- - Monday, May 20, 2019

In the burgeoning controversy about the FBI investigation of Donald Trump, one thing is clear: The decision by Andrew McCabe as acting FBI director to open a counterintelligence probe targeting Mr. Trump after he fired FBI Director James Comey was based on false pretenses.

In his book “The Threat,” Mr. McCabe says he opened that investigation and urged Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appoint a special counsel based almost entirely on Mr. Trump’s comment to NBC’s Lester Holt that he thought about “this Russia thing” when he decided to fire Jim Comey as FBI director in May 2017.

Mr. McCabe interpreted those meandering words to mean that Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey because the director was pursuing the ongoing FBI investigation into interference in the election and Mr. Trump wanted to stop it. But as noted in my book “The Trump White House,” Mr. Trump went on to say twice to Mr. Holt that he recognized that by firing Mr. Comey, he was probably prolonging the investigation and that he wanted it “to be absolutely done properly.” It was the exact opposite of attempting to obstruct an investigation.

If Mr. McCabe had cited the rest of what Mr. Trump said, he would have exposed as baseless his own rationale for starting an investigation of Mr. Trump. But Mr. McCabe did not. Instead, in his book Mr. McCabe deliberately and dishonestly omitted the rest of what Mr. Trump said to Mr. Holt about his dismissal of Mr. Comey probably lengthening the Russia investigation.

Mr. McCabe went on to cite parenthetically the fact that in a “demeaning and dismissive way,” Mr. Trump had referred to the ongoing FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election — which included the possibility of collusion by the campaign — as a “witch-hunt.” So now defending yourself is reason to open an investigation that could lead to criminal charges against you.

Thus, the entire basis for starting the FBI’s obstruction and collusion investigation specifically targeting Mr. Trump, according to the FBI official who started it, was based on a lie — a phony predicate that misrepresented what Mr. Trump said in the NBC interview.

It has got to be embarrassing to anyone in law enforcement that an FBI agent would cite criticism of an investigation as a reason to investigate that individual. But more important, the fact that Mr. McCabe would acknowledge opening an investigation of Mr. Trump based on his comment to Mr. Holt and then would deceitfully suppress what the president actually said is far more shocking than all the claims we see in the media and in Congress about the FBI’s FISA warrant applications, the so-called dossier, or the alleged wiretapping of the Trump campaign.

Yet Mr. McCabe is apparently so arrogant and deluded by his own animus toward Mr. Trump that he feels no shame in exposing to the world his corrupt justification for opening an investigation of him.

If you are wondering how FBI leadership could have sunk to this level, look no further than Mr. Comey’s interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on April 19. In the interview, a skeptical Mr. Tapper asked the former FBI director why he believed it “possible” that the Russians have derogatory information on the president. Unbelievably, Mr. Comey responded that in his dealings with him, Mr. Trump constantly proclaimed his own innocence and “wouldn’t criticize Vladimir Putin.”

By Mr. Comey’s reasoning, if a defendant in a murder trial constantly says he didn’t do it, jurors should vote to convict. And in noting Mr. Trump’s disinclination to criticize Mr. Putin, Mr. Comey ignored the multiple actions Mr. Trump has taken against Russia that are far more important than what the president says or doesn’t say about the Russian leader. Those actions include imposing sanctions on Russia and Mr. Putin’s inner circle, sending missiles into Russia’s ally Syria, giving weapons to Ukraine, demanding that NATO countries increase their defense spending, criticizing Germany for going ahead with a pipeline to import natural gas from Russia, and promoting increased U.S. production of oil and natural gas, lowering Russian profits on its energy exports.

Thus, Mr. Comey and Mr. McCabe were peas in a pod, feeding off their own corrupt and dishonest reasoning spawned by hatred of Mr. Trump to justify what Mr. Trump aptly called a witch-hunt.

I have covered the FBI since J. Edgar Hoover was director. I have written three books on the FBI, one of which led to the dismissal by President Clinton of William Sessions as FBI director over his abuses. And for my book “The Secrets of the FBI,” Robert Mueller as FBI director gave me unprecedented access to the bureau.

In that book, I portrayed the actions Mr. Mueller took after 9/11 to make the FBI more prevention oriented. Those steps are largely responsible for the fact that we have not had a successful attack by a foreign terrorism network since 9/11.

But the investigation targeting Mr. Trump is an epic abuse of the FBI’s authority the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Hoover days.

• Ronald Kessler, a former Washington Post and Wall Street Journal investigative reporter, is the author of “The Trump White House: Changing the Rules of the Game” and “The Secrets of the FBI.”

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