FBI Deputy Director, Trump Target, Steps Down

Andrew McCabe has stepped down as the FBI’s number two after months of attacks from President Trump.

NYT (“Taunted by Trump and Pressured From Above, McCabe Steps Down as F.B.I. Deputy“):

Andrew G. McCabe abruptly stepped down on Monday as the F.B.I.’s deputy director after months of withering criticism from President Trump, telling friends he felt pressure from the head of the bureau to leave, according to two people close to Mr. McCabe.

Though Mr. McCabe’s retirement had been widely expected soon, his departure was nevertheless sudden. It added to what has already been a chaotic upheaval at the F.B.I. under Mr. Trump, who has responded to an investigation into his campaign with broadside attacks against both the bureau and the Justice Department.

As recently as last week, Mr. McCabe had told people he hoped to stay until he was eligible to retire in several weeks. Instead, he will immediately go on leave and retire on March 18.

In a recent conversation, Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director, raised concerns about a forthcoming inspector general report. In that discussion, according to one former law enforcement official close to Mr. McCabe, Mr. Wray suggested moving Mr. McCabe into another job, which would have been a demotion.

Instead, the former official said, Mr. McCabe chose to leave. In an email to F.B.I. employees, he said he was leaving with “sadness.” He praised his colleagues as “the greatest work force on earth because you speak up, you tell the truth and you do the right thing.”

Agents and lawyers expect the report by the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, to be highly critical of some F.B.I. actions in 2016, when the bureau was investigating both Hillary Clinton’s email use and the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia. The report is expected to address whether Mr. McCabe should have recused himself from the Clinton investigation because of his wife’s failed State Senate campaign, in which she accepted nearly a half-million dollars in contributions from the political organization of Terry McAuliffe, then the governor of Virginia, who is a longtime friend of Mrs. Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

[…]

The White House said Mr. Trump, who had taunted Mr. McCabe on Twitter for months, had nothing to do with Mr. McCabe’s exit. “The president wasn’t part of this decision-making process,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, an assertion echoed by Mr. Wray.

“I will not be swayed by political or other pressure in my decision-making,” he wrote to F.B.I. employees.

[…]

Mr. McCabe first drew Mr. Trump’s ire because his wife, Jill McCabe, ran for a State Senate seat in Virginia as a Democrat and received the donations from Mr. McAuliffe’s organization. Mr. McCabe did not become deputy director until after his wife was defeated, and records show that he disclosed her candidacy and sought ethics advice from senior F.B.I. officials.

But critics, including some inside the bureau itself, said he should have recused himself from the Clinton investigation. The F.B.I. has said Mr. McCabe played no role in his wife’s campaign.

Mr. Trump and his allies have sought to use Mrs. McCabe’s run for office as evidence that the Russia investigation was part of a Democratic-led effort to protect Mrs. Clinton and undermine Mr. Trump’s presidency. Republicans cheered Mr. McCabe’s departure and signaled that more change should be made.

That the president of the United States shouldn’t be attacking government employees, let alone those at the FBI, on his Twitter account should go without saying.

McCabe is an interesting case, however. While I have no reason whatsoever to think that his role in the Clinton investigation—and whatever role he may have had in the ongoing investigation into the Russian intervention into the 2016 campaign—were anything but above board, it’s perfectly reasonable for people to charge conflict of interest. Like it or not, his wife’s run for partisan office—and tapping into the Clinton machine for financial support—makes her a political operative. And the nature of the spousal relationship is such that his claiming “no role” in his wife’s campaign is absurd; he’s her husband.

As I’ve noted in other such cases, notably that of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, Ginny, we’re going to routinely have these sorts of conflicts now that women are increasingly in major political roles. Powerful women are naturally going to be married to powerful men. And that’s going to create all manner of conflicts of interest. Nor is there an obvious solution. We can’t reasonably exclude the spouses of FBI officials from running for office. Yet their doing so creates an obvious appearance of conflict.

I’m not an attorney and don’t know whether McCabe was legally or ethically bound to have recused himself from the Clinton investigation. He says he consulted senior officials on the matter and they apparently didn’t think he needed to. While the Clinton-McAuliffe tie is well known, McAuliffe was after all his own man at this point—the governor of Virginia. And, of course, there’s a slippery slope; should McCabe have recused himself in every investigation involving someone with a political party affiliation?

