National News

FBI’s Embattled Deputy Is Expected to Retire in New Year

Posted December 23, 2017 7:56 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON — The FBI’s embattled deputy director, Andrew G. McCabe, an unlikely lightning rod who has been attacked repeatedly by President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans, is expected to retire after he becomes eligible for his pension early next year, according to people familiar with his decision.

While McCabe’s plans to leave aren’t unexpected, his decision should take some of the pressure off Christopher Wray, who was confirmed as FBI director in August. Trump has complained to confidantes that Wray has not moved fast enough to replace the senior leadership he inherited from his predecessor, James Comey, whom Trump summarily dismissed in May.

A White House official said in a statement Friday that many senior leaders of the bureau were “politically motivated” and said Wray was the “right choice to clean up the misconduct at the highest levels of the FBI.”

On Saturday, Trump went after McCabe and Comey again in a fusillade on Twitter.

“How can FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, the man in charge, along with leakin’ James Comey, of the Phony Hillary Clinton investigation (including her 33,000 illegally deleted emails) be given $700,000 for wife’s campaign by Clinton Puppets during investigation?” Trump wrote on Twitter.

And he seemed to mock McCabe for delaying his departure until his pension is fully vested in March.

“FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits. 90 days to go?!!!” Trump wrote in another post.

In fact, as a career civil servant, McCabe, 49, has protections and cannot be pushed out by the president.

McCabe, who was appointed deputy director in January 2016, has endured one of the most contentious periods in the FBI’s history. He has had to deal with mass shootings and terrorist attacks that have rattled the country while navigating the incendiary politics of two highly charged investigations.

He dealt with the FBI investigation into whether Hillary Clinton mishandled classified information when she used a private email server. Republicans, including Trump, have relentlessly criticized the FBI for the way it handled that investigation. Clinton was not charged, nor were any of her aides. McCabe has also been deeply involved in the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and the potential involvement of the Trump campaign.

The Russia investigation is being led by a special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who has already charged four people associated with Trump’s presidential campaign. One of them, a foreign policy adviser, has pleaded guilty to lying about his contacts with the Russians, while another pleaded guilty to lying about his conversation with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

Mueller’s inquiry has infuriated the president, who has called the investigation a witch hunt and has pressed repeatedly for a shake-up at the FBI. McCabe was deputy director when the FBI opened the investigation in July 2016.

The president crowed on Saturday that James Baker, the FBI general counsel, who was seen as an ally of Comey’s, would soon step down from that post, although he will remain at the bureau.

“Wow, “FBI lawyer James Baker reassigned,” according to @FoxNews,” Trump posted.

McCabe became a political piñata after his wife decided to run as a Democrat for a Virginia state Senate seat. As part of her campaign, she accepted nearly $500,000 in contributions from the political organization of Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a longtime friend of Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

Pressure on McCabe and Wray intensified this month after The New York Times reported that a top FBI lawyer and counterintelligence agent traded disparaging text messages about the president. Both the agency and the lawyer had worked closely on the Clinton and Russia investigations. However, Mueller decided to pull the agent off the Russia investigation. The lawyer, who was close to McCabe, had already left Mueller’s team by the time the texts were discovered.

Republicans seized on the texts to claim that the FBI’s leadership was politically slanted. Agents have rejected that assertion, calling it insulting and untrue.

McCabe, who is seen as highly intelligent, rose quickly through the ranks of the FBI, eventually running national security, then the bureau’s second-largest field office, before moving back to headquarters, where he was put on track to be deputy director. He has many supporters in the FBI who consider him beyond reproach.

His defenders say he has done his job admirably in the face of intense partisan attacks while navigating crisis after crisis.

“The political hit job on McCabe — his supposed ideological bias, the fact his wife ran for office as a Democrat, the attacks on his competence — are way out of line,” said Frank Montoya Jr., a former senior FBI official who retired in 2016 and worked closely with McCabe. “The people who are making these baseless accusations don’t know McCabe. I do. The guy’s a total pro. His only motivation is to support and defend the Constitution.”

His detractors see McCabe as an ambitious creature of Washington who did not spend enough time as an agent working with informants and making cases. Those critical of McCabe believe he lacked the operational experience to become director and needed to spend more time in the field.

But even among some of those who dislike McCabe, he earned their grudging respect when he stood up to Trump and defended the FBI and Comey’s tenure during a heated congressional hearing in May while he was acting director.

McCabe’s plan to retire at some point after he was eligible to retire was first reported by The Washington Post. McCabe will most likely follow the path of other highly qualified FBI senior officials eligible to retire who leave after securing a lucrative job in the private sector.

Officials say that Wray is considering David L. Bowdich, currently the third-ranking official in the bureau, to replace McCabe. Bowdich ran the FBI’s Los Angeles field office before coming to Washington. He is best known for being the public face of the FBI in California after the 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attack.