After Relentless Criticism From Trump, McCabe Steps Down
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Here's what happened to the FBI in the course of a single day. The bureau's No. 2 official said he's leaving; he'd been attacked by President Trump. A House committee voted to release a memo accusing the bureau of mishandling its Russia investigation. They voted to release that despite Justice Department warnings it would be reckless. Democrats contend Republicans, committed to examine Russian election interference, are now turning their attention on the FBI. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas has been covering all this. He's in our studios.
Ryan, good morning.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: So Andrew McCabe, the No. 2 official who's leaving - first, who is he?
LUCAS: Well, McCabe is a long-time FBI guy. He joined the bureau in 1996, worked mob cases in New York, turned his attention to counterterrorism after 9/11, rose up through the ranks over the years and became deputy director in January of 2016. He was appointed to the position by then-Director James Comey.
LUCAS: You may remember him best from - after Comey was fired, McCabe stepped in as acting director for a brief period of time. But in his job as the No. 2 official - as deputy director - he really has his - a kind of hands-on role at the bureau overseeing domestic investigations and international investigations. Of course, the two biggest investigations that we've been talking about in the past two years would be Hillary Clinton's email server...
LUCAS: ...And, of course, the Russia investigation. And it's his role in those investigations that have really kind of attracted the ire of the president and his Republican allies.
INSKEEP: What specifically bothered the president about McCabe?
LUCAS: Well, there are a number of things. One, McCabe - his wife ran for a Virginia state Senate seat in 2015. This was before McCabe was deputy director. But she received campaign donations - hundreds of thousands of dollars of them - from an organization linked to Terry McAuliffe, who's a...
INSKEEP: Democratic governor, a former governor of Virginia.
LUCAS: And close friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton.
LUCAS: So that's one thing that the president pointed to - and his Republican allies - alleging that McCabe somehow could be politically influenced, politically biased against the president because of his wife's ties. Now, McCabe had cleared all of this with the FBI's ethics folks beforehand. It was all aboveboard. But it has certainly been used as a way to taint McCabe's judgment in terms of his handling of both the Clinton email investigation and the Russia...
INSKEEP: Is there something a little more personal than that for the president of the United States?
LUCAS: Well, all of this ties back into the FBI's handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe and the Russia investigation. This is all part of what Democrats would say would be a broader campaign to undermine the credibility of the FBI and the special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference as a way to discredit and kind of raise questions about any conclusions that they may come to.
INSKEEP: And we're going to talk about other parts of what is perceived as a campaign. But just to wrap up McCabe, he left yesterday. Wasn't he supposed to retire pretty soon anyhow?
LUCAS: He was - we have reported since December that he was expected to retire early this year. He would likely take accrued time, leave the bureau a bit early and then use that accrued time to remain on the payroll until he's eligible for his full retirement benefits. That is basically what has happened here.
INSKEEP: But was he pushed out?
LUCAS: Well, as I said, this has been in the works for quite some time. He has certainly been under a lot of pressure. And, of course, Trump's FBI director, Christopher Wray, has been under a lot of pressure to make changes at the senior leadership.
INSKEEP: OK. One of the other big deals here - this memo. It was overseen by Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Very briefly, what's it say, supposedly?
LUCAS: Well, it alleges these kind of sweeping surveillance abuses by the FBI in the early days of the Russia investigation. We don't know exactly what it says yet because it remains classified. The committee voted to have it released. It was a straight party-line vote. Democrats are not in favor of this. Democrats have prepared their own memo to rebut the Republican document. That was not voted to be released. Republicans shot that option down. That may come back up later. But Democrats would say that this is part of the Republican campaign to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller. Republicans say that this documents these alleged abuses, and the American public needs to know about it.
INSKEEP: OK, let's be clear then on what's going to happen next. It's not released yet even though they voted to do it. The president gets to weigh in. The president has, at some point, expressed approval of the idea of releasing the memo, but his own Justice Department says that would be reckless. Why are they saying it'd be reckless?
LUCAS: Well, the Justice Department and parts of the intelligence community worry about the potential exposure of sources and methods in this classified document. And because they have not had a chance to review it, they don't know exactly what's in it. But the concern is that those sources and methods could be exposed, which could damage national security and ongoing investigations, as well.
INSKEEP: OK. This story's going to go on and on, and Ryan Lucas'll be here to cover it. Ryan, thanks very much.
LUCAS: Thank you.
INSKEEP: He's NPR justice correspondent.
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