Retired FBI Agent On McCabe Firing: 'Lack Of Candor Is A Serious Offense'
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It's been another tumultuous week in Washington, when several top officials lost their jobs and other firings were rumored. We're going to start by focusing on one of those firings - of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. McCabe has been on leave since January, but Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the announcement late last night that McCabe would be fired less than two days before he was due to retire. The attorney general cited findings by the Justice Department's inspector general that McCabe had made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor, including under oath, on multiple occasions, according to Sessions.
In a strongly worded statement, McCabe disputed those statements and said he was being removed to undermine the special counsel's investigation into the Trump campaign. President Trump has been weighing in on this throughout the day. Just after midnight, he tweeted, Andrew McCabe fired, a great day for the hardworking men and women of the FBI.
There are many angles to this story, as you might imagine, so we decided to focus on someone who knows the FBI from personal experience. He's James Gagliano. He's a 25-year veteran, a retired supervisory special agent. He's now teaching at St. John's University in New York, and he is a commentator for the news media, and he's with us now.
Mr. Gagliano, welcome. Thank you so much for speaking with us.
JAMES GAGLIANO: Thanks for having me, Michel.
MARTIN: First of all, your reaction to President Trump's comments that this is a, quote, unquote, "great day" for the FBI?
GAGLIANO: Look. I think it's definitely unseemly and beneath the office of the president. I haven't been a fan of much of his tweeting in regards to the punching down that it appears that he's doing. Andy McCabe was a civil servant, and no matter what the president thinks about him or his service, definitely shouldn't have been tweeting out things like that. I think it's - disparaging remarks like that from the Oval Office certainly don't serve the public interest.
MARTIN: But you've been - or rather - I don't know if I want to say a skeptic of Mr. McCabe, but you have some questions for Mr. McCabe yourself. I mean, you wrote about this back in January when he announced that he was going to retire. So just - if you could, would you walk me through your concerns or your possible concerns about Mr. McCabe?
GAGLIANO: Sure. Well, first of all, in the interest of full disclosure for your listeners, I know Andy personally. In the early 2000s, I was a SWAT team leader for the New York office of the FBI, and Andy was a young SWAT operator at the time. And my interactions with Andy - he was a man of courage and integrity, and the two or three years that we worked together, I have nothing but good things to say about him.
Now, sometime in the mid-2000s, Andy transitioned down to FBI Headquarters. Sometimes, when you get inside of the Beltway, and you become subject to the machinations of FBI Headquarters, it changes your perspective on things. I think he is an honorable patriot, and I just think he made some mistakes. And I think that probably describes a fair amount of us in the FBI and across the country.
MARTIN: Well, one of the points that you made in your piece is that there are two separate issues here, which may or may not be related or conflated. One is that Mr. McCabe ran afoul of President Trump because of his close association with fired FBI Director James Comey. Also, Mr. McCabe's wife ran for office - state office - as a Democrat, which the president claims made him partial to Hillary Clinton. You know, on the other hand, there is this allegation by the Justice Department's inspector general. So are those two things related? I mean, should we even be talking about them in the same breath?
GAGLIANO: So the Department of Justice has an Office of the Inspector General, and that's headed by an inspector general, and this is a political appointee. And in this instance, it's Michael Horowitz, who was appointed in 2012 by President Barack Obama. Everything I'd heard about him was that he was ruthlessly efficient at his job and that he maintained that persona of not being bipartisan but being nonpartisan, meaning that his office followed the evidence. They investigated employees that might be guilty of wrongdoing without fear or favor.
And I think that's what he's done in this instance - in the instance of Mr. McCabe - and I think that the report, once it's released, is going to answer a lot of questions that we've all been speculating about but should bring some closure to what actually happened.
MARTIN: How does the timing sit with you? I mean, does it look vindictive to you?
GAGLIANO: It would if this was being launched from the White House. But I have the utmost trust and confidence in the IG's office. Now, whether you're on the job for two days, Michel, or whether you're two days away from retirement, it doesn't matter. Lack of candor is a serious offense. I don't believe that President Trump could have, should have, would have had any impact on the IG's report.
MARTIN: On the other hand, the president has been personally vilifying Mr. McCabe and vilifying the FBI as an organization for some time now. Do you have a sense of whether the rank and file is more disturbed by the attacks on Mr. McCabe as a person and on the agency writ large or by these allegations? Mr. Trump seems to believe that these specific allegations against Mr. McCabe are ones that would disturb the agents more greatly. So do you have a sense of that?
GAGLIANO: The FBI is not a monolith. There are people that vote Democratic. There's people that vote Republican. In the beginning, I criticized folks that made a big deal over the president's mean tweets and how it was impacting the FBI. And I said, ah, that's ridiculous. FBI agents are going to put their head down, and they're going to do their job.
And then, of recent, I've seen a number of polls come out, including one from Axios that recently stated that apparently 49 percent of the American public that were polled have a favorable opinion of the FBI. So that means less than 1 out of 2 Americans have trust and confidence in the job of the FBI. Now, that has a deleterious effect on the American public because we need the public to have their trust and confidence in the FBI so that while we're pursuing investigations, the public comes forward with information, the public trusts the process.
MARTIN: That's James Gagliano. He spent 25 years in the FBI. He's now a law enforcement analyst for CNN and The Hill among others, and he teaches at St. John's University. Mr. Gagliano, thanks so much for speaking with us.
GAGLIANO: Michel, thanks for having me. I enjoyed it.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.