Former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe won back his pension Thursday after the Justice Department settled rather than face a federal lawsuit asserting he was illegally fired for political reasons in March 2018 for overseeing the FBI’s Russia investigation after becoming the target of a leak investigation himself.
In Thursday’s settlement, the Justice Department admitted no wrongdoing. But the Biden administration rescinded McCabe’s dismissal, restored his full pension and other benefits, and allowed him to officially retire and receive about $200,000 in missed payments.
“Politics should never play a role in the fair administration of justice and civil service personnel decisions,” McCabe said in a statement through the Arnold & Porter law firm, which posted the settlement. “. . . I hope that this result encourages the men and women of the FBI to continue to protect the American people by standing up for the truth and doing their jobs without fear of political retaliation.”
The firm, which the New York Times reported will donate its share of $500,000 in fees to its foundation, cited the principle that civil servants pledge their loyalty to the Constitution, not one person or political party.
“This settlement and the district court’s rulings make clear that attempts to corrupt the federal workforce through partisan intimidation and improper political influence will not go unanswered,” attorney Murad Hussain said.
The Justice Department did not comment. Notice of the case’s dismissal was filed by McCabe in court.
McCabe was one of several former high-ranking law enforcement officials to testify before Congress about the Russia probe. He has said he believed he had a duty to investigate whether Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign coordinated with Russia to influence the election.
A special counsel probe reported that it could not establish coordination but described 10 episodes of potential obstruction by Trump, and noted that Justice Department guidelines have long held that a sitting president could not be charged with a crime.
The relationship between Trump and McCabe, whose FBI career began in 1996, was fraught from the start. McCabe was named deputy director by Comey in 2016. However, the former career law enforcement official has alleged that Trump in one of their early talks called his wife, Jill McCabe, a “loser” because of her failed run for a state Senate seat in Virginia.
Trump denied that but frequently launched public attacks against McCabe, branding him part of a “deep state” conducting a “witch hunt” against him.
After McCabe’s retirement plans were reported in December 2017, Trump tweeted, “FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits. 90 days to go?!!!”
When McCabe was fired, Trump called it a “great day for Democracy” and suggested he should be charged with a crime.
The Justice Department’s inspector general’s office did refer McCabe’s case to federal prosecutors for a 2016 media leak regarding FBI investigations of Hillary Clinton.
McCabe has long asserted that he did nothing wrong, saying that Trump pressured Sessions to remove him as part of a plot by Trump to remove those who were not politically loyal to him.
“It was Trump’s unconstitutional plan and scheme to discredit and remove DOJ and FBI employees who were deemed to be his partisan opponents,” his lawsuit asserted, adding that McCabe’s firing “was a critical element of Trump’s plan and scheme.”
But that came only after a federal judge called on prosecutors either to charge McCabe or drop their long-running investigation, saying their indecision was continuing to undermine the credibility of the department.
Citing Trump’s repeated personal attacks on McCabe, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, a George W. Bush appointee, said at the time: “I just think it’s a banana republic when we go down that road and we have those type of statements being made that are conceivably, even if not, influencing the ultimate decision. I think there are a lot of people on the outside who perceive that there is undue inappropriate pressure being brought to bear.”
He added later, “I think as a government and as a society we’re going to pay a price at some point for this.”
The settlement of McCabe’s lawsuit allows the FBI and the Justice Department to avoid the possibility of any embarrassing disclosures or further investigation into whether it sped up its regular disciplinary process just to fire McCabe. A different federal judge handling McCabe’s lawsuit allowed it to go forward last September, rejecting a government motion to dismiss and clearing the way for depositions of high-ranking FBI leaders and Trump Justice Department appointees regarding their handling of the watchdog investigation and McCabe’s termination.
Thursday’s settlement could also strengthen the legal claims made by two other former FBI employees over their treatment by the FBI and the Justice Department during the Trump administration.
Devlin Barrett contributed to this report.