In this file photo taken on May 11, 2017 Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The FBI’s deputy director, Andrew McCabe, is stepping down after having been accused by President Donald Trump of being a Democratic partisan, a government source confirmed on January 29, 2018.
Washington: Andrew McCabe abruptly stepped down Monday as the FBI’s deputy director after months of withering criticism from President Donald Trump, telling friends he felt pressure from the head of the bureau to leave, according to two people close to McCabe.
Though McCabe’s retirement had been widely expected soon, his departure was nevertheless sudden. It added to what has been a chaotic upheaval at the FBI under Trump, who has responded to an investigation into his campaign with broadside attacks against both the bureau and the Justice Department.
As recently as last week, McCabe had told people he hoped to stay until he was eligible to retire in several weeks. Instead, he will immediately go on leave and retire on March 18.
In a recent conversation, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray raised concerns about a forthcoming inspector general report. In that discussion, according to one former law enforcement official close to McCabe, Wray suggested moving McCabe into another job, which would have been a demotion.
Instead, the former official said, McCabe chose to leave. In an email to FBI employees, he said he was leaving with “sadness.” He praised his colleagues as “the greatest workforce on earth because you speak up, you tell the truth and you do the right thing.”
Agents and lawyers expect the report by the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, to be highly critical of some FBI actions in 2016, when the bureau was investigating both Hillary Clinton’s email use and the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia. The report is expected to address whether McCabe should have recused himself from the Clinton investigation because of his wife’s failed state Senate campaign, in which she accepted nearly a half-million dollars in contributions from the political organisation of Terry McAuliffe, then governor of Virginia, who is a longtime friend of Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey, who oversaw both investigations, in May, and has by turns cited Comey’s handling of the Clinton investigation and the Russia inquiry itself as the reason for his decision.
In a message Monday afternoon to FBI employees, Wray thanked McCabe for his service and said he would not comment on “specific aspects” of the inspector general’s review.
The White House said Trump, who had taunted McCabe on Twitter for months, had nothing to do with McCabe’s exit. “The president wasn’t part of this decision-making process,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, an assertion echoed by Wray.
“I will not be swayed by political or other pressure in my decision-making,” he wrote to FBI employees.
Staff overhauls are common when new FBI directors take office, but the president’s combative relationships with the bureau and the Justice Department have added commotion and unpredictability to what is more typically an orderly process. Trump’s public antipathy has also complicated the early tenure of Wray, whose every staffing decision now risks being seen as directed by the White House.
Underscoring the tumult, McCabe’s departure was not immediately announced at the bureau, leaving agents to learn of it from news reports. Wray named the bureau’s No. 3 official, David L. Bowdich, as his acting deputy, according to the director’s note to the FBI.
McCabe first drew Trump’s ire because his wife, Jill McCabe, ran for a state Senate seat in Virginia as a Democrat and received the donations from McAuliffe’s organisation. McCabe did not become deputy director until after his wife was defeated, and records show that he disclosed her candidacy and sought ethics advice from senior FBI officials.
But critics, including some inside the bureau itself, said he should have recused himself from the Clinton investigation. The FBI has said McCabe played no role in his wife’s campaign.
Trump and his allies have sought to use Jill McCabe’s run for office as evidence that the Russia investigation was part of a Democratic-led effort to protect Clinton and undermine Trump’s presidency. Republicans cheered McCabe’s departure and signalled that more change should be made.
“Recent revelations call into question McCabe’s leadership in the top operational post in the FBI,” said Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. “However, Mr. McCabe’s departure certainly does not mean that we are done rooting out the problems at the FBI.”
McCabe, a graduate of Duke and of Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, joined the FBI in 1996 as an agent in the New York office and quickly ascended the bureau’s ranks. Under Comey, it was clear that McCabe was being groomed for the deputy job, the FBI’s second highest position.
By appointing McCabe in 2016, Comey was seen as valuing intellect and management over experience making cases. McCabe’s ascent sometimes rankled the workaday agents who believed he did not pay his dues in the field. McCabe’s supporters regarded him as a new model for the FBI, which had transformed from a traditional law-and-order agency to a complicated intelligence-gathering operation.
He took on the role during one of the most tumultuous and politically charged periods in FBI history. McCabe was at the centre of the inquiries into both Clinton’s use of a private email server and the Trump campaign’s connections to Russian intelligence officers. Republicans have also criticised the FBI for recommending that Clinton not be charged.
Among the actions being scrutinised by the inspector general is Comey’s highly controversial news conference during the presidential campaign when he criticised Clinton’s handling of classified information, but cleared her of criminal wrongdoing. Many top FBI officials were involved in that decision.
The inspector general is also investigating two senior FBI officials, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who exchanged texts in 2016 that were deeply critical of Trump. Strzok and Page were involved in both the Clinton case and the investigation into the Trump campaign.
Those texts, many of which the Justice Department made public, fuelled suspicion among Republicans that some FBI officials were out to get Trump. Strzok and Page have been reassigned and no longer work on the Russia investigation.
In addition to McCabe, Wray has also replaced two other top aides. In December it was announced that James A. Baker, the FBI general counsel, was moving into another role. Baker was a confidant of Comey’s and played a key role in the Clinton email investigation. This month, Jim Rybicki, chief of staff to Wray and Comey, said he was taking a job in the private sector.