FILED UNDER: James Joyner, Law and the Courts, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Command and Staff College, Marine Corps University, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. MarkedMan says:

    James, I’m sorry, but you are continuing the habits that got us the Modern Republican Party: it’s supporters taking the stance that if there is any possible way to interpret something in a non-corrupt (or non-misogynistic way or non-racist way as the case may be), we are somehow obligated to accept that unless the perpetrators themselves admit it in plain English.

    McGabe was driven from office because a corrupt Trump is in danger, and the Republican lick-spittles that are the remnants of a once honorable party care more about their own reelection than the good of the country.




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  2. Jay L. Gischer says:

    Thank you. I appreciate the response. This sort of thing worries me a lot more than the awards show for the Grammys, which I never watch. To be clear, I think the awards are significant, but I’m less interested in the ceremonies of handing them out.

    So, we think this has nothing to do with the stupid Nunes memo?




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  3. Franklin says:

    @MarkedMan:

    if there is any possible way to interpret something in a non-corrupt [way]

    I can’t quite tell if you are arguing:
    1) McCabe’s involvement in the Hillary e-mail thing is possibly corrupt because of his wife’s campaign, or
    2) McCabe’s departure is because Trump is corrupt (which I’m not quite following)

    Maybe I need some tea to wake up here.




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  4. MarkedMan says:

    @Franklin: Hmm, not sure I can be more clear than “McGabe was driven from office because a corrupt Trump is in danger, and the Republican lick-spittles that are the remnants of a once honorable party care more about their own reelection than the good of the country.” But I’ll try.

    Trump is obviously corrupt. He has admitted himself that he is firing people in order to stop the investigation into his corrupt Russian dealings. In response the Republicans are doing everything they can to support him and one of their methods is trying to smear and destroy everyone involved in the the investigation. McCabe is one of the investigators and the Republican slime machine has kicked into overdrive in trying to tear him down. I’m sorry he has given up, but I understand.




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  5. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    Denture Donnie is refusing to impose sanctions on Russia, passed by Congress.
    But there’s no collusion. None. Comb-Over Donnie is beholden to Putin. Not at all.
    Nothing to see here folks, move along.




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  6. Joe says:

    @MarkedMan: Like @Franklin, I am a little unclear on your point. For my part, I am sorry that such tenuous connections raise serious questions about law enforcement professionals. I understand your point, James, that this can create some kind of “appearance,” but an appearance of what? That this career agent is no more than a political shill because his wife ran for partisan office? This is another form of counting the Democrats and Republicans on Mueller’s team to decide if their work if fair or biased. They’re career FBI for godsakes. That doesn’t put them above reproach, but it should put them beyond whom they voted for in the last election.




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  7. SKI says:

    tapping into the Clinton machine for financial support

    Correct me if I’m wrong James but AFAIK that “support” was directly from the sitting Democratic Governor’s PAC in the state where she was running for office. Is it fair to claim that that is tapping into the “Clinton machine” simply because that governor is a political ally and supporter of the Clintons? Did every single Democratic candidate who got money from that PAC “tap into the Clinton machine” that cycle?

    Second, her campaign ended before he became Dep Dir and had any involvement with the Clinton investigation. This strikes me as a different fact pattern than Ginny Thomas who got ongoing support/employment while Justice Thomas heard cases. Or

    Is it the fact that his wife is a Democrat politician that is disqualifying? If so, how does that impact all of the Republicans who have investigated Democrats over the years?

    As someone who deals with conflicts of Interest professionally, I just don’t get the actual conflict here. Disclosure is absolutely correct but disqualification? I don’t see grounds.




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  8. iSeeDumbPeople says:

    To be clear, Republicans will see ‘conflict of interest’ in every official who is not a Trump toady. That’s the only path for survival for this Administration.




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  9. al-Ameda says:

    This is very very simple.

    Republicans are making a concerted party-wide effort – led by mental and moral midgets like Devin Nunes, and assisted by the right wing media opioninista and commentariat – to discredit anything having to do with Mueller’s investigation.

    The unknown variable here is, will any of this result in Democrats taking back the House or Senate?




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  10. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan: Trump is clearly trying to distract attention from the Russia investigation but 1) McCabe resigned, he wasn’t fired and 2) the Mueller investigation is going forward regardless.

    @SKI: @Joe: Having a spouse who is a political operative creates an inherent appearance of partisan conflict. I don’t think this is fixable but a fact of high-powered life in Washington.




