President Trump probably didn't shed a tear when he learned Monday that Andrew McCabe would step down as deputy director of the FBI. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders insisted that “the president wasn't part of this decision-making process,” but Trump had waged a public campaign against McCabe, suggesting that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should fire him.
What Trump might not have considered is the possibility that McCabe could be a bigger headache outside the FBI than he was inside — especially if McCabe follows former FBI director James B. Comey in sharing damaging information with the media.
For one thing, it is not clear that McCabe even was much of a headache for Trump while in a leadership role at the FBI, despite the president's effort to caricature McCabe as a deep-state poster boy.
In the above tweet, Trump didn't have his facts straight. McCabe's wife, Jill, ran for the Virginia state Senate as a Democrat in 2015 and received $467,500 from the political action committee of the state's then-governor, Terry McAuliffe, a Clinton ally.
Beyond exaggerating the dollar amount (even if you throw in $207,788 from the Virginia Democratic Party, the total still falls short of $700,000) Trump got the timeline wrong. McCabe was not “in charge” of the Clinton email investigation at the time of his wife's campaign. He did not become the FBI's deputy director until 2016 and only then “assumed, for the first time, an oversight role in the investigation into Secretary Clinton's emails,” according to the agency.
The theory that donations to Jill McCabe's campaign were some kind of bribe intended to curry favor with the man in charge of the email investigation just doesn't make sense. Plus, it is not necessarily safe to assume that Andrew McCabe is a Democrat simply because his wife is. Virginia does not register party affiliations and, as CNN has reported, McCabe voted in the 2016 Republican presidential primary.
Remember, too, that Trump made McCabe the FBI's interim director after firing Comey. Apparently McCabe was not such a problem that Trump could not trust him to run the agency for a few months.
McCabe returned to his deputy role in August, with the confirmation of new FBI Director Christopher A. Wray — meaning that Trump, if he truly was concerned about McCabe, at least had a handpicked boss to keep tabs.
McCabe will be subject to no such oversight when he officially becomes a private citizen in March.
When Trump cut Comey loose in May, Comey promptly orchestrated the leak of his personal notes from a February meeting with the president. According to the notes, described in a New York Times report, Trump expressed to Comey his desire for the FBI to drop an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Comey later testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee that he “thought [the leak] might prompt the appointment of a special counsel.”
Now, of course, there is a special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who seeks to question Trump about Comey and Flynn.
We don't know whether McCabe possesses anything as explosive as the Comey notes — or whether he would provide any information to the press — but his departure from the FBI is not without risk to Trump.