It was a weekend of funerals and Trump-bashing, simultaneously. Of course, everything now is about Trump, and hating, and hating Trump, and almost no one is acting like an adult these days. I don’t know what Aretha Franklin’s personal politics were, or even if she was very active politically at all, but she deserved better than to have her funeral hijacked by politics. Does every occasion have to be about that? Every bit of sentiment at that event should have been focused on Aretha and the glorious voice she shared with the world.
As for John McCain’s funeral, it’s true that neither Trump nor Sarah Palin got an “invite” to John McCain’s funeral. (By the way, when did people start issuing/withholding invitations to funerals? What would Miss Manner say about this? It sure isn’t a Southern thing. In the South, everybody comes, everybody goes to the house afterwards, and everybody brings food. But I digress.) On the other hand, Trump surely wouldn’t have wanted to be there, anyway. I imagine that, to Trump, a sit-down with Robert Mueller might have been preferable. So the best thing to do was to follow the advice of fictional news anchor Ron Burgundy and stay classy.
Perhaps these two men were so estranged because they were too much alike in their brashness. Neither has been known for his diplomatic reserve or lack of narcissism. Trump said an awful thing when he bluntly dismissed McCain’s heroism following his capture in Vietnam, and it might have been asking too much of McCain for him ever to forgive Trump for such a remark. On the other hand, McCain did some things that significantly affected Trump and his administration, things so damaging that it’s hard to imagine Trump ever forgiving him. (And note the interesting contrast: we’re talking about what Trump SAID vs. what McCain actually DID.) In retrospect, one of the things McCain did to Trump is particularly significant right now.
McCain passed along the unverified Steele dossier to then-FBI Director James Comey.
Now, keep in mind that the dossier was making the rounds to a number of people who might have been highly motivated to get it to the FBI, so Comey surely would have seen it regardless of McCain’s decision to give it to him. But Trump knows he did it –- McCain wrote candidly about receiving it and passing it to Comey in his recent book, THE RESTLESS WAVE, which came out in May.
John Haltiwanger at BUSINESS INSIDER offered some commentary at the time the book was released, and it’s enlightening now to take another look at that. What happened to McCain is by now a familiar scenario: as with some of Trump’s campaign associates, he was approached by a person who wanted to tell him something about what the Russians were up to.
It happened in November of 2016, shortly after Trump had won the Presidential election. McCain was in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for an annual national security conference when Sir Andrew Wood, a retired British diplomat, approached him. (McCain thought he might previously have met Wood in passing but wasn’t sure, and he did not recall conversing with him before this.) McCain accompanied Wood to a room off the main conference hall, where they were joined by two other men, David Kramer, a former assistant secretary of state with Russian expertise, and Chris Brose, a staff member on the Senate Armed Services Committee. For the first few minutes, they talked about Russian election interference, according to McCain.
Then Wood revealed to McCain the reason he’d wanted to talk. “He told me he knew of a former MI6 agent named Christopher Steele,” McCain wrote in the book, “who had been commissioned to investigate connections between the Trump campaign and Russian agents as well as potentially compromising information about the President-elect that Putin allegedly possessed.”
Let’s pause for a moment. It’s been confirmed that Christopher Steele was a passionate anti-Trumper who was “commissioned” by a political oppo research company being paid by Hillary’s campaign and the DNC to get whatever gossip and trash he could pick up. That’s the reality. Now, let’s continue with McCain’s story.
Wood said the information in the Steele dossier was unverified but that Steele “strongly believed” it “merited a thorough examination by counterintelligence experts.”
Let’s pause again. We now know that Steele himself wasn’t at all confident in the truth of the dossier. So if what McCain wrote about Wood is true, Wood was really overselling what was in it. Or perhaps Steele had oversold it to Wood.
But McCain sensed this dossier might be extremely important. “Our impromptu meeting felt charged with a strange intensity,” he wrote. “No one wise-cracked to lighten the mood. We spoke in lowered voices. The room was dimly lit, and the atmosphere was eerie.” (In another reference to fictional news anchors, this sounds like the scene in NETWORK in which Howard Beale is confronted by conglomerate chairman Arthur Jensen in the dimly lit, eerie boardroom and comes away saying, “I have seen the face of God.”) But all this drama was over a piece of oppo research garbage. McCain wrote that the scenario seemed “too strange” to be believed but that he felt “even a remote risk that the President of the United States might be vulnerable to Russian extortion had to be investigated.”
Long story short: Kramer met with Steele, reported back, told McCain he thought Steele was reputable. McCain agreed to receive copy of dossier even though he had no idea if anything in it was true. McCain locked it in his safe, called Comey, requested a meeting. On December 19, 2016, he met with Comey for about 10 minutes and gave him the dossier.
“I did what duty demanded I do,” McCain wrote in the book. He said he’d do it again. And if anyone disagreed with what he did, they could “go to hell.”
“I trust the FBI and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, an experienced, skilled prosecutor, and a man of exceptional probity and character to separate fact from fiction, and get to the bottom of the so-called dossier,” he actually wrote.
McCain’s book came out a few months ago. Though we’ve learned much since that time, we knew then of the dossier’s stunningly political origins. And though the FBI has proved itself to be quite untrustworthy on the subject of Trump, and Mueller has packed his team with Hillary donors and partisan attack dogs, it doesn’t sound as if McCain ever took one second to rethink his decision to pass along the dossier. I may really be going out on a limb here, but I suspect this might be one reason why Trump didn’t much care for John McCain. (Of course, there were other reasons, including the little matter of his vote to save Obamacare, but I digress.)
McCain wrote in his book that he suspected Wood approached him about the dossier because he had been such a staunch critic of Putin over the years that he would likely take their concerns about a Trump-Russia connection seriously. I don’t doubt he believed that, but I wonder if it’s more likely he was chosen because he was known to be so strongly anti-Trump that they were confident he’d get the dossier where they needed it to go.