Only a few days ago Andrew McCabe was nobody’s idea of a hero, except to James Comey and maybe Robert Mueller. They think Mr. McCabe, tarnished or not, cashiered or not as the deputy director of the FBI, purveyor of fibs, stretchers and lies with and without varnish, might still be useful to their campaign to bring down Donald Trump.
The FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which monitors the behavior of the agents and even the chiefs of the agency and is definitely not part of the Trump White House, recommended that Mr. McCabe be fired for misleading investigators about his leaks and other contacts with reporters late in the 2016 campaign, when the more astute observers first started picking up troubling indications that, conventional wisdom be damned, Hillary Clinton might not be inevitable, after all. She needed something to guarantee the slam dunk “everybody” knew was coming. Mr. McCabe, the G-man of impeccable integrity (you could ask him), was eager to help.
Mr. McCabe was central to the investigation of the Clinton campaign, sensitive to hints or intimations that the Russians were meddling with the election on behalf of Mr. Trump. As the No. 2 man at the FBI, he would have been sensitive, so to speak, to effective ways to mislead investigators. Lying to an FBI agent, or to any cop is a bad idea, as any fan of “Midsomer Murders” or Detective Chief Supt. Christopher Foyle of “Foyle’s War,” could tell you.
The president, suspicious man that he is, reckoned early on that Mr. McCabe harbored a bias against him. Terry McAuliffe, the governor of Virginia and faithful bag man for both Bubba and Hillary over the years, contributed thousands of dollars to Mr. McCabe’s wife for her unsuccessful campaign for the state Senate in Virginia. (Facts, pesky fellows, never tire in their pursuit of the guilty.)
Dirty tricks have always been an important part of partisan politics. Some of the dirty tricks played on, and in behalf of, Adams, Jefferson and the early worthies of the republic, are legend. The Democrats are no more guilty of behavior that would have shocked a ninth-grade civics teacher than the Republicans, though they sometimes seem more efficient at it. They know you don’t take a knife to a gun fight.
None was more efficient than Harry Reid, the U.S. senator from Las Vegas and the majority leader of the Senate in 2012, when he declared, without showing anything remotely like evidence, that Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee for president, had not paid his federal income taxes for 10 years. The only way he could have learned that was from a leak at the Internal Revenue Service, presided over at the time by a Barack Obama man, so we know that couldn’t have happened. Mr. Reid, a onetime boxer who knows all the ways to take advantage of an opponent in the clinches, had to make it up. He was eventually exposed as a liar, and a reporter asked him after the election whether his lies smacked as McCarthyism.
“Well,” he replied, “they can call it anything they want. Romney didn’t win, did he?”
Donald Trump has replaced Mitt Romney in the sights of such Democratic sharpshooters. Anything still goes — only the targets have changed. “We fought a political culture war,” David French observes of those earlier culture-war tricks in National Review, “and Harry Reid won. Or perhaps it’s better to say he was but one teacher among many. He was just another politician who taught us that winning isn’t just everything. It’s the only thing.
“Lie all you want. If you have standards, make sure they’re double standards. But if you win, then the accolades will roll down from the heavens. Your critics can be dismissed as those messy elitists who just don’t like your ‘tone’ and ‘style.’ And you’re doing it for a good cause. Always, you’re doing it for a good cause.”
Doing “it” for a good cause is what animated Harry Reid, and then James Comey and now, by all accounts and all available evidence, Robert Mueller. If you’re a witch, Washington is the place to go hunting.
Donald Trump is no doubt guilty of many sins. We all are (some of us of more sins than others). His pursuers are guilty of many transgressions and trespasses, too. (The pursuers are lawyers, after all.)
If the president would only shut up, or shut down his Twitter account (or both), the facts and a few dissenters from the lynch mob in the print and blabbing arts might lend a helping hand. He won’t, of course, because he can’t. The facts might win out, anyway. A fact is a pretty sturdy fellow, and when a few of them get together they can usually make a difference.
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.
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