The decision could be consequential for McCabe’s financial future, as if he is fired, he could lose significant retirement benefits. The FBI office that handles employee discipline has recommended terminating the former deputy director over accusations he authorized disclosing sensitive information to a reporter and then lied about it. Because of McCabe’s seniority, the decision is Sessions’s to make.
McCabe has become a lightning rod in the partisan squabbling over the Russia investigation and the political probes involving Hillary Clinton and her family. He — like others in the FBI and Justice Department — has been a frequent target of President Trump’s ire. In that context, the debate over whether he should be fired has quickly become fraught with politics.
If the veteran FBI agent is not terminated, that might upset conservatives and Trump, who feel he has been given undeserved leniency. If he is, supporters in the FBI might feel he has been treated too harshly because of pressure from the president. McCabe briefly served as FBI director, after President Trump fired James B. Comey from the post.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said of McCabe, “We do think that it is well documented that he has had some very troubling behavior and by most accounts a bad actor,” though she said the decision on his future was up to Sessions.
Through a representative, McCabe declined to comment.
The accusations against McCabe stem from a yet-to-be released report from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who has for months been probing broad allegations of misconduct surrounding the FBI’s handling of the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state. Horowitz has been looking in particular at Comey, including the public statement he made recommending the Clinton email case be closed without charges and his decision 11 days before the election to reveal to Congress the FBI had resumed its work.
Horowitz also has been examining McCabe’s involvement in authorizing the disclosure of information for a Wall Street Journal report and allegations he mislead investigators who asked about the matter.
The disclosure is problematic because it involved McCabe authorizing other FBI officials to have a background conversation with a reporter about a different Clinton probe — the investigation into the family’s charitable foundation. Though such briefings are commonplace in Washington when officials hope to provide context they feel is important for the public to know, officials are generally discouraged from discussing ongoing criminal cases.
The Journal’s story presented McCabe as a complicated figure — one who some felt was trying to squash the Clinton probe, but who also seemed to be pushing against Justice Department leaders who felt there was not a case there. The reporter who wrote the story, Devlin Barrett, now works at The Washington Post.
Trump has suggested in the past that McCabe was biased in favor of Clinton, pointing out that McCabe’s wife, who ran as a Democrat for a seat in the Virginia legislature, received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from the political action committee of Terry McAuliffe, then the state’s governor and a noted Clinton ally. During an Oval office meeting in May, Trump is said to have asked McCabe whom he voted for in the presidential election and vented about the donations.