Attorney General Jeff Sessions late Friday night fired former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, a little more than 24 hours before McCabe was set to retire — a move that McCabe alleged was an attempt to slander him and undermine the ongoing special counsel investigation into the Trump campaign.
Sessions announced the decision in a statement just before 10 p.m., noting that both the Justice Department inspector general and the FBI office that handles discipline had found “that Mr. McCabe had made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor — including under oath — on multiple occasions.” . . . . The move will likely cost McCabe a significant portion of his retirement benefits, though it is possible he could bring a legal challenge.
In a blistering written rebuttal, McCabe said he authorized two FBI officials to talk to a reporter “to set the record straight on behalf of the Bureau, and to make clear that we were continuing an investigation that people in DOJ opposed.” He asserted, “It was not a secret, it took place over several days, and others, including the Director, were aware of the interaction with the reporter. It was the type of exchange with the media that the Deputy Director oversees several times per week.” He continued:
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. The release of this report was accelerated only after my testimony to the House Intelligence Committee revealed that I would corroborate former Director Comey’s accounts of his discussions with the President. The OIG’s focus on me and this report became a part of an unprecedented effort by the Administration, driven by the President himself, to remove me from my position, destroy my reputation, and possibly strip me of a pension that I worked 21 years to earn. The accelerated release of the report, and the punitive actions taken in response, make sense only when viewed through this lens. Thursday’s comments from the White House are just the latest example of this.
This 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. 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.
President Trump, never able to conceal his vindictiveness and incapable of understanding what evidence might be used against him, gleefully tweeted, “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!”
No wonder Trump’s lawyers seem unable to imagine allowing him to sit for an interview with special prosecutor Robert S. Mueller III. He is likely to blurt out something akin to, “Yay, that’ll show McCabe and others what happens when they decide to help Comey!” That’s the essence of the tweet Trump could not resist sending.
Former White House ethics counsel Norman Eisen, now with the Brookings Institution, tells me, “Trump and his enablers are engaged in a systematic effort to undermine the Russia investigation — including Robert Mueller’s review of whether Trump obstructed it by demanding James Comey pledge loyalty and let Michael Flynn go, and by firing Comey when he would not accede.” He continued, “McCabe spurned Trump and is a key corroborating witness for Comey—ergo a target of Trump’s ire.” He added, “Whatever McCabe may or may not have done (and we will need to await more details to judge him, and Sessions too for that matter), Trump’s behavior is an appalling violation of norms. It may also be a violation of law—we will find out, should McCabe challenge this behavior in litigation.”
Unfortunately for McCabe, his ability to challenge his firing is limited. “There is honestly few legal recourses for him to pursue absent discriminatory actions,” says attorney Mark Zaid, who specializes in defending national security employees. “In my 25 years of federal legal practice, I have found FBI’s due process to be sorely lacking.”
From a political standpoint, McCabe’s firing is likely to come across as vindictive, small-minded and cruel — the essence of the Trump administration. For those within the FBI and the Justice Department, it may turn up the long-simmering resentment against the president to a full boil. A president willing to force McCabe’s firing is willing to fire any one of them; if they needed further encouragement, this latest affront is likely to cause them to redouble their efforts to root out the extent of Russian interference in our election and any cooperation with the Trump campaign.
Sessions’s willingness to go along with this retaliatory move will not be received well within his department. He too has much to lose by enabling Trump’s vendetta against DOJ, given that Sessions was involved in the firing of Comey and the drafting of a pretextual reason for his firing. Sessions no doubt felt it was necessary to fire McCabe to keep his job, but he’d best be looking over his shoulder in his own department. There are long-time civil servants who may have material relevant to Sessions’s actions.
As a legal matter, this is another ham-handed and downright dumb move in a long line of actions designed to derail, undermine and discredit the Russia investigation.
Joyce White Vance, a former U.S. attorney tells me, “Even if McCabe’s firing is appropriate based on facts in the unreleased IG’s report, because of the President’s long running campaign against McCabe and Attorney General Sessions’ perceived vulnerability if he didn’t fall in step, it has the taint of political reprisal.” She adds that, “if an obstruction case against Trump ever went to trial, there would be a large screen where the President’s tweets would be prominently displayed for the jury as evidence of his efforts to obstruct the Russia investigation, while a parade of witnesses testified about conversations they had with him preceding each Tweet.”
In sum, once more, a Trump-inspired stunt is likely to backfire. The politics are irrelevant to Mueller, who now views each of Trump’s antics through a single lens: Does this reveal corrupt intent to disable an investigation into Trump’s conduct? In this case, Trump leaves little doubt as to his motives.