In the weeks before Andrew McCabe was fired as deputy director of the FBI, the bureau’s top internal affairs official informed FBI leaders that it was “unlikely” that a final decision would be made on whether to fire McCabe before his retirement date, March 18.
But that assessment, which was laid out in documents released by the FBI Tuesday, ended up being wrong. McCabe was unceremoniously fired two days before retirement for a “lack of candor” with investigators probing leaks that McCabe authorized to the press.
The memo, sent by Candice Will, the head of the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), to FBI Director Christopher Wray and current Deputy Director David Bowdich, raises questions about whether the FBI and Justice Department sped up the investigation of McCabe in order to fire him before his scheduled retirement.
McCabe and his attorneys have argued that the FBI and Justice Department caved to pressure from President Donald Trump, who called for McCabe to be fired and stripped of his pension for various alleged misdeeds. Trump cited political donations from a top Hillary Clinton ally to McCabe’s wife’s political campaign for Virginia state Senate.
Had McCabe reached retirement, he would have been able to begin immediately drawing from his pension. But the early termination means that he has to wait several years before drawing from his pension. McCabe also lost access to some health coverage, Politico reported in March.
In a handwritten memo dated March 7, 2018, Will told Wray and Bowdich that a report of the investigation into McCabe would be provided to Deputy Attorney General (DAG) Rod Rosenstein, “as he has final decision making authority over adverse disciplinary actions impacting the [deputy director].”
“It seems unlikely that this will reach final resolution before Mr. McCabe’s March 18 retirement date, but that is up to the DAG,” wrote Will, who referred to the OPR investigation as the “McCabe [Wall Street Journal] leak matter.”
McCabe was unceremoniously fired just over a week later. OPR submitted the recommendation to the Justice Department on March 14. McCabe appealed to top Justice Department officials the next day, but was fired a day later.
McCabe’s legal team declined comment on the latest FBI disclosure. The Justice Department and FBI did not respond to requests for comment.
McCabe was under investigation by OPR and the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) over a leak to The Wall Street Journal before the 2016 election.
Investigators found that McCabe authorized his deputy, Lisa Page, to disclose information to WSJ regarding an investigation into the Clinton Foundation. OPR and the OIG accused McCabe of a “lack of candor” in four separate interviews — some under oath — with investigators.
McCabe authorized the leak “in a manner designed to advance his personal interests at the expense of Department leadership,” the OIG determined in a report issued on April 13.
“We therefore concluded that McCabe’s disclosure of the existence of an ongoing investigation in this manner violated the FBI’s and the Department’s media policy and constituted misconduct,” reads the OIG report.
The decision to fire McCabe also occurred against the backdrop of a standoff of sorts between the FBI official and Rosenstein, who oversees the FBI as deputy attorney general.
Rosenstein had a hand in firing McCabe’s former boss, James Comey. The Trump appointee submitted a letter recommending that Comey be fired over his handling of the Clinton email investigation during the 2016 campaign. Trump fired Comey on May 9, 2017, a move which paved the way for the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to oversee the Russia probe.
McCabe reportedly believed that Rosenstein should recuse himself from overseeing Mueller’s investigation because of his involvement in a potential obstruction of justice investigation regarding Comey’s ouster. McCabe also wrote memos during the crucial period after Comey’s firing in which he claimed that Rosenstein said in a meeting with FBI and DOJ officials that he was willing to wear a wire in meetings with Trump.
Rosenstein has said that he was being sarcastic when he mentioned wearing a wire. McCabe and other FBI officials said they believed that Rosenstein’s offer was sincere.
The FBI release contains several other documents related to the OPR investigation.
One email shows that Bowdich, who would go on to replace McCabe, accurately predicted that firing his predecessor would come under intense public scrutiny.
“As you know we will be second guessed by some every step of the way however this ends up. As long as we follow the regular process we are where we should be on this issue,” Bowdich wrote Will on March 5.
The FBI also released a letter of support for McCabe sent by James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence in the Obama administration. Clapper told Wray in the Feb. 25, 2018 note that he considered McCabe to be “steady, straightforward, candid, forthright, and honest.” He characterized the investigation of McCabe as “completely unjustified and entirely unfair.”
Clapper submitted a similar letter of support on behalf of another government leaker, James Wolfe, the former director of security for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.