WASHINGTON — Andrew McCabe, the former FBI deputy director and a frequent target of President Donald Trump’s scorn, was fired Friday after the Justice Department rejected an appeal that would have let him retire this weekend.
McCabe promptly declared that his firing, and Trump’s persistent needling, were intended to undermine the special counsel’s investigation in which he is a potential witness.
McCabe is accused in a yet-to-be-released internal report of failing to be forthcoming about a conversation he authorized between FBI officials and a journalist.
In an interview, McCabe was blunt. "The idea that I was dishonest is just wrong," he said, adding, "This is part of an effort to discredit me as a witness."
FBI disciplinary officials recommended his dismissal. McCabe, who stepped down in January and took a leave of absence, denied the accusation and appealed this week to senior career officials in the Justice Department.
Lack of candor is a fireable offense at the FBI, but McCabe’s last-minute dismissal was carried out against a highly politicized backdrop.
McCabe was among the first at the FBI to scrutinize possible Trump campaign ties to Russia. And he is a potential witness to the question of whether Trump tried to obstruct justice. Trump has taunted McCabe both publicly and privately, and Republican allies have cast him as the center of a "deep state" effort to undermine the Trump presidency.
As a witness, McCabe would be in a position to corroborate the testimony of the former FBI director, James Comey, who kept contemporaneous notes on his conversations with Trump. Comey said Trump prodded him to publicly exonerate the president on the question of Russian collusion and encouraged him to shut down an investigation into his national security adviser.
McCabe, a 21-year FBI veteran, was eligible for a government pension if he retired Sunday. The firing jeopardizes that benefit, although it was not immediately clear how much he might lose.
"It’s incredibly unfair to my reputation after a 21-year career," McCabe said. He said the president’s public attacks were aimed at several targets. "The real damage is being done to the FBI, law enforcement and the special counsel," he said.
McCabe was the FBI’s second in command during one of the most tumultuous periods in the bureau’s history. He oversaw investigations into both the Trump campaign and Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server — and he dealt with the fallout from both. He became the acting FBI director after the sudden firing of his boss, Comey, and he publicly contradicted the White House on national television over whether Comey had lost the support of rank-and-file FBI agents.
Since then, Trump has repeatedly singled him out for public attack, suggesting that he helped protect Clinton from prosecution during the 2016 presidential campaign. As evidence, he pointed to the fact that McCabe’s wife, Jill, ran as a Democrat for a state Senate seat in Virginia and received hundreds of thousands of dollars from a political committee run by Terry McAuliffe, a longtime ally of the Clintons.
As recently as Thursday, even as the White House said it was leaving McCabe’s fate in Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ hands, officials there left little doubt where the president stood.
"It is well documented that he has had some very troubling behavior and by most accounts a bad actor," the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said.
Jill McCabe lost the race, and Andrew McCabe was later promoted to deputy director, where he oversaw the investigation into Clinton. No charges were filed in that case, and Trump has pointed to the donations to Jill McCabe’s campaign as evidence of FBI bias.
The inspector general’s report faults Andrew McCabe for his candor in interviews with internal investigators. The report has not been released, but people briefed on it say the allegations revolve around disclosures to the Wall Street Journal, which revealed in October 2016 a dispute between the FBI and the Justice Department over how to proceed in an investigation into the Clinton family’s foundation.
McCabe, working through the FBI press office, authorized a spokesman and a bureau lawyer to speak with the Journal to rebut allegations that McCabe had put the brakes on the Clinton Foundation investigation. To the contrary, the article ultimately noted, McCabe had insisted that his agents had the authority to investigate the foundation, even if the Justice Department refused to authorize grand jury subpoenas.
McCabe joined the FBI after law school and rose quickly through the ranks. Comey groomed him for senior leadership from a young age, rankling some agents who saw him as too academic and not enough of a traditional crime-fighter. But senior FBI officials and his counterparts in other agencies praised his intellect and ability to manage complicated worldwide national security issues.