I’m not sure which meaning of “ball” is indicated in the title of Andrew C. McCarthy’s book. The McCarthy who comes across on the TV screen somehow seems to me a likely baseball fan, so I’m inclined to take that meaning as “a pitch falling outside of the strike zone.” How seriously President Trump and the nation have been beaned by that wild pitch remains a matter of great concern.
Mr. McCarthy’s book has been rightly praised as a carefully-documented but vigorously-argued, non-jargonized account of the effort to prevent Donald Trump from being elected President, and, failing that, to distract, discredit, and hobble a Trump Administration and destroy its prospects for re-election. McCarthy attributes this effort to senior figures in the Obama Administration, initially the intelligence services (shorthand for John Brennan). Twice, the author comes close to fingering Barack Obama himself. First, when he recounts a post-election meeting in the White House. After dismissing outgoing officials Brennan, James Clapper, Michael Rogers, Susan Rice, and Vice President Biden, Obama huddled with Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and FBI Director Comey, both of whom would be staying in their posts after Trump took office. McCarthy observes: “If the Russian investigation were to be sustained after Trump’s inauguration, it would be up to them to persevere in it.”
Secondly, he stops just short of pointing at Obama when he provides a typically judicious explanation of the law and regulation that defines who is the official consumer of a counterintelligence investigation – namely, that “such investigation is done for the president.”(Italics in the original.)
This latter example is typical of McCarthy’s approach throughout the book: He is as determined to explain how things ought to have operated under the law and settled policies as he is to recount what his careful sifting of the evidence reveals did in fact happen. Unlike some of the shriller voices on the right, McCarthy is not content merely to express outrage. He takes pains to lead the reader through the violations of established norms that justify the outrage. My only quibble on this score is that I wish McCarthy had shared an insider’s view of the workings of the still mysterious FISA court – particularly, what kind of institutional supports do FISA judges have? Does the structure of these courts actually give them the capacity to satisfy the thundering commentators demanding that the deceived FISA judge(s) should “call in the FBI and get to the bottom” of the deception? If yes, then has it happened, and if no, how can this be in a country not yet a full banana republic?
For all McCarthy’s emphasis on legal and institutional norms, Ball of Collusion is by no means a tepid account. On the contrary, the author is not afraid of blunt characterizations. The investigation of General Michael Flynn was, he says, “a vindictive farce.” Some thoughts from McCarthy include:
“I am not a Rosenstein fan … [his] reputational motivations cannot be divorced from his consequential decisions and sometimes erratic actions … he saw himself (with justification) as beloved by both parties, and he aimed to keep it that way.”
And at other points: “[Rosenstein] issued a weaselly non-denial denial repudiating his weaselly moves.” “Steele seems like a full-throttle hack to me.” “As they sat in a lounge a large television was tuned in to CNN, which suddenly broke the news about the [Steele] dossier. The pair traded ‘Holy sh**’ exclamations.” And finally:
“Trump … created evidence that could be used against him … don’t invite Russia’s top operatives over to the White House to gloat over firing the FBI Director who is investigating Russia … If you don’t want a meritless investigation against you to continue, then don’t giftwrap reasons to continue it.”
Blunt or nuanced, McCarthy’s account reveals a man utterly devoted to the institutions and the rule of law that for him are essential to retaining the democratic republic he dedicated a career to serving. One can imagine him echoing the admonition Robert Bolt puts in the mouth of Thomas More that “this country is planted thick with laws from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down … do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?”
Interestingly, a few days after the book’s appearance, Justice Department Inspector General Michael “Long Awaited” Horowitz issued a statement to the effect that although James Comey violated FBI policies concerning the handling of sensitive information and set a poor example for the rest of the agency, he was not going to be indicted. One imagines that McCarthy and public servants like him would be devastated and deeply shamed by the condemnation. Comey, though, is a different breed – and herein is the problem facing us now in the colossal mess that Boy Scout di tutti Boy Scouts and his co-conspirators have created for President Trump and a deeply-divided nation. Comey, in all his hubris, made short work of the Justice Department’s long-ago-telegraphed glancing punch, tweeting:
“DOJ IG ‘found no evidence that Comey or his attorneys released any of the classified information contained in any of the memos to members of the media.’ I don’t need a public apology from those who defamed me, but a quick message with a ‘sorry we lied about you’ would be nice.”
The upright tribune of A Higher Loyalty: “I love this country … and I love the Department of Justice, and I love the FBI,” continues to spin his pious fables before receptive media and educated suburban women from Scarsdale to Manhattan Beach. The battle remains; the long-awaited are still long-awaited, and the declassification process is still processing. All this being the case, where are we left after McCarthy’s commendable account? I’m afraid that knowing what we know after reading Ball of Collusion, it comes down to hoping desperately that in this thinly-staffed administration there are more McCarthys than Comeys on the payroll.