After more than a year of investigations, accusations and taunting tweets from the President of the United States, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is breaking his silence.
The most recent and serious charge he must now defend against: a career-ending claim that he directed FBI officials to talk to a reporter about an ongoing investigation and misled investigators about his actions.
“I absolutely never misled the inspector general in any way,” McCabe said during an hour-long interview with CNN, calling his highly public downfall the result of “a series of attacks designed to undermine my credibility and my reputation” including by President Donald Trump.
After an FBI career spanning more than two decades and ascent to the No. 2 spot at the bureau, McCabe was fired Friday – less than two days before his official retirement.
His troubles began during the 2016 presidential campaign, when a report surfaced that his wife accepted nearly $500,000 from the political action committee of then-Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Clinton family ally, during a failed bid for state senate in 2015.
Though McCabe was not promoted to deputy director until months after his wife lost the race, he became a perennial political piñata for President Donald Trump on the campaign trail given that McCabe later oversaw the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information. As president, Trump has continued to hold McCabe up as Exhibit A of political favoritism infecting the FBI when he lashes out against the Russia investigation.
In a blistering statement Friday night, McCabe said his firing is part of a larger effort to discredit the FBI and the special counsel’s investigation.
“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. “It is part of this Administration’s ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the Special Counsel investigation, which continue to this day. Their persistence in this campaign only highlights the importance of the Special Counsel’s work.”
Inspector general report
Yet it is McCabe’s effort to push back on that narrative of bias in October 2016 that landed him in the crosshairs of Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, whose office concluded that McCabe misled investigators about his decision to authorize FBI officials to speak with the media about his role in a separate, ongoing investigation tied to Clinton’s family foundation, according to source briefed on it.
McCabe defends that move, telling CNN that he’d received word that Devlin Barrett, then a reporter at The Wall Street Journal, was going to write an article suggesting McCabe was slow-walking the bureau’s investigation into the foundation. So, as one of the few top FBI officials with authority to share information with the media, McCabe said he asked other officials to speak with Barrett to “correct factually inaccurate things” and provide more context for issues that had already been reported publicly for months about the infighting between the Justice Department and FBI over the case.
“The story (Barrett) was proposing to go with was that I personally, and more importantly, the FBI, was subject to inappropriate influence,” McCabe said. “And I thought that would be incredibly corrosive to our credibility both externally and internally … To have my investigators in the field think that people at headquarters are making decisions with DOJ officials based on political leanings would be absolutely devastating.”
The inspector general’s office announced its wide-ranging inquiry into a number of actions taken by top officials at the FBI and Justice Department in advance of the 2016 election over a year ago but has not publicly released any findings and CNN has not reviewed the report on McCabe.
McCabe told CNN that in December, about a day or two after the press reported that he had confirmed to lawmakers that his onetime boss, former FBI Director James Comey, had, in fact, informed him of a series of hotly contested conversations with the President last year, McCabe found out the inspector general’s office had “changed their plans” and would likely issue a report focused exclusively on his actions.
When asked if he believed there was a correlation, or the inspector general was unduly influenced in some way, McCabe demurred, saying: “I don’t know.”
“I think every time it becomes clear that I will likely play a significant role in whatever comes of the special counsel’s efforts, immediately after that I get targeted and attacked by the President and his Twitter account, and now the IG’s approach to their own work changes immediately after my testimony gets leaked,” he said.
Yet McCabe chalks up any claims that he was less than forthcoming with Justice Department investigators about The Wall Street Journal story as a misunderstanding.
“There have been times that I now know we came away from interactions with a different understanding as to what they had asked and what I had said,” McCabe told CNN. “And in each one of those cases, I proactively reached back to the investigators to ensure that they understood completely my recollection of events.”
‘He brought up my wife every time’
McCabe also opened up about how the President appeared fixated on his wife’s failed campaign, recalling at least four occasions in which Trump taunted him with it as a “mistake” or “problem” and calling her a “loser.”
Trump raised the issue with Comey “out of the blue,” according to McCabe, saying things “like, ‘What’s wrong with that deputy director of yours?’ ” insinuating that he was somehow politically motivated against the President, which, McCabe says is “absolutely not true.”
“In May, when Director Comey was fired and I had my own interactions with the President, he brought up my wife every time I ever spoke to him,” McCabe told CNN, emphasizing that he pushed back. “Of course, I disagreed with him. I don’t see my wife’s decision to try to enter public life to help her community (have) greater access to healthcare as a mistake or a problem.”
McCabe, who said he always considered himself a Republican, also confirmed that the President asked him who he voted for the day after Trump fired Comey and McCabe stepped in as interim FBI director in May.
“I didn’t vote at all in 2016, and I explained to him that I did not vote in 2016 because the work that we were involved in had such political overtones that I felt it was prudent not to take a side in an election,” McCabe said.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on their interactions.
May proved to be a monumental month for McCabe as acting FBI director, trying – as he explained it – to take “affirmative steps” to ensure that the bureau’s investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 election was on “solid ground” while also briefing Congress and “working closely with the Deputy Attorney General (Rod Rosenstein) advocating for the appointment of the special counsel.”
Trump did not, however, ask McCabe to drop the Russia investigation, McCabe told CNN. Though the President did berate him for the fact that Comey flew from California to Washington on an FBI plane after he was fired in May.
Indeed, throughout the past year, the President’s ire at McCabe only grew – with a barrage of tweets questioning why Attorney General Jeff Sessions hadn’t fired him, later followed by a suggestion McCabe was “racing the clock to retire with full benefits.”
Coming full circle
McCabe stepped down abruptly in January after he says FBI Director Christopher Wray approached him with concerns about what the inspector general had uncovered.
“(Wray) called me in on a Sunday night to tell me that he had been privy to information from the IG’s investigation, and then based on that he was going to move me out of my position,” McCabe said, explaining that he then decided to take a leave of absence.
Wray wouldn’t tell him exactly what investigators found, but reflecting back now, McCabe surmised that if the approval of his outreach to The Wall Street Journal was the reason for his ouster, it would be somewhat hypocritical.
“In December, I had a … long conversation with the editor of a major national newspaper at Chris Wray’s request, and engaged with this editor in an effort to get them to back off a story that we thought would be harmful to our operational equities,” McCabe said. “I was then removed from my position in January for having done the same thing in October 2016.”