After reports that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, at the direction of the president, unsuccessfully applied pressure on FBI Director Christopher A. Wray to fire Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, McCabe has announced that he intends to depart earlier than planned. NBC News, which first reported McCabe’s exit, tells us: “A long-time career servant, McCabe had served at the FBI since 1996 under former directors Robert Mueller and [James] Comey. [President] Trump was asked on Monday whether he knew McCabe was stepping aside and the president did not answer.”
The president has also publicly excoriated McCabe, questioning his handling of the probe into Hillary Clinton’s emails.
The squeeze on McCabe went beyond Twitter. NBC News notes:
Last week, White House spokesman Raj Shah fanned reports of pressure from the White House to fire McCabe by saying in a statement that Trump “believes politically motivated senior leaders” of the FBI “have tainted the agency’s reputation for unbiased pursuit of justice” and that the new director he appointed will “clean up the misconduct at the highest levels of the FBI.”
So what does this all mean? “If it turns out that McCabe was pressed to accelerate his planned early retirement by a month or so by Sessions or on behalf of Trump, this would strengthen the argument for a pattern of obstruction of justice,” constitutional law scholar Laurence Tribe tells me. “But without proof of such pressure, this development isn’t likely to have major significance.”
The main job for Congress now is to find out what happened. “It’s entirely possible that this was entirely McCabe’s decision, but given the president’s calls for his ouster and his constant meddling with the FBI and DOJ, we need to hear answers immediately,” says Matthew Miller, a former Justice Department spokesman. “Those answers need to come from Chris Wray, they need to come in person, and preferably they would come under oath to Congress. The president’s interference with law enforcement has infected the Justice Department, and we need to know whether this departure is a result of that interference.”
It is also possible that the expected inspector general’s report looking into the handling of Clinton’s emails will be critical of McCabe. If it is, Republicans should be prepared for a finding that Comey and McCabe were unfair to Clinton. Miller agrees that it is possible the report would be “critical of everyone involved in Comey’s decision to speak publicly” in July 2016 when announcing his decision not to recommend prosecution of Clinton, and then 11 days before the election about renewing the email investigation.
We know what McCabe’s departure does not mean. It does not mean he ceases to be a witness in the Russia probe. His former boss, Comey, reportedly informed McCabe and other high-ranking officials of his interactions with Trump, which Comey also documented in his memos. McCabe is unlikely to speak publicly either about his departure or his knowledge of Trump’s conduct out of deference to former FBI director and now-special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
No doubt, right-wing, conspiratorially minded characters on Capitol Hill and in the media will find either nefarious implications or vindication for their assaults on McCabe and the rest of the FBI. They, however, don’t know more than the rest of us do, which at this point isn’t much. Congress should act forthwith.
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