Washington: Attorney general Jeff Sessions fired the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s former deputy director, Andrew McCabe—a favourite target for President Donald Trump and Republicans—late Friday night, two days before he was to retire.
The president celebrated the move, calling it “a great day for Democracy."
Sessions made the politically explosive decision after the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility recommended that McCabe be dismissed for not being forthcoming about authorizing discussions with a reporter about a pending investigation. Sessions said he relied on internal assessments that McCabe lacked candour on multiple occasions.
The move by the attorney general appeared to open a new phase in the criminal investigation into Trump being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
McCabe responded to the decision with a lengthy, combative statement saying he was the target of a political attack by Trump and that he has knowledge of events that took place after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May.
McCabe said he’d been “singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey."
“The release of this report was accelerated only after my testimony to the House Intelligence Committee revealed that I would corroborate former Director Comey’s accounts of his discussions with the president," McCabe said in the statement.
Michael Bromwich, a former Justice Department inspector general who is representing McCabe, said the efforts to investigate and eventually fire McCabe came after disclosures that McCabe would be a “corroborating witness" against the president.
McCabe, a 22-year veteran of the bureau, already had stepped down from the No. 2 position and went on leave in January. He planned to retire officially from the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Sunday, when he turns 50 and would become eligible for his full government pension.
‘Lies and corruption’
By firing McCabe, Sessions may have averted an intense backlash from Trump, who has regularly used his Twitter account to criticize Sessions as well as McCabe. Shortly after midnight, Trump praised McCabe’s dismissal in a tweet.
“Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI - A great day for Democracy," the president wrote. “Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!"
Trump’s critics seized on the comment. “When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history," former CIA Director John Brennan said on Twitter.
Senator Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, said early Saturday on MSNBC that the move on McCabe may have a “chilling impact" on the work of the FBI.
Sessions said the decision to fire McCabe was the proper response to an investigation into his actions.
“Pursuant to Department Order 1202, and based on the report of the Inspector General, the findings of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility, and the recommendation of the Department’s senior career official, I have terminated the employment of Andrew McCabe effective immediately," Sessions said in a statement.
Sessions also said: “The FBI expects every employee to adhere to the highest standards of honesty, integrity, and accountability."
But Bromwich said the decision process was unfairly rushed.
Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Sessions’ move had “an odious taint" given Trump’s earlier comments. In the absence of the Inspector General’s report “it’s impossible to evaluate the merits of this harsh treatment of a 21-year FBI professional," Schiff said on Twitter.
McCabe’s dismissal may put his pension in jeopardy, either reducing or eliminating it. He became the FBI’s acting director after Trump fired Comey last May. He served in that role until 2 August when Christopher Wray took charge.
“This attack on my credibility is one part of a larger effort not just to slander me personally, but to taint the FBI, law enforcement, and intelligence professionals more generally," McCabe said in the statement.
He also said that his dismissal was part of an attempt by the Trump administration to undermine both the bureau and Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. “Their persistence in this campaign only highlights the importance of the Special Counsel’s work," McCabe added.
The bureau’s professional responsibility office found that McCabe misled Justice Department officials about his role in letting bureau officials talk to a reporter about the FBI’s investigation into the Clinton Foundation in October 2016, according to a person familiar with the matter.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders attacked McCabe on Thursday, a day when he was meeting with Justice Department officials to appeal his case.
“We do think it is well-documented that he has had some very troubling behavior and by most accounts a bad actor and should have some cause for concern," Sanders said in a briefing for reporters.
Trump and Republicans railed against McCabe for his role in the FBI’s decision against charging Democrat Hillary Clinton for mishandling classified information in her use of private email when she was secretary of State.
They also questioned McCabe’s involvement in the FBI’s continuing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether anyone around Trump helped in the meddling. The probe is now being run by Mueller.
McCabe became a Republican target partly because he helped oversee the Clinton email investigation in 2016, even though his wife had accepted donations from Democratic political organizations for an unsuccessful campaign for the Virginia state Senate the previous year.
McCabe joined the FBI in 1996 and held management positions in the counterterrorism division and the Washington field office.
The Justice Department’s inspector general also has investigated decisions made in the department and FBI before the 2016 election, including events and actions involving McCabe, and plans to release its findings in the coming weeks. Bloomberg