Andrew McCabe is leaving his post as the No. 2 FBI official after coming under withering criticism from President Donald Trump, three people familiar with the development said Monday.
McCabe will go on “terminal leave,” meaning he will stay on the payroll until his retirement in March, a former colleague said.
His exit comes amid heated partisan tensions around special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. House Republicans have pointed to text messages between FBI officials to allege bias at the agency and drafted a secret memo about the bureau’s surveillance of a former Trump campaign official. Democrats and DOJ officials have defended Mueller and the FBI, but McCabe still became a focal point as Trump and others in the GOP bashed him.
While McCabe’s departure in the coming months had been expected, there were signs that his exit Monday was hastier than anticipated.
In an email message to FBI personnel on Monday afternoon, FBI Director Chris Wray denied that political considerations were at work.
“I will not be swayed by political or other pressure in my decisionmaking,” Wray wrote in the message, according to an FBI official.
However, Wray’s message was cryptic about the reasons for McCabe’s departure.
The director’s agency-wide email cited an ongoing Justice Department inspector general’s investigation into alleged political influence on the FBI’s operations and decisions in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, but he did not say what connection, if any, that probe had to the deputy director’s exit. Wray simply said that it would be inappropriate for him to comment on that inquiry until it was complete.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz said late last year that he expected to complete that report in March or April. Horowitz was scheduled to brief Republican members of the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees on Tuesday morning, but the briefing was canceled late Monday. Democrats, who complained of being excluded from the GOP-requested session, had been set to receive a parallel briefing from Horowitz on Tuesday afternoon, but it was unclear whether that meeting would go forward.
McCabe was one of three top FBI officials who were told last year of an Oval Office conversation in which former FBI Director James Comey said Trump urged him to drop an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. The other two FBI officials have also recently left their posts.
The Oval Office episode is being scrutinized by Mueller as part of his probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow, and whether the president sought to obstruct the investigation.
Trump has complained publicly and privately that McCabe is biased because his wife received funding from then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe — a longtime ally of Hillary Clinton and prominent Democrat — during McCabe’s wife’s unsuccessful bid for the Virginia legislature in 2015.
“How can FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, the man in charge, along with leakin’ James Comey, of the Phony Hillary Clinton investigation (including her 33,000 illegally deleted emails) be given $700,000 for wife’s campaign by Clinton Puppets during investigation?” Trump tweeted last month.
Contrary to Trump’s tweet, the probe of Clinton’s email practices at the State Department began in early 2016, well after the donations occurred.
In another tweet last month, the president also seemed to be publicly hurrying McCabe’s exit. “FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits. 90 days to go?!!!” Trump wrote. McCabe had long been expected to retire in the coming months, in part to make way for new leadership selected by Wray, who was confirmed last August.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday Trump received no notice from the FBI about McCabe’s departure and played no role in the move.
“The president wasn’t part of this decision-making process,” Sanders said.
Asked about Trump’s previous criticism of McCabe, Sanders said: “The president stands by his previous comments, but in terms of the situation today, we’ve seen the reports just as all of you have.”
Still, Democrats immediately expressed concern that McCabe’s departure was due to a push by Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to oust senior officials associated with Comey, who Trump fired last May.
“FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is, and has been, a dedicated public servant who has served this country well. Bogus attacks on the FBI and DOJ to distract attention from a legitimate criminal inquiry does long term, unnecessary damage to these foundations of our government,” former Attorney General Eric Holder wrote on Twitter Monday as the news of McCabe’s departure broke.
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) took to Twitter to warn Trump not to try to place an ally in the No. 2 FBI post, which is not a political appointment and is typically filled by a veteran FBI agent.
“Andrew McCabe should not be replaced with a presidential stooge put in place just to kill the Russia investigation @realdonaldtrump,” Castro wrote.
Republicans have stepped up their criticism of McCabe in recent weeks as text messages exchanged between a top FBI agent and lawyer emerged. During the presidential campaign, the pair sometimes sent messages sharply critical of Trump. Some of the messages alluded to discussions in McCabe’s office about whether Trump was likely to win.
“I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office — that there’s no way he gets elected — but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk,” FBI agent Peter Strzok wrote to bureau lawyer Lisa Page in August 2016.
Several GOP lawmakers welcomed McCabe’s exit.
“The news that FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is stepping down is a step forward,” Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida said. “To restore its vaunted reputation, and to restore the American people’s trust, the FBI to must do what it can to move forward with a clean slate. McCabe’s resignation was the right choice, and a step in the right direction.”
One of Trump’s attorney, Jay Sekulow, sounded elated about the development.
“It sounds to me [like] Chris Wray is saying we’ve got to clean this mess up. This is a mess…That’s what we’re speculating,” Sekulow said on his radio show Monday. “This is the No. 2 at the FBI. I cannot underscore how big this is.”
Besides McCabe, the other two top FBI officials Comey told about his Oval Office encounter with Trump, general counsel James Baker and chief of staff James Rybicki, have also left their posts recently. Baker was reassigned, while Rybicki announced plans to leave for a job in the private sector.
The FBI’s current No. 3 official, Associate Deputy Director David Bowditch, will assume McCabe’s duties on an acting basis, an FBI official said.
Kyle Cheney and Darren Samuelsohn contributed to this report.
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