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  11. SKI says:

    @James Joyner:

    Having a spouse who is a political operative creates an inherent appearance of partisan conflict. I don’t think this is fixable but a fact of high-powered life in Washington.

    Dr. Jill McCabe ran for office, State Senate, in 2015. She lost. Then she went back to being a doctor. She, as far as I can tell, has no political role or position and is not running for office.

    How does that make her a “political operative”?

    On the broader point, it is no different than having siblings or other family members or business partners have been dealt with in the past – and not just in politics. Disclosure of the relationship for the mere “appearance” and recusal for actual conflicts.




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  12. JKB says:

    Sarah Carter is reporting that sources say that the IG report implicates McCabe in pressuring agents to alter their reports of interviews. If true, it could rise to tampering with evidence/obstruction of justice. In any case, if there is even one accusation documented, a proper boss would definitely remove the employee from their duties immediately to protect the integrity of ongoing investigations. The quickest and easiest way to do that is to put the employee on leave, either administrative or in this case letting them take terminal leave. Administrative leave would definitely have reflected poorly on McCabe.

    We shall see what comes out of the IG report. A Congressional briefing was cancelled for today, but I suspect that was to avoid cluttering the news cycle on SOTU day.




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  13. SKI says:

    @JKB:

    Sarah Carter is reporting that sources say that the IG report implicates McCabe in pressuring agents to alter their reports of interviews.

    Who is Sarah Carter? What type of reporter is she and what is her sources/credibility history?
    Link?




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  14. MarkedMan says:

    @SKI: I think that he may have meant “Peggy Carter” who of course is a crack investigator. And who’s show was cancelled too soon.




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  15. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner:

    Trump is clearly trying to distract attention from the Russia investigation but 1) McCabe resigned, he wasn’t fired and 2) the Mueller investigation is going forward regardless.

    1) Does this sound like someone who isn’t being fired?

    As recently as last week, Mr. McCabe had told people he hoped to stay until he was eligible to retire in several weeks. Instead, he will immediately go on leave and retire on March 18.

    Now, I would be delighted to be put on a paid leave until my next stock vest (I don’t get a pension) and just take a chunk of time off. But McCabe is presumably a lot more professional than me.

    2) We will see. The Trumpkins have been assaulting the process, rather than letting the process proceed. This isn’t just one step along that path.




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  16. gVOR08 says:

    @James Joyner:

    Having a spouse who is a political operative creates an inherent appearance of partisan conflict. I don’t think this is fixable but a fact of high-powered life in Washington.

    Don’t worry James, this will be solved by a corollary to Murc’s Law. Murc’s Law is that only Democrats have agency, which seems to be widely believed. The current example is the Republican tax law, which is obviously the fault of Democrats who could have stopped it if they really wanted to.

    A corollary is that corruption, or appearance of corruption, only matters with Democrats. After all, if Republicans have no agency, why worry if they’re corrupt? It doesn’t matter. (On the other hand, maybe the thing is that no better can be expected of them, while Democrats must remain pure.) Your example, Ginny Thomas, supports my point, as no one’s ever done anything about it. In any case, perceived conflicts like this will only matter if they involve Democrats. Ken Starr was a protege of Richard Mellon Scaife FFS, one of the founding members of the conservative billionaire boys club, and nobody cared.




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  17. James Joyner says:

    @SKI: The spousal relationship is inherently different than any other.




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  18. SKI says:

    @James Joyner:
    Not under prevailing CoI law/regulation/practice.

    Example from HUD: § 92.356 Conflict of interest ” Immediate family ties include (whether by blood, marriage or adoption) the spouse, parent (including a stepparent), child (including a stepchild), brother, sister (including a stepbrother or stepsister), grandparent, grandchild, and in-laws of a covered person.”

    From industry (Olympus): ““Immediate family member” includes spouse, domestic partner, sibling, parent, child, step-parent, step-child, grandparent, or grandchild.”

    From Academia: (Tulane):

    Immediate Family: Spouse or domestic partner, children (including adoptees) and other dependents.

    Because of strict conflict of interest rules required by federal and state law, the definition of Immediate Family for a member of the Tulane University Medical Group and for other health care providers is: Spouse or domestic partner, children and other dependents, natural or adoptive parents, siblings, stepparent, stepchild, stepbrother or sister, father-in-law, mother-in-law, daughter-in-law, son-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, grandparent, grandchild, and spouse of grandparent or grandchild.

    For purposes of evaluating Vendor relationships, Immediate Family also includes parents, siblings, parents-in-law, and siblings-in-law.

