Attorney General Jeff Sessions has fired former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe less than two days before his retirement from the bureau.
The firing, effective immediately, was announced late Friday night in a statement by the Department of Justice. By firing Mr. McCabe now, it puts the pension he accumulated as a 21-year FBI vet at risk, potentially costing him hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Mr. McCabe, formerly the second-highest ranking FBI official, was fired after a review by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz recommended the dismissal after an internal review.
The report, which has yet to be made public, is said to have concluded Mr. McCabe mislead investigators about his role in allowing FBI officials to speak to reporters at The Wall Street Journal about a corruption investigation into the Clinton Foundation, according to published reports on Wednesday.
Although the Justice Department did not confirm if McCabe was fired for The Wall Street Journal interview, it did say he made “an unauthorized disclosure to the news media.”
“After an extensive and fair investigation and according to Department of Justice procedure, the Department’s Office of Inspector General provided its report on allegations of misconduct by Andrew McCabe to the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility,” the statement said.
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“The FBI’s OPR then reviewed the report and underlying documents and issued a disciplinary proposal recommending the dismissal of Mr. McCabe. Both the OIG and FBI OPR reports concluded that Mr. McCabe had made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor - including under oath - on multiple occasions. The FBI expects every employee to adhere to the highest standards of honesty, integrity and accountability. As the OPR proposal stated, “all FBI employees know that lacking candor under oath results in dismissal and integrity is our brand.”
Mr. McCabe fired back Friday night, releasing a statement saying President Trump scapegoated him as part of an effort to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the president’s campaign team and Russia.
“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,” Mr. McCabe said in the statement. “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.”
“Here is the reality: I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey,” he said.
Mr. McCabe has reportedly shared with Mr. Mueller’s a team a series of memos detailing his conversations with President Trump. It is not known what details are in the memos or if they document all of his interactions with Mr. Trump.
After he was fired, Mr. McCabe told CNN that he had four meetings with the president while he was FBI Deputy Director. He said the president brought up his wife, a Democrat who lost a bid to be a Virginia state senator in 2015, “every time I ever spoke to him.”
Mr. McCabe said in the same interview that Mr. Trump did not bring up the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s meddling the 2016 election.
Via Twitter, President Trump said the firing was a “great day” for the FBI.
“Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women at the FBI - A great day for Democracy. Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy,” the president Tweeted. “He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!”
The president also said government investigations should focus on Obama-era personnel at the Justice and State departments, not on allegations of collusion between Russia and his campaign in 2016.
“As the House Intelligence Committee has concluded, there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump Campaign,” the president tweeted. “As many are now finding out, however, there was tremendous leaking, lying and corruption at the highest levels of the FBI, Justice & State. #DrainTheSwamp”
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, called the firing of Mr. McCabe “a gross abuse of power more in keeping with lawless authoritarian regimes than a great democracy that stands for the rule of law. “This abuse of presidential power to crush an individual cannot stand,” Mr. Van Hollen said on Twitter.
On Thursday, reports surfaced that Mr. McCabe and his attorney attempted to avoid the firing in a meeting with Justice Department officials. Mr. Sessions was traveling that day and it is unclear if he participated in the meetings.
By firing Mr. McCabe now, instead of allowing him to retire, it could put the 21-year FBI vet’s pension at risk. That could cost Mr. McCabe hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Mr. Howoritz’s report is part of his investigation into how the Justice Department and FBI handled the probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and other matters related to the 2016 presidential election. It is expected to released this spring. but last month President Trump criticized the report as “already late.”
Mr. McCabe’s retirement was to officially take effect Sunday, but he stepped down in January nearly two months before his scheduled departure, using accumulated vacation days. A government official at that time said Mr. McCabe was merely using his retirement eligibility a few weeks early, but rumors had begun circulating that the early departure was related to the inspector general’s report.
The former FBI official, who was once the agency’s second highest-ranking official, was a frequent target of Mr. Trump over the past year. Mr. Trump had used Mr. McCabe as proof Obama-era Justice Department officials were seeking to undermine his presidency.
In a tweet last year, Mr. Trump linked Mr. McCabe to former FBI Director James Comey, whom the president fired.
“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.
Mr. McCabe’s wife, Jill McCabe, 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. Mr. McAuliffe was co-chairman of President Bill Clinton’s 1996 reelection campaign and chairman of Mrs. Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.
Mr. McCabe later took over as deputy director of the FBI and oversaw the Clinton email investigation.
And that’s not the only reason administration officials are suspicious about Mr. McCabe’s motives, a perception that goes back to the first months of Mr. Trump’s presidency.
A since-debunked February 2017 New York Times story reported that U.S. intelligence owned numerous intercepts and phone records of Trump campaign officials communicating with Russian intelligence.
In his new book, “Media Madness,” Fox News reporter Howard Kurtz wrote that then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was conducting an intelligence meeting when Mr. McCabe called him aside. “We want you to know that everything in this New York Times story is buls–-,” Mr. Kurtz quotes Mr. McCabe as saying.
Mr. Priebus asked whether the FBI would shoot it down. The answer came back, “No,” because then the FBI would have to start commenting on news stories.
“Give me a break,” Mr. Priebus said. “I’m getting crushed all over the place, and you won’t say publicly what you told me privately?”
What happened next raised suspicions. Suddenly CNN broadcast a story casting Mr. Priebus as the bad guy trying to convince the reluctant FBI to knock down an anti-Trump story.
Mr. Kurtz said Mr. Priebus wondered, “Had he been set up? Why was the FBI leaking this information when one of its top officials had initiated the conversation?”
In June former FBI Director James B. Comey, under questioning by Republicans before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said The Times story in February was almost all wrong. When the story appeared, he said he checked with the intelligence community and then warned congressional leaders of the report.
• Dave Boyer contributed to this report