My experience with Andy McCabe: No criticizing James Comey allowed

I don’t know former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. I’ve never met him. But I was supposed to. I was in an FBI car last June on my way to meet him and other top law enforcement leaders at a counterterrorism communications training event at the 9/11 Museum in New York City when McCabe suddenly ordered me not to show up. The car pulled up outside the museum and I was told not to come inside. I took a taxi back to my hotel and went home.

Based on my one and only experience with McCabe, it proved to me that he has a “circle the wagons and protect James ComeyJames Brien ComeyComey tweets: 'We always emerge stronger from hard times' Trump to declassify controversial text messages, documents related to Russia probe Lisa Page bombshell: FBI couldn’t prove Trump-Russia collusion before Mueller appointment MORE at all costs” approach that is inconsistent with the type of behavior our nation should expect from a man who, at the time, was leading the FBI.

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Here’s what happened. In January 2017, I was invited by then-FBI Director Comey to deliver the keynote address for a major meeting of law enforcement directors from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. These English-speaking countries are called the Five Eyes nations. In addition to the FBI director and his foreign counterparts, the heads of the Drug Enforcement Administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement were to attend. The meeting was a big deal. 

As someone who is an admirer and supporter of the FBI, I looked forward to going and sharing what I learned about how to communicate in a crisis. Having been the White House press secretary on Sept. 11, 2001, there was a lot I wanted to share with the Five Eyes leaders.

One month before the event, Comey was fired and McCabe became acting FBI director. The day prior to the event, Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He acknowledged telling President TrumpDonald John TrumpOver 100 lawmakers consistently voted against chemical safeguards: study CNN's Anderson Cooper unloads on Trump Jr. for spreading 'idiotic' conspiracy theories about him Cohn: Jamie Dimon would be 'phenomenal' president MORE he was not under investigation, and he admitted he provided FBI memos to a friend so they could be leaked to The New York Times.

That evening, I went on Fox News and was mildly critical of Comey. I said when President Trump sought a one-on-one meeting with him, he should have resisted it, a statement Comey himself made at the hearing. The next morning, about an hour before I was due at the 9/11 Museum, I was on another TV show and again was mildly critical of Comey. I questioned the ethics of his leaking FBI memos to a private citizen so they could be given to the press. I also said I saw no evidence of collusion between President Trump and Russia.

I left the show, got into an FBI car and headed downtown for the counterterrorism training event. That’s when my assistant called me to tell me that she got a call from the acting FBI director’s office telling me not to show up. No explanation was provided.

I was infuriated. I couldn’t understand it. I had worked hard and prepared a lot of useful information for these law enforcement chiefs. I called McCabe’s chief of staff, James Rybicki, and asked him to arrange a call with McCabe.

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On Monday, June 12, McCabe called me and said bluntly that he heard about what I said on the news and he made the decision to cancel my keynote speech. He said it was a particularly sensitive time for the FBI and, knowing what I said on the air, he thought his agents would be too upset to have me at the event.

I told him I thought his decision was “inappropriate.” I couldn’t believe he could be so thin-skinned that my mild remarks would lead him to cancel a counterterrorism training event. I also had a hard time believing his agents would be so upset by an opinion.

And that was that. I don’t know anything else about McCabe, other than what I have read in the press. But I do know that in this instance he demonstrated a “protect Comey at all costs” approach to his job that I find troubling.

It is McCabe’s right to be close to Comey. It is his right to see Comey as a mentor. But it was wrong of him to retaliate against someone because he didn’t like what they said about Comey on a news show. The FBI I know is better than this.

Ari Fleischer served as White House press secretary for President George W. Bush. He is now president of Ari Fleischer Communications.