FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe pauses while testifying before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in Washington, US, June 7, 2017. Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/Files
FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, criticized by President Donald Trump and other Republicans for alleged bias against him and in favor of his 2016 Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, has stepped down, a source familiar with the matter said on Monday.
McCabe, who served as acting Federal Bureau of Investigation chief for more than two months last year after Trump fired agency director James Comey, had been expected to leave his post as the No. 2 FBI official in March.
He will remain on leave with the top US domestic law enforcement agency until his retirement date, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity because a public announcement has not yet been made.
Asked about McCabe’s departure, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters, “I can tell you the president wasn’t part of this decision-making process.” Sanders also said Trump continues to have “full confidence” in FBI Director Christopher Wray, who the president appointed to replace Comey.
In a recent conversation with McCabe, Wray suggested moving him into a lower-ranking position, prompting McCabe to chose to leave instead, the New York Times reported.
Wray voiced concerns during the conversation about a coming Justice Department inspector general report scrutinizing the actions of McCabe and other top FBI officials during the 2016 presidential campaign, the Times reported. During that period the FBI investigated Trump campaign connections to Russia and Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was US secretary of state. No charges were brought against Clinton.
An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment on McCabe, who began his career at the agency in 1996 as a special agent investigating organized crime.
Trump’s firing of Comey in May 2017 as the FBI was investigating potential collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia led to the Justice Department’s naming of Special Counsel Robert Mueller to take over the probe.
The president later said he dismissed Comey over “this Russia thing,” and the firing has become central to questions about whether Trump has sought to obstruct justice by impeding the Russian probe.
Trump last week denied a Washington Post report he had asked McCabe, shortly after he became acting FBI director, who he had voted for in the 2016 election, leaving McCabe concerned about civil servants being interrogated about their political leanings. The Post reported that McCabe told Trump he did not vote in the election.
Trump and some other Republicans have been stepping up their criticism of the FBI in a move that Democrats call part of a broader effort by Trump’s party to undermine Mueller’s investigation.
Republicans have criticized McCabe in connection with the Clinton email server probe. They have noted that McCabe’s wife previously ran as a Democrat for a seat in Virginia’s state Senate and received donation funds from then-Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a close ally of Hillary and Bill Clinton, the former president.
The FBI has previously said McCabe was not involved in the Clinton investigation until he was promoted to deputy director in January 2016. By that time, his wife’s campaign was over and his involvement was not seen as a conflict.
Trump has repeatedly taken to Twitter to blast McCabe, asking in December how he could be in charge of the Clinton probe when his wife got donations from “Clinton Puppets.” Trump on Twitter asked in July, while McCabe was acting FBI chief, why Attorney General Jeff Sessions had not replaced him, and said in December McCabe was “racing the clock to retire with full benefits” and that the FBI’s reputation was in “tatters.”
Most recently, the Justice Department and the White House have been at odds with one another over Republican-led efforts in the USHouse of Representatives to release a memo containing classified information that Republicans claim shows proof of wrongdoing by the FBI in the Russia probe.
A handful of Republican-led congressional committees have launched inquiries into whether the FBI botched the Clinton investigation and showed bias in her favor. In December, McCabe was grilled behind closed doors by lawmakers on some of those panels for hours.
Democrats have said those inquires are intended to undermine and distract from Mueller’s investigation.
He is one of several FBI figures to face a barrage of criticism by Republican in recent weeks. This criticism also has been aimed at FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page, who both worked on the Clinton investigation and briefly on the Russia probe.
Republicans have seized on text messages exchanged between the two as evidence of bias. In those texts, they called Trump an “idiot” and a “loathsome human.” Mueller removed Strzok from his team after learning of the texts last summer, and he was reassigned to another post. Page left the investigatory team after her 45-day detail ended in July.