The Threat Andrew G. McCabe

The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump by Andrew G. McCabe, St. Martin’s Press, 274 pages, $29.99

On the back cover of his new book, The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump, Andrew G. McCabe looks preposterously fit (he competes in triathlons). His hands are at his hips, gunslinger style. It’s as if he were a kind High Plains sheriff who had stumbled upon an intolerable rodeo of villainy.

McCabe’s prose is lean, too. (Not that he wrote this book. In his acknowledgments, he thanks “a great writing and editing team.”) The first sentence demands to be read in the voice of Jack Webb from Dragnet: “Between the world of chaos and the world of order stands the rule of law.”

McCabe is, of course, the former deputy director of the FBI who was fired in March, just 26 hours before his scheduled retirement. He was briefly the FBI’s acting director, after the dismissal of James Comey. The president hooted on Twitter: “Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the F.B.I. — A great day for Democracy.”

This lawman, a registered Republican for the entirety of his adult life, may have been driven out of Dodge. But he has dusted off his white hat and returned with a memoir that’s better than any book typed this quickly has a right to be.

The Threat is a concise yet substantive account of how the FBI works, at a moment when its procedures and impartiality are under attack. It’s an unambiguous indictment of Trump’s moral behavior. “Let me state the proposition openly,” McCabe writes. “The work of the FBI is being undermined by the current president.”

It’s a rapid-fire memoir, moving from the author’s training in Quantico through his experiences chasing the Russian mob, the Boston Marathon bombers, and others. The book is patriotic and oddly stirring. It has moments of opacity, where you feel he is holding back at crucial moments, but it is filled with disturbingly piquant details.

McCabe made headlines after the Feb. 17 60 Minutes interview, during which he reported that top Justice Department officials, disquieted by Trump’s firing of Comey, discussed trying to encourage Cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. He also confirmed a New York Times report that the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, offered to wear a wire during his meetings with Trump.

These stories, frustratingly, were in the TV interview but are not in this book. But there are many other gleanings.

McCabe’s accounts of his interactions with Jeff Sessions, the former attorney general, would be high comedy if they were not so dire. They are a highlight, or a lowlight, of this book. We see a Sessions who is openly racist. “Back in the old days,” he says to the author about the FBI, “you all only hired Irishmen. They were drunks, but they could be trusted.” Sessions seemed not to read his daily briefings. He had “trouble focusing” and “seemed to lack basic knowledge about the jurisdictions of various arms of federal law enforcement.” The portrait of Sessions is of a man for whom merely ordering lunch seems to be above the timberline of his intellect and curiosity.

McCabe’s memoir joins a roster of recent and alarming books by high-ranking members of the United States’ justice and intelligence communities, each pushing back sharply against the president’s war on facts and competence. These books include Comey’s A Higher Loyalty, as well as The Assault on Intelligence, by Michael V. Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency, and Facts and Fears, by James R. Clapper Jr., former director of national intelligence, written with Trey Brown.

Each is its own Paul Revere ride of warning. Each is a reminder that we will be reading about Trump and his administration for the rest of our lives, for the exact opposite reason that we will also be reading about Lincoln and his for the rest of our lives.

There’s much more in McCabe’s book. Like what it’s like to take a polygraph test, and the fastest way to take off a seat belt. He wades back through the big muddy of the Benghazi hearings. He writes of his fears about the increasing use of encryption. He spends a good deal of time talking about Hillary Clinton and her email server. He argues that Comey, whom he admires, made crucial mistakes in how he handled the matter. “As a matter of policy, the FBI does everything possible not to influence elections. In 2016, it seems we did.”

He adds to our understanding of how deeply Trump remains under Vladimir Putin’s sway. After a North Korean ballistic missile test, Trump told an FBI briefer that reports of the test were a hoax. McCabe writes: “He said he knew this because Vladimir Putin had told him so.”

About Trump, the author asks, “What more could a person do to erode the credibility of the presidency?” He watches this moral limbo dancer go lower and lower. Yet he sees the president as a symptom as much as a disease.

“When is the right time,” he asks, “to give upon people’s general ability to understand any slightly complicated statement that they don’t agree with?”