist Christopher Steele who would leave a paper trial with their fingerprints over his bought fantasies and fabrications? Again, a President Hillary would probably soon have appreciated such slavish service. And more significantly, as a sure winner, she would have thought such dirt would help subject the pathetic loser Trump to a legal morass in his post-election bitter isolation. Who knows, Hillary might have cackled to her gang that their neat oppo-research file reminded her of her own cattle-futures gambit or the mysterious vaporization and reincarnation of the Rose Law Firm files.
Why would professionals such as the omnipresent Rod Rosenstein and the proper Sally Yates sign on to juvenile FISA-court requests for surveillance that were obviously misleading, if not constituting some sort of felonious obstruction of justice by deluding the court about the nature of the Steele dossier? (The application failed to disclose that the dossier was unverified, that the FBI had fired Steele for improper leaking, that the dossier itself was the source of circular “corroborating” news stories, and that it was paid for by Hillary Clinton.)
Answer? Again, Yates, Rosenstein, and Comey, along with other signatories of FISA requests, would now be rewarded with tenure and/or promotions for noble service to the cause. Bill might have guffawed that it all reminded him of the Marc Rich pardon caper or the minor inconvenience of being disbarred.
Why would supposed intelligence pros like Comey, John Brennan, and James Clapper stoop to traffic in the Steele dossier, and in Comey’s case, even become a party to inserting at least one informant into an ongoing political campaign?
Lots of answers. One, Trump’s was not a political campaign, but rather a sure losing political campaign. Two, Trump himself would not just go down to defeat, but was likely to be ruined after the election as he experienced a Manafort-like fate of endless leaked negative stories in the media, a litany of made-up charges designed to have him plea-bargain to a felony or two, and millions in never-ending legal fees. Three, nothing in the past of either Brennan or Comey, both of whom had previously lied with impunity and while under oath to Congress, gave them any reason to fear any legal consequences for either unethical or illegal behavior. Again, in careerist terms, their behavior was logical; what was abjectly illogical was that Trump won.
Why would supposed progressive humanitarians and civil libertarians such as Susan Rice and Samantha Power request unmasking of hundreds of American citizens and somehow expect such unredacted names to reappear in dark contexts right before the 2016 election? Aside from the fact that neither Rice nor Power is a humanitarian or a civil libertarian, such behavior would springboard a rapprochement with the Clintons. Service beyond the call of duty, indeed, even risking criminal exposure through leaking unmasked but still classified names, could not be ignored even by a vindictive Hillary Clinton, who had prior reason to distrust both.
What then would be stupid in careerist terms? Had James Comey and the Obama DOJ run their investigation of Hillary Clinton the same way that Robert Mueller is currently conducting his hounding of Donald Trump, or had Robert Mueller conducted a post-election, Comey-like faux inquiry into Donald Trump, it would be the epitome of administrative-state stupidity.
It is tiring to hear sermons about the integrity of the FBI and DOJ, as if their elite leadership in Washington has no more influence over an organization than a general does over his army. Of course, the vast majority of employees in the field are both competent and just. But too many of their Washington leaders see themselves in grandiose terms, as subject to no law other than the demands of their own egos.
That same mindset of exemption explains why Mueller did not disclose to the public immediately why he removed Page and Strzok from his investigation, and why their staggered and initially clandestine departures were in fact related. And why, too, Andrew Weissmann, Jeannie Rhee, and Aaron Zebley were seen to have no possible conflict of interests even though one of them was not shy about his earlier disdain for Trump and his enthusiasm for Clinton, while the other two had either in the past defended a Clinton aide or the Clinton Foundation. Again, the way the orthodox state works is that the mere suggestion that such progressive attorneys have conflicts of interests is branded heresy and earns outrage — but never alters the fact that they do in fact have real ethical conflicts.
The problem with all the current scandals is that half the country, including the half that runs the media and the administrative state, thinks that any means are justified to achieve the ethical and noble end of aborting Donald’ Trump’s presidency. What one half of the country sees as unethical behavior is assumed by blue America to be noble service beyond the call of duty. When a Page or Strzok or Andrew McCabe broke protocols and likely the law, 50 percent of the population saw something like James Comey’s version of a “higher duty.”
For all the investigations and IG reports, for all the revelations of scandals and wrongdoing, there will probably in the end be little consequence, simply because to those who matter, such illegality is seen as nobility. Many at the highest echelons of the FBI and DOJ broke laws. But Trump broke a far higher and far more important unwritten law — one forbidding any presidential candidate and future president to be and act like Donald J. Trump.
VICTOR DAVIS HANSON — NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won. @vdhanson