Let Us Now Praise Famous G-Men

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Over the past few years, the United States federal government attempted a coup d’état against its own chief executive. Working from “opposition research” paid for by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, the Deep State and its partners in the media came within a hair’s breadth of taking down a sitting president. This was the Night of the Long Knives, J. Edgar Hoover style.

And it was all a hoax. P. T. Barnum gave the world the “Feejee Mermaid” in 1842, but it turned out to be a monkey torso sewn onto a fishtail. And yet, the Feejee Mermaid has infinitely more credibility than Russiagate, that epoch in our history during which approximately half the country took a sprinting leap over the edge of Cape Lunacy and plunged into the dark conspiratorial waters below. Donald Trump, the Manhattan billionaire and reality TV star who outsmarted the entire Republican Party—admittedly not that hard to do—got himself elected president. But he was really a Russian spy, an agent of the Kremlin pretending to be the leader of the free world, but in reality sending coded messages to Moscow. Our democracy had been hacked! Russia—and in particular that leisured villain, Vladimir Putin—found a way to gather all the little threads and levers of American political power into one hand, and then to yank on this one and that one to make our republic dance around like a wooden marionette on a string.

Nonsense. What really happened is that the Washington devils took a piddling, half-hearted, JV disinformation job and used it as casus belli for an internecine war. The conspiracy the plotters hawked soon became patently absurd, but no matter. They kept trying to ram their plan through, even when it was clear that it was a top-level witch hunt. The one thing the traitors didn’t plan on was that Donald Trump, perhaps taking a cue from Brett Kavanaugh, refused to turn turtle. Faced with a roaring lion of a president who decided to fight back rather than let the Deep State run roughshod over the rule of law, the plotters eventually blinked.

The jig is up, but there are still some who refuse to acknowledge defeat. Perhaps most forceful among the diehard conspiracy theorists is former FBI Deputy Director Andrew G. McCabe. To hear McCabe tell it, the breathtaking treason of the past three years was all just another day at the office. In his autobiography, The Threat, McCabe claims that the FBI was just doing its job in running an entrapment racket against a president and his supporters. How does McCabe justify treason? The answer, in a word, is statism. Readers who want to know what statism looks like from the inside should pay careful attention to McCabe’s book. This is the self-portrait of Washington, DC, the cold mask of the predator who appeals to duty and honor in defense of his crimes.

McCabe adopts precisely this dutiful tone in The Threat, writing in the style of a buttoned-down Mickey Spillane, a Dash iell Hammett with a security clearance, who glides through his days slinging street slang at wise guys and commiserating, Law and Order style, with his partners in the beefy argot of the downtown precinct. And like all ambitious lieutenants, McCabe uses the smokescreen of paperwork to conceal his true intentions.

McCabe’s favorite bureaucratic instrument by far is Form 302, the brickwork of the FBI’s Kafkaesque edifice. When an agent interacts with a member of the public, he or she fills out a 302 so those in the top floor of the Panopticon can have a complete record of the goings-on of the surveilled. Most people would quail at the thought of snooping on others and then writing down the sordid details of their private lives, but for McCabe, the 302 is the best part of working for the FBI. It’s what confirmed him early on in his career choice, and what sustained him throughout the hard work of gunning for promotions in the federal shark tank. By McCabe’s own telling, it wasn’t until he encountered the 302 that he felt he had truly found his calling.

So enamored is McCabe of the 302, in fact, that he begins his book with one. The Prologue, titled “FD-302,” is a mock 302 that McCabe uses as a device to introduce himself. “Application. Interview. Background check,” McCabe writes in the very first line of the book. “The Bureau cherishes its procedures and lives by them.” Not only is the 302 how McCabe understands the world around him, it’s also how he understands himself. If there was ever anyone who bought more deeply into the FBI’s episteme, even to the point of swapping its paperwork for the interior life, I do not know who it would be. McCabe writes of the FBI’s bureaucracy in the same way that St. Teresa of Ávila writes about contemplative prayer.

