Former FBI official Andrew McCabe memorialized his interactions with President Trump in contemporaneous memos, two people familiar with the case said, and they could become a key piece of evidence in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe.
The memos could help bolster McCabe’s credibility, insulating him from allegations that he misstated or misremembered his interactions with Trump. On Friday, McCabe was fired from the FBI, about 26 hours before he was set to retire, over allegations from the Justice Department’s inspector general that he authorized the disclosure of information to a reporter about an ongoing criminal investigation, then misled investigators about it. McCabe disputes that he misled anyone or did anything wrong.
McCabe had been the FBI’s No. 2 official until earlier this year, when he stepped down after FBI Director Christopher A. Wray was briefed on the inspector general’s findings. He had remained an FBI employee until Friday, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions, acting on a recommendation from the FBI’s disciplinary office, fired him over the allegations.
It was not immediately clear which interactions with Trump the memos detailed or how specific they were. McCabe has now spoken publicly about a number of awkward conversations he claims to have had with the president.
In January, The Washington Post reported that Trump, during an Oval Office meeting in May, had asked McCabe whom he voted for in the 2016 election, then vented about hundreds of thousands of dollars in political donations that McCabe’s wife had received. Jill McCabe, a Democrat, ran for a seat in the Virginia Senate in 2015, and the donations came from a political action committee controlled by Terry McAuliffe, a close friend of Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Trump renewed some of those complaints Saturday, writing in a tweet, “The Fake News is beside themselves that McCabe was caught, called out and fired. How many hundreds of thousands of dollars was given to wife’s campaign by Crooked H friend, Terry M, who was also under investigation? How many lies? How many leaks? Comey knew it all, and much more!”
Comey’s lawyers declined to comment for this story. McCabe said Friday night Comey was “aware of the interaction” when he authorized two other FBI officials to speak with a reporter. Comey wrote on Twitter just minutes after Trump’s tweet, “Mr. President, the American people will hear my story very soon. And they can judge for themselves who is honorable and who is not.”
Comey is set to release a book next month, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership,” that is expected to detail his interactions with Trump.
McCabe told CNN in an interview before his firing that Trump was focused on his wife’s campaign and alleged there were at least four times when Trump called it a “mistake” or “problem” or branded his wife a “loser.” McCabe said he told the president he himself had not voted in the 2016 general election.
Mueller has shown interest in McCabe’s interactions with the president, though Comey’s conversations might more squarely fit into a possible obstruction of justice case. Comey alleges the president asked him for a pledge of loyalty and asked whether he could let go an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI as a part of Mueller’s investigation. Trump fired Comey in May, and McCabe briefly took over as the FBI’s acting director.
The president would later say in a television interview that he was thinking of “this Russia thing with Trump” when he decided to remove Comey.
McCabe said Friday that his own firing was part of “this Administration’s ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the Special Counsel investigation, which continue to this day.”
The move will probably cost McCabe significant retirement benefits because he could not retire Sunday, when he turns 50. Perhaps more significant, it again draws the FBI into a controversy at a time when those inside the bureau already fear its reputation won’t survive the near-constant attacks from Trump and conservatives mistrustful of its work.
Wray, the current director, has been trying to restore morale by installing his own people in top management positions and — though it has proved impossible — trying to stay out of the news.
“Certainly the FBI is in the barrel, and they badly want to get out of it — the workforce does,” said former FBI assistant director Ron Hosko. “But headlines like this are not the way out.”
Several former federal law enforcement officials questioned the timing of McCabe’s firing, as the president’s lawyer seized on it to call for shutting down Mueller’s probe.
Former CIA director John Brennan, who responded on Twitter to Trump, said, “When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history. You may scapegoat Andy McCabe, but you will not destroy America...America will triumph over you.”
Former attorney general Eric Holder wrote, “Analyze McCabe firing on two levels: the substance and the timing. We don’t know enough about the substance yet. The timing appears cruel and a cave that compromised DOJ independence to please an increasingly erratic President who should’ve played no role here. This is dangerous.”
Inside the FBI, the mood was tense Saturday, but the reaction was somewhat mixed. Some agents exchanged messages about how they might be able to help McCabe and expressed anger at how he was removed so close to his retirement, people familiar with the matter said. McCabe, though, was not universally loved inside the institution, as some employees resented him for what they felt was a rapid rise through the ranks in his 22 years there.
Many at the bureau were saying, “This is crazy. I can’t believe this is happening to him,” one law enforcement official said, while others expressed the opposite sentiment: “That’s kind of what you get.”
Current and former law enforcement officials noted that misleading investigators is a career-ending offense — though they were curious about the degree to which the evidence would show McCabe had done so. The inspector general has not released a report detailing the allegations against McCabe, though they have been generally described by people familiar with the matter.
“I got one comment from a McCabe critic that he got what was coming to him and has been coming to him,” Hosko said. “But I’ve heard, too, from people who say they feel sorry for him. . . . Anybody who’s had the retirement rug jerked out from him in this way is troubling. If it can happen to him, it can happen to you.”
On Friday, Sessions wrote in a statement that the inspector general and FBI’s Office of Responsibility found that “Mr. McCabe had made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor — including under oath — on multiple occasions.”
In the past year, the FBI fired 19 people for showing a lack of candor while not under oath and 12 for doing so under oath — though those figures might represent double-counting if a person lacked candor in both settings.