Head of Brass, Feet of Clay


A friend and I had a debate about Andrew McCabe, the doofus deputy director of the FBI.

As you recall, McCabe was an important figure in last year’s investigations of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, despite the fact that his wife had received more than $700,000 from a close friend of Clinton’s to finance her campaign for the Virginia legislature. What McCabe seems to have done or permitted to be done during the investigations is pretty much what you’d expect from someone compromised in that way. I refer to such things as the FBI’s probable use of the absurd dossier on Trump’s visit to Russia as evidence to convince a secret court to allow surveillance of Trump and associates.

Now, if report be true, McCabe’s recent performance before a congressional committee showed that he is both a liar and a fool.

[S]ources said that when asked when he learned that the dossier had been funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, McCabe claimed he could not recall — despite the reported existence of documents with McCabe’s own signature on them establishing his knowledge of the dossier’s financing and provenance.

Is there any possibility that this would not be a ridiculous lie? Is there any possibility that a senior official would go before Congress, knowing that he would be asked precisely that question, and neither remember the answer nor look it up?

I mentioned this to my friend, whose assessment agreed with mine. He observed, however, that the rank-and-file of the FBI is equally disappointed with such behavior. That’s when I made objections.

Is there any possibility that this would not be a ridiculous lie?

For one thing, I’m not disappointed. I never expected anything better from the FBI. If I were going to be disappointed, I would be that way with the many leftists, and the many libertarians, who have spent their lives attacking the FBI, the CIA, and the other 15 or 20 surveillance agencies that the government runs, but who are now aghast that anyone should “take Trump’s side” by criticizing them.

That’s not what my friend was doing. He was merely showing the touching faith in which good Americans are reared, the faith that there is one part of the government that is actually too proud to lie, cheat, and steal. This has always seemed to me extremely unlikely.

I do not think the majority of men and women in the FBI and the Department of Justice are any less honorable than normal people, any more than I think that the majority of people who work for any other government agency are fools and liars and crooks and so forth. But my argument is this: in a normal, uncorrupt organization, the bosses are afraid to do certain things because a significant proportion of the rank and file will report them if they do. In an organization in which people are employed to enforce the law and are bound by oath to uphold the Constitution, we would expect someone — lots of people — to come forward and complain if bad things were being done, if the bosses were abusing their powers of investigation, search, and seizure; if the bosses were writing reports acquitting politicians they liked, months before investigations were complete; if the bosses were giving people immunity from prosecution without expecting any confessions in return; if the bosses were leaking information in order to influence the course of political events, while doing everything they could to hide information from people entitled to receive it.

My friend was merely showing the touching faith in which good Americans are reared, the faith that there is one part of the government that is actually too proud to lie, cheat, and steal.

Such things do not, cannot, happen in a vacuum. Hundreds of people have probably witnessed them taking place. And not one employee of the FBI or the Department of Justice has had the moral responsibility to say, “I was there. I saw it happen. It was wrong.”

The Republicans used to respond to any criticism of federal agents by demanding to know “who you think you are to be criticizing these brave men and women who are risking their lives to protect us.” Now the Democrats are doing it. Yet the brave men and women apparently will not fulfill their duty if it involves even a slight risk that they will not get their next promotion. And if they really are part of the Deep State, as Mr. McCabe manifestly is, they go merrily on their way without any sense of risk, assured that whatever they do, no one will produce the evidence that convicts them.

This has always seemed to me extremely unlikely.

This is not a problem that first arose in 2016. During the past 30 years, how many officials have resigned their posts in the federal government, or risked their posts in the federal government, or risked their promotions in the federal government, because they had seen something illegal or immoral going on, and they wanted to say something about it? The answer is: practically none. I don’t think that anyone will regard this freedom from complaint as a sign of the government’s exemplary moral purity.

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Thanks for a great expression and explanation of what goes on in government in particular, and in life in general. It's the "quiet desperation" in which most men and women lead and live their lives.

Fresh off the boat

Mr Cox,

Nice article. I reached similar conclusions.

As an immigrant, I remember coming to the US and marveling at the moral purity (by the old country's standard) of US law enforcement agencies. For years, I was pooh-poohing my friends' concerns about the FBI, CIA and NSA. "When they start disappearing or suiciding opponents like where I come from, then you can worry," I remember telling them. It took me a while to notice that while the Agencies were not as rotten as the spooks from my birthplace, they are far from being exemplary. Maybe these anti-authoritarian weirdos were up to something after all.

Thanks to my US employer winning an IT government procurement contract, I worked with employees from a "secret" agency during the Bush Jr years. I was surprised to see that almost every single one of them was militantly anti-Bush (And BTW, none of them every used a Windows PC for some reason -- only Mac and Linux. Later, with the NSA leaks, I understood why.) That wasn't a fluke. Federal Election Commission donations statistics show that State Department employees sent 99% of their 2016 contributions to Hillary. Interestingly, Hollywood keeps feeding us the trite propaganda of 3-letter agencies full of right-wing evildoers. These Leftist directors would never admit that the corrupt Federal Gestapos they denounce in contrived scripts are almost entirely staffed with their ideological brethren.

During the Obama years, though, I started noticing an uncomfortable trend: The corruption and scandals emanating from these agencies started looking a lot like the political police operations from my country's Socialist regime. I felt like a surgeon recognizing signs of a deadly disease progression, why naive Americans were mostly ignoring them or attributing them to bad management. Many Republicans held to the old chestnut that with their own strongman in office, all these bad things would go away. In other words, they thought that the rot was incidental. I am among those who think the rot is essential: The core personnel and culture of the Agencies are fully devoted to a Statist, authoritarian ideology, elections be damned.

I am not sure the agencies can be reformed. It would require replacing the top management of these organizations. The most insidious form of corruption is abuse of power, and it is hard to eradicate.

RW ferris

After Edward Snowden it is not hard to see the reluctance of civil servant to speak unwanted truths.

In our lifetimes it seems there is little or no reward for whistleblowers and great peril to person and profession for the truth.

With a 95+% conviction rate, the federal system cannot be a justice system at all.

When people are not accountable for their actions and are shielded by both law and union, it is very hard to get justice at all when the government employees lie, cheat and steal. Your word against theirs will always result in you losing.

Scott Robinson

Dear Stephen,

You mention the offense and indignation of the FBI telling lies. The letters of their acronym are what you use to spell fib. A fib is a minor offense level lie. Maybe their label reflects the fact that they are not honest, even about the level of offensiveness of their lies.

Another amusing case of meaning of word be damned is all the talk by Democrats and mass media about the immorality of their peers. I remember these same people telling me that it's not our place to judge politicians morally. Maybe this means that us underlings are not allowed to judge, but our higher powers are the only legitimate judges and since judge not lest ye be judged yourself means that these judges can't be judged. You know, since they're judging.

Talk Means What the Big Stick Says,

P.S. Maybe talk is the feet of clay that can't hold up the head of brass.

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