    Yes, some states and entities limit the conflict to people residing in the same house but that is disfavored and been shown to cause abuses.

    Again, the presence of a possible conflict requires disclosure and evaluation. Remediation and mitigation depend on facts and circumstances.




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  19. Just 'nutha... says:

    @SKI: Sarah (sic) Carter may be related to Sara A. Carter of Fox News and the item in question re: JKB’s comment can be found at a site called “Muck Rack.”

    We report, you decide!

    MAWA!!




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  20. SKI says:

    @Just ‘nutha…: Ah. That is google-able.

    So we got an overt partisan with a track record of regularly appearing on Hannity who rose to prominence under Sinclair/Circa and who never writes anything critical of Trump (reviewing headlines back to 2016 on saraacarter.com) and has a flair for the conspiratorial (also rarely actually names sources – even by description, it is all “Circa has learned”) …

    So, yeah, not saying there is nothing on fire but don’t trust the smoke she is displaying….




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  21. MarkedMan says:

    “whose” not “who’s”. Jeesh. I can’t spell anymore at all…




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  22. MarkedMan says:

    James, just to repeat: it seems to me that your reaction to Republican leadership sliming the reputation of a good man and driving him out of office in order to protect Trump’s obvious obstruction of justice is to idly muse, “Well maybe because the man’s wife once ran for office he should have been disqualified. Let’s give the Republicans a pass on this then…”

    And I’m going to try to reiterate more clearly what I was trying to say above. This attitude you are displaying has been very, very common among rank and file Republicans for decades. It basically says – no matter how egregious the violation on the Republican side we are going to search desperately around for something that, however ridiculous, justifies or mitigates that violation, accept it at face value, and at most grumble about it.




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  23. James Joyner says:

    @SKI: That’s interesting. I agree that disclosure is inherently necessary in all those cases. It just seems that the conflict is obviously greater with a spouse, given not only the emotional intimacy but also the financial intermingling.

    @MarkedMan: I’m not saying anything of the sort. I’m taking McCabe’s explanation for his slightly-earlier-than-expected retirement at face value. Otherwise, why not just let the president fire him and take the heat for that?




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  24. Moosebreath says:

    @James Joyner:

    “Otherwise, why not just let the president fire him and take the heat for that?”

    Because there is less heat directed at the President when it happens this way, as shown by your reaction.




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  25. SKI says:

    @MarkedMan: You implicitly raise a good point. James, what are you suggesting the actual conflict is?

    It really can’t be the past support from the state party or the Governor’s PAC for Jill as she is no longer a candidate.

    Is it mere partisan affiliation? Because McCabe himself is a Republican and we can’t function if party registration is itself an actual conflict. Practically speaking, the criminal justice system would grind to a halt. More to the point, it would make a mockery of the concept of professionalism and reduces humans to their party label. Is that where we are as a country? That we can’t start from the presumption that professionals will do their job honestly and in accordance with oaths they have taken? Do we need to make sure the prosecutor and judge have the same registration as the defendant?

    So what are the Trump-defenders actually arguing is the conflict? What is it that resonated with you? I legitimately don’t get it….




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  26. SKI says:

    @James Joyner:

    @SKI: That’s interesting. I agree that disclosure is inherently necessary in all those cases. It just seems that the conflict is obviously greater with a spouse, given not only the emotional intimacy but also the financial intermingling.

    But the conflict has to be an actual conflict. What is the conflict here? What is pressuring McCabe to the extent required to place his professional judgment and credibility at risk?

    How does he or his spouse materially benefit if he puts his thumb on the scales?




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  27. Guarneri says:

    “Andrew McCabe has stepped down as the FBI’s number two after months of attacks from President Trump.”

    That’s odd, I thought it was his boss, Wray. You know, the guy who up to now threatened to resign if pressured.




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  28. James Joyner says:

    @SKI: @SKI: The argument is that, having received a generous donation from the Clinton machine, there’s a conflict in investigating Clinton. As noted in the OP, I don’t have any reason to think McCabe acted improperly. I just see why people would have questions about conflict.




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  29. MarkedMan says:

    James, do you honestly have any doubt that the entire reason for the pressure on McCabe and all the other Republican sliming and slandering of the FBI and AG’s office is to protect Trump from being investigated for his obstruction of justice? Do you really believe all of this is being raised because the Republicans have real concerns about these individuals?




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  30. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan: No, but that’s a separate argument.




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