WASHINGTON -- Andrew McCabe, the former FBI deputy director and a frequent target of President Donald Trump's scorn, was fired Friday after Attorney General Jeff Sessions rejected an appeal that would have let him retire this weekend.
McCabe promptly declared that his firing, and Trump's persistent needling, were intended to undermine the special counsel's investigation in which he is a potential witness.
Sessions announced the decision in a statement late Friday, 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 FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility recommended Wednesday that McCabe be dismissed for not being forthcoming about authorizing discussions with a reporter about a pending investigation.
In an interview, McCabe was blunt. "The idea that I was dishonest is just wrong," he said, adding, "This is part of an effort to discredit me as a witness."
McCabe, who stepped down in January and took a leave of absence after FBI Director Christopher Wray was briefed on the inspector general's report, denied the accusations and appealed this week to senior career officials in the Justice Department.
Lack of candor is a fireable offense at the FBI, but McCabe's last-minute dismissal was carried out against a highly politicized backdrop.
Late Friday, Trump 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!"
McCabe was among the first at the FBI to scrutinize possible Trump campaign ties to Russia. And he is a potential witness to the question of whether Trump tried to obstruct justice. Trump has taunted McCabe both publicly and privately, and Republican allies have cast him as the center of a "deep state" effort to undermine the Trump presidency.
As a witness, McCabe would be in a position to corroborate the testimony of the former FBI director, James Comey, who kept contemporaneous notes on his conversations with Trump. Comey said Trump prodded him to publicly exonerate the president on the question of Russian collusion and encouraged him to shut down an investigation into his national security adviser.
McCabe, a 21-year FBI veteran, was eligible for a government pension if he retired Sunday, on his 50th birthday. The firing jeopardizes that benefit, although it was not immediately clear how much he might lose. The Washington Post reported that it is possible he could lodge a legal challenge.
"It's incredibly unfair to my reputation after a 21-year career," McCabe said. He said the president's public attacks were aimed at several targets. "The real damage is being done to the FBI, law enforcement and the special counsel," he said.
McCabe was the FBI's second in command during one of the most tumultuous periods in the bureau's history. He oversaw investigations into both the Trump campaign and Democrat Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server -- and he dealt with the fallout from both. He became acting FBI director after the sudden firing of Comey, and he publicly contradicted the White House on national TV over whether Comey had lost the support of rank-and-file FBI agents.
Since then, Trump has repeatedly singled him out for public attack, suggesting that he helped protect Clinton from prosecution during the 2016 presidential campaign. As evidence, he pointed to the fact that McCabe's wife, Jill, ran as a Democrat for a state Senate seat in Virginia and received hundreds of thousands of dollars from a political committee run by Terry McAuliffe, a longtime ally of the Clintons.
As recently as Thursday, even as the White House said it was leaving McCabe's fate in Sessions' hands, officials there left little doubt where the president stood.
"It is well documented that he has had some very troubling behavior and by most accounts a bad actor," said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary.
Jill McCabe lost the race, and Andrew McCabe was later promoted to deputy director, where he oversaw the investigation into Clinton. No charges were filed in that case, and Trump has pointed to the donations to Jill McCabe's campaign as evidence of FBI bias.
The inspector general's report faults Andrew McCabe for his candor in interviews with internal investigators. The report has not been released, but people briefed on it say the allegations revolve around disclosures to The Wall Street Journal, which revealed in October 2016 a dispute between the FBI and the Justice Department over how to proceed in an investigation into the Clinton family's foundation.
McCabe, working through the FBI press office, authorized a spokesman and a bureau lawyer to speak with the Journal to rebut allegations that McCabe had put the brakes on the Clinton Foundation investigation. To the contrary, the article ultimately noted, McCabe had insisted that his agents had the authority to investigate the foundation even if the Justice Department refused to authorize grand jury subpoenas.
Background conversations with reporters are commonplace in Washington, though McCabe's authorizing such a talk was viewed as inappropriate because the matter being discussed was an ongoing criminal investigation.
McCabe joined the FBI after law school and rose quickly through the ranks.
Information for this article was contributed by Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman of The New York Times; by Chris Strohm of Bloomberg News; and by Matt Zapotosky of The Washington Post.
A Section on 03/17/2018
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