HH: This morning, I’m joined by Andrew C. McCarthy. Andrew is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and a former federal prosecutor. He is in fact the man who led the prosecution of the Blind Sheikh, the mastermind behind the first World Trade Center bombing. Andrew McCarthy is the author of many books, including The Grand Jihad and Willful Blindness, but most recently, Andrew has authored a series of widely-read, very influential columns on Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation, as well as on the very unusual behavior of a handful of senior officials in the FBI and DOJ during Campaign 2016. For purposes of keeping our storyline straight, I will refer to the Mueller probe as Russia 1, and to the second set of Congressionally-led inquiries as Russia 2. Andrew, welcome, it’s great to talk to you. Thank you for coming in.
AM: Hugh, it’s great to be with you.
HH: Let me begin by establishing for our audience what I believe you and I share, which is an enormous amount of respect for Robert Mueller and confidence in his investigatory team. Am I right about that?
AM: I have a great deal of respect for Mueller. I have spotty confidence, but a great deal of respect for the abilities of his team.
HH: And have you worked with Mr. Wasserman and others on that team before?
AM: No, well, I’ve, you know, our investigations over the years crossed paths. But Hugh, I’m so washed up, I’ve been out of it for about, you know, 14, 15 years now.
HH: Washed up. You must have a reaction when you see former federal prosecutors on TV who actually never went into a courtroom, Andrew. Does that ever send you wondering where in the world they get their experts from?
AM: (laughing) No, not me, Hugh, the thought would never cross my mind.
HH: All right. Let me begin with Steve Bannon, if I could. It was reported late this week that the former senior strategic advisor to President Trump has begun cooperating gladly with House investigators. What’s that mean for the Mueller investigation and Mr. Bannon?
AM: Well, you know, I think usually, you put witnesses in three different buckets. Some of them are, if it’s a criminal investigation, some of them are targets of the investigation, which means they’re likely to be charged. Some of them are subjects of an investigation, which means that the grand jury will consider their activities and make a decision about whether to charge them or not. And most people fall into the bucket of just a witness, somebody who for whatever reason has relevant knowledge. And I think most of the people who are being interviewed by Mueller probably fit that category. Now it’s important to recognize that anybody who gives information to the FBI and the Justice Department, and that’s what Mueller effectively is for these purposes, even if it’s done voluntarily, as we’ve seen, if they make misstatements, they can go very quickly from witness to target, right? But I think probably, most of the people who are said to be cooperating in the investigation are in the position of just being witnesses. It’s particularly hard to tell in this investigation, because we’ve never really been told what crime they’re looking at. This is really a counterintelligence investigation in the main.
HH: Now when we see the President saying that he feels betrayed by Stephen Bannon, and we see Bannon abandoned, in essence, by the Mercers and by Breitbart, as a former federal prosecutor, what does that say to you about the potential value he might add to the Mueller investigation?
AM: You know, Hugh, all of that stuff is atmospheric, because the first thing I want to know as a prosecutor is what’s at the core, which means what am I investigation, and what do I suspect President Trump has done, if he is the subject of the center of my investigation. If this is a situation where I don’t have solid evidence of a crime, it’s hard to assess what kind of value anybody would have to the investigation, because until you, really, the reason that the Justice Department’s regulations, which were not complied with in this case, require that you articulate the basis for a criminal investigation before you appoint a special counsel, the way that we assess the value of witnesses is what their relationship is vis-à-vis that transaction. That’s the grounds for having a criminal prosecution in the first place. In this country, you’re supposed to have the crime first and then you assign the prosecutor. We don’t assign a prosecution and tell them now go off and find a crime. And as a result, it’s very hard to gauge what the potential value of witnesses is, because there’s no real parameters around this investigation.
HH: When you’ve got someone as high profile as Steve Bannon, though, and a President who’s upset with him, do you think he’s going to turn, Andrew McCarthy? And is there danger to him if he invents narratives or obscures narratives in his conversations with the Special Counsel?
AM: Well, if I were a lawyer for anybody going in to see the Special Counsel, the thing I would drum into the person is don’t invent anything. You always want to be truthful and answer the questions that they ask you, because the way you get in trouble, particularly for not in trouble in the first place, is to lie. So you know, I think that would be very important advice, whether it’s to Bannon or to anyone else. It’s sort of standard advice that you would, that you’d give to people. The term turn, Hugh, is problematic in this sense. You can have people who were in a good relationship and now are in a bad relationship because something has happened personally between them. So they’ve turned in the sense that they were once amiable, and now they’re hostile. But what you mean by turn, as someone who used to work at the Justice Department, and what I understand by turn as a former prosecutor, is somebody who was complicit in a potential criminal transaction who turns state evidence, in other words, who goes from saying I’m not guilty and fighting the case to becoming a witness for the prosecution. And that’s why it has to keep coming back to the core inquiry here, which is what is the crime, and we don’t know that.
HH: Now let me turn to Russia 2, Andrew, because we’ve got like three minutes. The Steele dossier was described by Kimberly Strassel in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday in deeply disparaging terms as the BuzzFeed originally published this piece of paper that has now been revealed as largely untrue, and a lot of gossip, and indeed, Andrew, Steele’s running away from it in his British libel lawsuit. What is the problem with the Steele dossier? And what do you think is the core issue about the senior FBI officials who were peddling, and the Department of Justice official, Bruce Ohr, who apparently had a relationship with Mr. Steele?
AM: Well, the core problem with the Steele dossier is that former FBI Director Comey testified in a Senate hearing in June of 2017 that the dossier was salacious and unverified. And my point is if it was unverified in June of 2017, it had to have been unverified in September of 2016, months earlier when credible reporting indicates that it was used in part to get a surveillance warrant from the FISA court. So you know, it’s a never a problem to take information, whether you’re the FBI or the Justice Department, from unsavory sources. In my past as a prosecutor, you know, I got information from terrorists. I got information from mafia guys, drug cartel guys. The thing is you can take information from any place. You have to vet it. You have to verify it. You have to corroborate it before you use it when you go to court to try to get some kind of a warrant, whether it’s a surveillance warrant, a search warrant, or what have you. And the real nub of the question here is did they do that? And it certainly looks like they didn’t.
HH: Now Senators Grassley and Graham have referred Mr. Steele to the Department of Justice for a criminal investigation. On what basis would they do that? How likely do you think it is going to happen? And by the way, do you think we need a second special counsel to look at Mr. Strzok, as Lisa Page, and at Mr. Ohr?
AM: Well let’s start with the last part first. I don’t think we need another special counsel. I think that’s what we have a Justice Department for. And I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t investigate that. As far as the likelihood of whether this referral goes anyplace, it’s very hard to tell, Hugh, because they gave us a short public cover letter that’s over a classified memo. And we don’t know exactly what’s in the classified memo, but reading the tea leaves, it appears what they’re saying is that something in the communications between Steele and the journalist he spoke to, and we know he did that starting in around September of 2016 at the height of the presidential election, was inconsistent with whatever it is that he was telling the FBI. And I think that’s the problem he has, but we’re a long way from making a criminal case as far as that goes.
HH: Andrew C. McCarthy, everyone’s got to be reading everything you write and following you on Twitter, @AndrewCMcCarthy. I appreciate you coming in this morning, and I hope you’ll come back. Thank you very much, Andrew.
AM: Thanks so much, Hugh.
End of interview.