Political News

Andrew McCabe’s Firing: Here’s What You Need to Know

Posted March 19, 2018 3:35 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — Andrew G. McCabe, the former FBI deputy director, was fired late Friday night — on the eve of his retirement. Here’s what we know.

— Who Is Andrew McCabe?

McCabe is a 21-year FBI veteran who joined the bureau out of law school and rose to its No. 2 position in 2016. The deputy director is essentially the FBI’s chief operating officer.

— Why does he matter?

He oversaw two of the most politically charged cases in FBI history: the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, and the investigation of Donald Trump’s campaign ties to the Russian government.

— Why was he fired?

McCabe was questioned as part of a wide-ranging internal inquiry into the FBI’s handling of the Clinton investigation and other matters. During the internal investigation, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, McCabe “lacked candor − including under oath − on multiple occasions.” That is a fireable offense, and Sessions said that career, apolitical employees at the FBI and Justice Department agreed that McCabe should be fired.

At issue is whether McCabe was forthcoming with investigators about what Sessions said was an “unauthorized disclosure to the news media.”

— Was he leaking information to damage T rump?

Not as far as anyone can tell. The story at the heart of the case was published in The Wall Street Journal in October 2016, just days before the election as the FBI raced to review newly discovered emails from Clinton’s server. The Journal revealed a dispute between the FBI and the Justice Department over how to handle a separate Clinton investigation, one into her family’s foundation.

McCabe authorized an FBI spokesman and lawyer to speak to The Journal to rebut suggestions that he had put the brakes on the investigation. These types of interactions between journalists and government officials — known as “background calls” — are common in all federal agencies and administrations as officials try to correct inaccuracies or provide details and nuance before reporters publish information.

The Journal ultimately reported that while Justice Department officials did not authorize subpoenas, the FBI in fact had pressed ahead with the case — a detail that if anything was damaging to Clinton, not Trump.

— Did the White House Fire McCabe?

No. As a career civil servant, McCabe is not a political appointee who can be summarily dismissed by the president. But this is where the situation gets complicated. Trump has repeatedly used his Twitter account to attack McCabe. Months before the firing, he taunted McCabe about his pension.

And he goaded Sessions into taking action against McCabe. On the eve of McCabe’s firing, the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, called him a “bad actor.” Taken together, this unusual level of White House commentary created a political backdrop to what should have been an independent government personnel decision. McCabe’s lawyers seized on that as evidence of improper influence.

“This distortion of the process begins at the very top, with the president’s repeated offensive, drive-by Twitter attacks on Mr. McCabe,"said Michael R. Bromwich, a lawyer for McCabe

— Why was he fired so quickly?

That is one of the big unknowns. FBI disciplinary matters can drag out for extended periods, and it is not uncommon for officials to retire during that process. That did not happen here, and it is not clear why. The workings of the FBI’s disciplinary office are kept confidential.

McCabe’s lawyers say they were given little time to read and respond to the final report and were still receiving new evidence two days before his firing. Why the rush, they ask, if not to make sure that McCabe was fired?

“This concerted effort to accelerate the process, in order to beat the ticking clock of his scheduled retirement, violates any sense of decency and basic principles of fairness,” Bromwich said.

— What’s the president’s beef with McCabe?

Trump has seized on the fact that McCabe’s wife, Jill, ran for a Virginia state Senate seat as a Democrat and received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from a political ally of Clinton. He says Andrew McCabe never should have been allowed to oversee the Clinton investigation. He says the campaign donations are proof that a pro-Clinton bias within the FBI explains why Clinton was never charged.

Trump brought up McCabe’s wife on several occasions, including a face-to-face meeting in which the president called her a “loser.”

— Does Trump’s criticism have merit?

Yes and no. McCabe did not begin supervising the Clinton investigation until after his wife had lost the race, and records show that he sought ethics and legal advice inside the FBI before deciding not to recuse himself. But some in the FBI believe he should never have been involved because of his wife’s campaign donations.

When he ultimately recused himself, late in the investigation, it only fueled the argument that he should have stepped aside from the beginning.

Trump’s theory of McCabe as a pro-Clinton partisan, however, is on far shakier ground. McCabe has identified himself as a lifelong Republican and did not vote in the 2016 election. The newspaper story that McCabe authorized FBI officials speak about was not a positive one for Clinton.

And, perhaps most importantly, in the months before the election, when the FBI publicly disclosed information about its work on the Clinton investigation, it never revealed the existence and scope of a full-throated investigation into the Trump campaign’s Russia ties.

— What does this possibly have to do with Russia?

Like so much at the FBI, McCabe’s firing has become inextricably entangled in presidential politics and the investigation by the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

McCabe was one of only a handful of FBI officials involved in the Russia investigation from the first days. He supervised it at every step and was involved in the decision to seek a wiretap on Carter Page, a former Trump foreign adviser. That wiretap application was approved by senior Justice Department officials, was reapproved by Trump’s own Justice Department and was signed by a federal judge based on evidence that Page was a Russian agent. Trump has declared that wiretap to be improper, however, and points to it as evidence of political surveillance by the FBI.

McCabe also worked alongside FBI Director James Comey, who accused Trump of seeking a loyalty oath and pressing him to end the investigation. Those conversations are now part of an obstruction investigation. McCabe kept memos on his conversations with Comey, which could help investigators corroborate Comey’s account.

McCabe argues that the Trump administration is trying to discredit him as a potential witness. The real target, McCabe said, is Mueller’s investigation. Trump’s team seemingly gave credence to that argument last weekend when the Daily Beast asked for Trump’s personal lawyer for a comment on McCabe’s firing and he responded with a call to end the Mueller investigation.

From a political standpoint, if Trump discredits McCabe, he can raise questions about everything McCabe has touched — including the Russia investigation. McCabe’s allies have come to his defense.

— Well, he did lie, right?

What we know right now is that Sessions found repeated examples in which McCabe “lacked candor.” And career officials — not Trump appointees — recommended dismissal. Sessions accepted that recommendation.

“The FBI expects every employee to adhere to the highest standards of honesty, integrity, and accountability,” Sessions said.

McCabe denies being untruthful. He says he answered every question honestly and, when he was misunderstood, he reached out to the investigators to correct the record.

— What’s next?

We won’t be able to assess the allegations, or McCabe’s defense, until the inspector general’s report is released. That is expected sometime this spring. McCabe has seen it but cannot discuss it until it is public. When it is released, his lawyers say, he has a point-by-point rebuttal to offer.