In a Friday night statement announcing the firing of former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, Attorney General Jeff Sessions claimed that the 21-year veteran of the bureau “lacked candor − including under oath − on multiple occasions.”
“The FBI expects every employee to adhere to the highest standards of honesty, integrity and accountability,” Sessions said. “I have terminated the employment of Andrew McCabe effective immediately.”
That Sessions would cite an alleged lack of candor as a reason to fire McCabe just hours before the career FBI agent was to become eligible for his government pension is stunning, given his own repeated lack of candor during sworn testimony — dishonesty that led to Sessions recusing himself from the Russia investigation last year.
Not only was Sessions dishonest when he told senators during his confirmation hearing that he “did not have communications with the Russians,” but his explanations for why he met with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at least twice during the 2016 presidential campaign kept shifting throughout 2017. During testimony last October, Sessions retreated all the way to merely denying “a continuing exchange of information” with Russian officials.
Now, the attorney general — who has repeatedly been publicly pressured by President Trump to do more to stymie Trump’s political enemies — wants the American public to believe he fired McCabe because he’s concerned about integrity.
A more likely motivation for McCabe’s firing was alluded to by President Trump in a tweet responding to the news — one in which he tried to discredit McCabe and his former boss, Jim Comey.
“Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy,” Trump tweeted. “He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!”
Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI – A great day for Democracy. Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 17, 2018
McCabe and Comey are key witnesses in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump campaign for possible collusion with Russia and for possible obstruction of justice. As the New York Times details:
Mr. McCabe was among the first at the F.B.I. to scrutinize possible Trump campaign ties to Russia. And he is a potential witness to the question of whether Mr. Trump tried to obstruct justice. Mr. Trump has taunted Mr. 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, Mr. McCabe would be in a position to corroborate the testimony of the former F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, who kept contemporaneous notes on his conversations with Mr. Trump. Mr. Comey said Mr. 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.
In a statement, McCabe also linked his firing with Trump’s ongoing efforts to discredit Mueller.
“The attack on my credibility is one part of a larger effort not just to slander me personally, but to taint the FBI, law enforcement, and intelligence professionals more generally,” McCabe said. “It is part of this administration’s ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the Special Counsel investigation, which continue to this day. Their persistence in this campaign only highlights the importance of the Special Counsel’s work.”
While Sessions has the authority to fire McCabe, it’s clear that Trump played a role. In a December tweet containing numerous factual inaccuracies, Trump attacked McCabe for his wife’s purported ties with Hillary Clinton.
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?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 23, 2017
The next month, Axios reported that Sessions — “at the public urging” of Trump — “has been pressuring FBI Director Christopher Wray to fire Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, but Wray threatened to resign if McCabe was removed, according to three sources with direct knowledge.” It appears Wray has reconsidered his position since then.
In an interview with CNN, McCabe directly linked his termination with Trump’s efforts to discredit key witnesses in the Mueller investigation.
“I think every time it becomes clear that I will likely play a significant role in whatever comes of the Special Counsel’s efforts, immediately after that I get targeted and attacked by the president and his Twitter account,” McCabe said, adding that he views his firing as part of “a series of attacks designed to undermine my credibility and my reputation.”
UPDATE (3/17, 1:15 p.m.): In a statement released Saturday, McCabe’s lawyer, Michael Bromwich, characterizes his client’s firing as the fruit of an unprecedented “rush to judgment” that is “deeply disturbing.”
Bromwich writes that the “distortion of the process begins at the very top, with the President’s repeated offensive, drive-by attacks on Mr. McCabe,” and links the president’s attitude with the Mueller probe.
Full statement from McCabe’s lawyer. pic.twitter.com/SdinadXZvc
— southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) March 17, 2018
“These attacks began in the summer of 2017 and accelerated after it was disclosed that Mr. McCabe would be a corroborating witness against the President,” Bromwich writes. “This intervention by the White House in the DOJ disciplinary process is unprecedented, deeply unfair, and dangerous.”