Throughout The Threat, we have the real concertina-wire innards of the Deep State: procedures, forms, protocols—the Kaaba of the Washington statists. The soulless, bloodless clockwork of Fibonacci bureaucracy, departments, and sections, and meetings, and meaningless words endlessly ramifying in a spiral of dehumanization, is where people like Andrew McCabe feel most at home. It is Henry Miller’s Air-Conditioned Nightmare, emblazoned with a myriad of federal agency seals and spread out to suffocate the humanity of the entire country. In the end, there are no people left in the bureaucrat’s vision of America, only the lacework of the metastasized State as it colonizes the continent from northern Virginia outward, one form at a time. For men like Andrew McCabe, being a part of this lifeless gridwork is what it really means to be alive.

Combine this 302 vision of the American Way with McCabe’s early career specialization in Russian organized crime, and you can easily see how he imagined “threats” to American democracy in the form of wily Borises and Natashas hiding behind the curtains in the Oval Office. Even as a young agent, McCabe was programmed to see scheming Russians everywhere, thick as thieves. McCabe describes the Russian punks on his watch as largely low-watt-bulbs, morons with brass knuckles who couldn’t strategize their way out of a paper bag. And yet, McCabe also insists these Slavic doofuses are part of a gigantic operation with political valence. He writes:

Russian organized crime today has deep ties to the Russian government. It saturates the internet. As most people are aware, the combination of crime, computers, and the Kremlin has in recent years taken aim at electoral politics—at American democracy itself.

With these pieces in place—a federal bureaucracy creating its own episteme of totalizing ideology, and a ready-made plot of Moscow-directed infiltration—it was inevitable that, at some point, the statists would make a Moscow-themed move to finally statify all of us en masse. The Russia delusion was nothing but the catalyst for the Deep State to finally lock whatever remained of our American freedoms in bureaucratic amber.

McCabe doesn’t see it this way, of course. In his own mind, he was merely upholding the rule of law. For him, “the process” and the country are the same thing, 302 forms and “justice” are interchangeable.

“For an FBI agent,” McCabe laments:

Watching the president seek to interfere with the ordinary process of justice is especially galling—an affront to our constitutional system. The work of every agent at every waking moment is governed by intricate procedures whose aim is to ensure that every step taken is by the book. The process has to be fair and rigorous from start to finish—for the sake of the subjects and for the sake of justice. It is a high-minded regime.

As long as the “process” is followed, nothing can be out of whack. It is not that McCabe is disingenuous. He truly does not understand what all the hullaballoo was about. After all, he played everything by the rules.

Because the “regime” is “high-minded,” in other words, its servants need not be. When, for instance, McCabe’s upstart politico wife received campaign donations of nearly $700,000 from entities controlled by former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, McCabe honestly could not see what the big deal was. Never mind that McAuliffe is one of the cogs in the Clinton cash machine, a bundler’s bundler who has raised more than a quarter of a billion dollars for Clinton, Inc. McAuliffe guaranteed the mortgage on the Clintons’ home in Chappaqua, New York—the one where Hillary squirreled away her homebrew server so she could traffic classified information without pesky oversight by the State Department. And yet, McCabe is nonplussed by the commotion over McAuliffe’s donation. What could possibly be wrong with Jill McCabe getting a truckload of cash from the Clintons’ own Cardinal Richelieu? McCabe followed the procedure, he pleads. He did everything by the book.

