- The Washington Times - Monday, January 29, 2018

FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe stepped down Monday, earlier than expected, following a string of public criticism by President Trump over possible partisan conflicts and the circulation of a memo suggesting government surveillance abuse.

A government official confirmed Mr. McCabe’s departure, saying the second-ranking FBI official is using his retirement eligibility to leave a few weeks earlier than planned.

Fox News reported that FBI Director Christopher Wray removed Mr. McCabe from his team a day after Mr. Wray viewed the contentious surveillance memo on Capitol Hill. Mr. McCabe also is leaving ahead of a Justice Department inspector general’s report regarding the handling of the 2016 Hillary Clinton email investigation, which he led and which resulted in no charges.

The White House said Mr. Trump, who fired FBI Director James B. Comey last spring, played no role in Mr. McCabe’s departure.

“The president wasn’t part of this decision-making process,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

Mr. Comey tweeted on Monday night that Mr. McCabe “stood tall over the last 8 months, when small people were trying to tear down an institution we all depend on.”

“He served with distinction for two decades,” Mr. Comey wrote. “I wish Andy well. I also wish continued strength for the rest of the FBI. America needs you.”

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said Mr. McCabe’s departure “smacks of political interference by the Trump administration.”

“It was wrong for the president to criticize the Deputy Director of the FBI publicly amid his complaints about an ongoing investigation into his campaign,” Mr. Hoyer said in a statement. “If the president was involved in forcing Mr. McCabe out, that would be even worse. It is dangerous for this President to play politics with the FBI and undermine its work in public safety and homeland security by damaging agency morale.”

But House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, said Mr. McCabe’s departure was overdue.

“Recent revelations call into question Mr. McCabe’s leadership in the top operational post in the FBI,” Mr. Goodlatte said. “Mr. McCabe’s departure certainly does not mean that we are done rooting out the problems at the FBI. I continue to be extremely troubled by the decisions made by the FBI during the 2016 presidential election and the role senior FBI officials played in these questionable decisions and irregularities.”

The president was open about his unhappiness with Mr. McCabe. In late December, Mr. Trump tweeted, “FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits. 90 days to go?!!!”

The Justice Department’s inspector general launched an inquiry in January 2017 into several aspects of the Clinton email investigation. Among the questions were whether Mr. Comey ignored Justice Department guidelines in making public pronouncements about the investigation, whether Mr. McCabe should have stepped aside from the inquiry and whether Justice Department employees leaked information.

The president’s son clearly believes that Mr. McCabe’s early retirement is linked to the probable release of a memo about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and warrants obtained by the FBI to monitor Trump associates.

“Yea right, that’s why he stepped down a day after the FBI saw the FISA memo and the day the house votes on its release. Sure. That’s it. Now the other media sheep have their talking points. Go spread the gospel. Who do you think you’re kidding at this point?” Donald Trump Jr. wrote on Twitter.

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence voted Monday to release the memo.

Mr. McCabe was not a political appointee like Mr. Comey and therefore couldn’t be fired without cause. But Mr. Wray, who the president hand-picked to lead the bureau, customarily would be expected to choose his leadership team.

Mrs. Sanders said the president has full confidence in Mr. Wray and “has put the decisions at the FBI in his hands.”

Mr. Trump didn’t respond to a reporter’s question Monday at the White House about Mr. McCabe.

But the lawman has been a target of Mr. Trump’s criticism about the FBI’s handling of the Clinton investigation and a source of tension between the White House and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“Why didn’t A.G. Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation but got big dollars ($700,000) for his wife’s political run from Hillary Clinton and her representatives,” Mr. Trump tweeted last year. “Drain the Swamp!”

Mr. McCabe’s wife, Jill, received political contributions totaling $467,500 from the political action committee of Virginia’s governor at the time, Terry McAuliffe, for her unsuccessful campaign for the state Senate in 2015. Campaign records also showed that the state Democratic Party, over which Mr. McAuliffe had influence, made two other payments totaling $207,788 to her campaign.

Mr. McAuliffe was co-chairman of Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign and chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Mr. McCabe later took over as deputy director of the FBI and oversaw the Clinton email investigation.

Last week, released texts between FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page revealed that FBI Chief of Staff James Rybicki believed Mr. McCabe should have recused himself from the investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s private email server.

“Rybicki just called to check in,” Ms. Page said in the text. “He very clearly 100 percent believes that Andy should be recused because of the ‘perception.’”

The watchdog group Judicial Watch said documents it uncovered in litigation over Mr. McCabe’s conduct spurred public pressure for his “removal.”

“It is disturbing that Mr. McCabe was allowed to remain in the FBI as long as he did,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “We still want the text messages, and we want a full investigation of the numerous anti-Trump and other outrageous FBI abuses under Obama and McCabe’s mentor, James Comey.”

Mrs. Sanders rejected reporters’ suggestions that Mr. Trump had been trying to pressure the FBI to end an investigation into suspected collusion between Russia and the Trump presidential campaign in 2016.

“The only thing that the president has applied pressure to is to make sure we get this resolved so that you guys and everyone else can focus on the things that Americans actually care about, and that is making sure everybody gets the Russia fever out of their system once and for all, that you’re all reminded, once again, there was no collusion, and that we can move forward to focus on things like national security, the economy and solving the immigration crisis that we have here in our country,” she said.

Hans von Spakovsky, a former Justice Department lawyer who is now a fellow at The Heritage Foundation, said it is too soon to speculate about Mr. McCabe’s decision to step down earlier than expected.

“We don’t know if he is just tired of it all and decided to walk away or if there is some underlying connection to Christopher Wray viewing the FISA memo this weekend,” Mr. von Spakovsky said. “We are not going to know until we see this memo or its underlying documents”

Mr. McCabe also was involved in an incident with the White House shortly after Mr. Trump’s inauguration that raised questions about his perceived fairness.

He was attending a meeting chaired by the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, when Mr. McCabe asked to speak privately with Mr. Priebus. When they were alone, Mr. McCabe told Mr. Priebus that the FBI wanted the White House to know “that everything in this New York Times story is bull—.”

The Times, citing anonymous sources, had published a story asserting that Trump campaign aides had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials.

Mr. Priebus, noting the constant cable news coverage of the story, asked Mr. McCabe whether the FBI would refute The Times’ story publicly.

Mr. McCabe said he would have to check, but a few hours later he told Mr. Priebus that the FBI couldn’t get involved in commenting on the veracity of news stories. The episode is recounted in a new book by Howard Kurtz, “Media Madness: Donald Trump, The Press and the War Over the Truth.”

Some conservative lawmakers and people in Mr. Trump’s camp say Mr. McCabe has culpability for surveillance abuses detailed in a classified memo that is being reviewed by members of Congress and could be released soon to the public.

Mr. McCabe will remain on terminal leave until he is eligible to retire in March with full benefits.

News outlets recently reported that Mr. Trump had asked Mr. McCabe whom he voted for in the presidential election. The president told reporters last week that he doesn’t remember asking Mr. McCabe that question.

“I don’t think so. No. I don’t think I did,” Mr. Trump said.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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