Andrew McCabe’s strange meeting with Reince Priebus, and the leak that followed it

Andrew McCabe’s strange meeting with Reince Priebus, and the leak that followed it
Andrew McCabe testifies to a Senate committee in 2017. (Image: Screen grab of PBS video)

We don’t know exactly what led to Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe suddenly resigning on Monday, rather than remaining in his post until his announced retirement date a few weeks from now (reportedly in March 2018).

According to Fox News, the abrupt action is described by a source as a “removal.” Other news outlets, including NBC and the New York Times, agree that McCabe was forced out: offered the alternative of accepting removal from his position, or resigning immediately and starting his terminal leave.  He chose to make his resignation effective immediately.

Speculation on why he had to do this is divided.  Some are suggesting the timing is about FBI Director Christopher Wray having gone on Sunday to review the House memo on the FBI’s use of FISA authority against the Trump campaign.

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Others think it’s about information in the upcoming report from the DOJ Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, on the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe.

We may find out soon enough either way.  But the possibility that it’s related to both near-term due-outs – the House memo and the IG report – is highlighted by an article posted at The Federalist on Monday, 29 January.  In it, we see fresh evidence of questionable behavior by McCabe, and possibly someone else closely connected with him at the FBI.

The article, by Mollie Hemingway, discusses Howard Kurtz’s new book, Media Madness, an account of the media and the Trump administration.

But the incident Hemingway starts with involved Andrew McCabe.  According to Kurtz, in February 2017, McCabe asked for a meeting with Reince Priebus, then Trump’s chief of staff.  The purpose of the meeting, it turned out, was to discuss a “bombshell,” anonymously-sourced New York Times article with the headline “Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts with Russian Intelligence.”

And what McCabe went to the White House to tell Priebus was that the FBI considered the whole article “bullsh*t.”

So far, so good.  The NYT piece was being blasted all over the TV news, however, and reportedly, Priebus asked McCabe if the FBI could come out and tell the media what McCabe had just told him.

McCabe said he’d check with headquarters.  He called back later, according to Kurtz, to say that the FBI couldn’t do that.  James Comey then called to reiterate that the FBI couldn’t comment.  But Comey said he’d be willing to brief the Senate on the FBI’s position, and basically let the Senate “spill the beans.”

Hemingway quotes what happened next:

Now, a week later, CNN was airing a breaking news story naming Priebus. According to ‘multiple U.S. officials,’ the network said, ‘the FBI rejected a White House request to publicly knock down media reports about communications between Donald Trump’s associates and Russians known to U.S. intelligence.’

In other words, someone told CNN that Priebus was pressuring the FBI to deny what NYT had reported.

Kurtz’s narrative continued:

Priebus was stunned by the implication that he was pressuring law enforcement. Had he been set up? Why was the FBI leaking this information when one of its top officials had initiated the conversation?

Why, indeed?  It’s legitimate to say that with both law enforcement and intelligence, there is no automatic charter to deny or knock down every media report that gets published about something, even the ones that are “bullsh*t.”  We don’t know for sure why the FBI decided not to address the NYT report.

It may have been because of the continuing interest in Carter Page, which we learned on Monday was reflected through the first months of the Trump administration in 2017, when Rod Rosenstein (Deputy Attorney General) approved an application to extend surveillance of Page.  That surveillance had been ongoing since before the 2016 election.

But in February 2017, we have no reason to think Reince Priebus knew that.  In other words, there is no reason to believe he thought he was talking to McCabe about anything relating to an ongoing investigation.  As far as he knew, the subject was a baseless set of allegations made in leaks to NYT, which reflected nothing that the FBI was actually looking into.

Indeed, Priebus had reason to assume – if McCabe was even talking to him about the subject – that the FBI had no ongoing investigation related to what was in the NYT article.

So what was McCabe doing in this discussion with Priebus, which was followed by a leak that depicted what happened as improper on Priebus’ part?  You can make up your own mind about that.

A tweet on Monday from Kimberley Strassel suggests a general possibility, given what seems to happen with some of the current crop of FBI officials.

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval Intelligence officer who lives in Southern California, blogging as The Optimistic Conservative for domestic tranquility and world peace. Her articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s Contentions, Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard.

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