McCabe explains away his failed coup in the same way. Perhaps most astoundingly, he argues similarly in defense of FBI paramours Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. Strzok, of course, led the FBI’s search for emails containing classified material which Hillary Clinton, sensing trouble, had destroyed. That destruction of evidence was one of the most brazen cases of obstruction of justice by a high government official since Bill Clinton’s former Deputy National Security Advisor Sandy Berger walked out of the National Archives with material damaging to Bill Clinton stuffed, most fittingly, down the front of his pants. Page and Strzok exchanged countless text messages describing how they were going to use the investigative power of the FBI to attack Trump—an “insurance policy,” as Strzok quaintly put it—in case the troublesome New Yorker somehow got elected. But it was actually Strzok who was treated unfairly, McCabe asserts. The memo exonerating Hillary—the memo that Comey famously read in the summer of 2016 when he crowned himself Supreme Prosecutor and declared her innocent of the multiple federal felonies that she had committed—was edited on Strzok’s machine, you see, but actually typed by Comey himself. So, it was really all a big misunderstanding. McCabe seems genuinely confident that, if only readers understand that procedures were properly followed, then they would be convinced that there was nothing out of the ordinary about the attempted takedown of Trump.

But all of this about the president and the coup obscures something that is infinitely more worrisome than the Bogotá-style politicking of Andrew McCabe. The problem is much bigger than he, or his bosses, or the overthrow that they came within a whisker of carrying out. What should keep all of us awake at night is knowing that the FBI believes that its drive to turn our country into a police state is not only legal, but legitimate, and for our own good. McCabe portrays himself as a tough guy with a sensitive nature, a thoughtful public servant surrounded by buffoons like Trump and Jeff Sessions who just don’t see the big picture the way that he can. He has all the self-awareness of a goldfish when it comes to examining the “procedures” by which our liberty is shackled and stolen away.

For example, McCabe never addresses the abuse of the FISA process, a formality for FBI agents in much the same way that conquistadors mumbled the Requerimiento while wading ashore from their carracks. He never thinks to ask whether the secret court that issues these warrantless surveillance orders is a real court, and not just an appendage of mid-Atlantic lawlessness. He doesn’t question whether the “process” is constitutional, he just acts as though the Fourth, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments don’t exist, even though they were written to prevent precisely such a monstrosity as the FBI from ever coming to be.

McCabe spends 264 pages making the case that Donald Trump is not fit to be president, which coincidentally is almost one page for every million dollars that Terry McAuliffe raised for the Clintons. But he never mentions any FBI scandal of real significance, nor names such as Elián González, Cliven Bundy, or David Kor esh (oddly, not a single Branch Davidian has ever donated to a Clinton campaign).

Also, I could find in McCabe’s index no listing for Lon Horiuchi, the FBI sniper who shot Vicki Weaver in the back of the head while she was holding her baby inside her home in Ruby Ridge. When Horiuchi was brought up on murder charges, the federal judge dismissed the case on the grounds that the Constitution’s supremacy clause gives license to federal employees to cut down mere citizens at will. One must return to the kirisute gomen of the samurai to find a similar example of statutory contempt for commoners, but for McCabe, none of this could possibly matter. The FBI plays by the rules, you see. It is the savior of the nation, the embodiment of altruism.

This is not hyperbole—it’s how McCabe really thinks. He writes of his formative season at FBI training camp in Quantico:

The biggest shift entailed in learning to see the world like an agent is the shift toward altruism. It’s a huge change of mind-set to go from being Joe Private Citizen, where your worries are mainly about yourself—your own safety and happiness and health—to putting all that aside and saying, I’m going to worry about everyone else first.

This is the motto of every statist in human history. When I napalm your village, when I put your family to the sword, I do it for you. So be quiet, and be grateful, and let me do my job.

McCabe’s book is a shameless exercise in pre-trial self-exoneration. McCabe and his gang are in line for payback, and the knowledge of that tinges every paragraph. But read against the grain, The Threat takes on an entirely different cast. Freedom, our American birthright, is under attack by our government, men and women who appeal to forms and processes—FISA courts and 302s—as justification for spying on us, and even as justification for trying to overturn the results of elections when their guy, or girl, doesn’t win.

The real threat is not Donald Trump, it is Andrew McCabe and the army of statists who ride herd on the American people. McCabe is to be thanked for making this plain, however unwittingly. What Americans face today is the same as in 1776: liberty, or the state. Now is the time for choosing.

[The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump by Andrew G. McCabe (New York: St. Martin’s Press) $29.99]

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