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McCabe says his Russia probe work sparked smear campaign before firing

The president has targeted him in highly personal terms. Conservatives have slammed him as tainted with bias. And on Friday night, the Department of Justice fired Andrew McCabe a little more than 24 hours before his scheduled retirement.

The dismissal from his decades-long home at the department marks an ignominious end to a once-storied career for McCabe, who stepped aside as FBI deputy director in January. That departure came ahead of an inspector general’s inquiry that’s expected to criticize his handling of an October 2016 media report on his wife’s failed run for the Virginia State Senate and his handling of investigations into Hillary Clinton.

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But McCabe sees bigger forces at work in the Justice Department inspector general’s inquiry — which he views as part of a broader campaign to impugn him for his role in handling the FBI’s Russia investigation and his ties to special counsel Robert Mueller.

“Look, it’s personally devastating. It’s so tough on my family,” he told POLITICO during a wide-ranging interview conducted earlier this month, before his firing.

“But at some point, this has to be seen in the larger context,” said McCabe, 49, who says he has voted for every Republican presidential nominee until he sat out the 2016 contest entirely. “And I firmly believe that this is an ongoing effort to undermine my credibility because of the work that I did on the Russia case, because of the investigations that I oversaw and impacted that target this administration.”

“They have every reason to believe that I could end up being a significant witness in whatever the special counsel comes up with, and so they are trying to create this counter-narrative that I am not someone who can be believed or trusted,” McCabe added. “And as someone who has been believed and trusted by really good people for 21 years, it’s just infuriating to me.”

While McCabe has been accused of a lack of candor during the inspector general’s review, it is still unclear exactly what led the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility to recommend his firing.

During an hourlong conversation, McCabe declined to comment or elaborate on the accusations against him. He also declined to allege any direct undue influence by President Donald Trump or Attorney General Jeff Sessions on the investigation into Russian electoral meddling, which is now helmed by Mueller. But he recalled making what he described as significant moves to bolster the investigation during the tumultuous six weeks between Sessions’ recusal and the May 2017 appointment of Mueller, a former FBI chief who helped McCabe rise through the Justice Department ranks.

McCabe said that when he was tapped as acting FBI director after Trump fired James Comey on May 9, 2017, he also learned that “I might not be in the position for a long time.”

“I literally walked into the building every day expecting that I would be removed from my position before the end of the day,” he added. “And if that happened, I didn’t want anyone to be able to just walk away from the work that we had done” on the Russia investigation.

One step McCabe said he took then: pressing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for a special counsel. Another step: briefing congressional leaders in both parties, who get highly classified briefings as the so-called Gang of Eight, about what he was doing.

The Justice Department’s inspector general was already conducting a sweeping inquiry into the FBI’s decision-making process in closing its investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email server, then disclosing the discovery of new Clinton emails in a message to Congress in late October 2016.

That inquiry includes a deeper look at the propriety of McCabe’s pre-election actions, and is the biggest of several unanswered questions raised by critics who say his bias should have disqualified him from playing such a central role in politically volatile investigations. In addition to the Justice Department’s inspector general, McCabe faces an Office of Special Counsel review into whether he violated a law prohibiting government officials from engaging in campaign activity.

Among the issues under the inspector general’s purview was whether McCabe himself “should have been recused from participating in certain matters.” Fuel for that political conflagration, which ultimately snuffed out McCabe’s career and now threatens his full pension, stems from Wall Street Journal reports in October 2016 that raised questions about $ 467,500 in contributions that his wife’s state Senate campaign received in 2015 from the political action committee of then-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a close Clinton ally.

Republicans have cited the six-figure donation as proof of a pro-Clinton bias by McCabe and the FBI more broadly.

“That’s a lot of money for one state Senate seat,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said last year during an FBI oversight hearing, warning that “a cloud of doubt hangs over the FBI’s objectivity.”

But McCabe’s most powerful foe may reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

“How can FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, the man in charge, along with leakin’ James Comey, of the Phony Hillary Clinton investigation (including her 33,000 illegally deleted emails) be given $ 700,000 for wife’s campaign by Clinton Puppets during investigation?” the president tweeted in December. (Trump’s $ 700,000 number rounds up after adding more than $ 200,000 that Jill McCabe received from Virginia’s state Democratic Party.)

Some in the GOP got more alarmed when McCabe showed up in politically charged text messages between FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok and bureau attorney Lisa Page, who began a romantic affair before the election and while both were working on issues that included the Russia and Clinton investigations. Mueller later fired Strzok from his team after learning of the texts and another Justice Department inspector general inquiry into them.

Andrew McCabe is pictured. | AP Photo

In one text message to Page, Strzok says that “I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office — that there’s no way [Trump] gets elected — but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was among those seeing further proof of McCabe’s entanglement in pro-Clinton bias.

“That sounds very worrisome to the American people that high-ranking FBI agents were actually conspiring to try to prevent Donald Trump from becoming president,” Paul told MSNBC in January.

But when it came to his wife’s campaign, McCabe went into painstaking detail trying to dispel the notion of impropriety that Trump has burnished into Washington’s consciousness.

Jill McCabe had voted for Republicans and Democrats, as her husband tells it, before getting approached about a state Senate bid after giving a quote to The Washington Post for a story about McAuliffe’s tour of the pediatric emergency room she helped run. McCabe told a Post reporter that day in 2014 that the Democratic governor’s pitch to expand Medicaid under Obamacare “has to be part of the solution.”

After his wife decided to run, according to McCabe, he “immediately got counsel from my attorneys, ethics professionals at the bureau,” to determine how to construct a firewall between his FBI work and her campaign.

“I’ve never met Hillary Clinton,” he said. “My wife has never met Hillary Clinton. Neither of us have ever met any Clinton, for that matter. She was supported by the governor of our state, who happened to be the leader of the Democratic Party in that state.”

But when a Wall Street Journal reporter called in late October 2016 — nearly a year after Jill McCabe’s election loss — to ask about the propriety of his supervising the Clinton email investigation given his wife’s campaign donations, the deputy director authorized the FBI’s then-chief public affairs official to engage with the reporter.

Such a practice, empowering the sharing of background information that can’t be directly cited, is relatively routine at federal agencies when reporters dig into complex stories. McCabe said he was “one of only three people in the FBI” empowered to approve the sharing of information with the press.

When the reporter called the FBI again, asking about allegations circulating around the bureau that McCabe had bowed to Justice Department pressure to wind down a probe of the Clinton Foundation, McCabe said he again authorized the disclosure of more details in order to reorient the story in what he believed was a more accurate direction.

The prospect that the Journal reporter “would put this incorrect narrative into his story, I thought, would be very damaging,” McCabe said. He acknowledged the obvious — “It would be damaging to me personally” — adding that “the more important factor is that it would be damaging to the FBI.”

That decision to share information about an open investigation, and McCabe’s later handling of inspector general inquiries concerning his actions, forms the bulk of the critical report that propelled his firing on Friday. McCabe had long planned to retire on his 50th birthday, which is Sunday.

Donald Trump and H.R. McMaster are pictured. | AP Photo

“I’d always imagined this was the point where I could kind of go out proud of things I’ve done and the sacrifices I’ve made and ways I’ve tried to protect this country,” McCabe said. “To think that my reputation has now been, or will be, eroded by this — it’s just, it’s mind-boggling. It’s been devastating.”

What he wonders about now is the chain of events that began after he testified behind closed doors before the House Intelligence Committee on Dec. 19. “Within hours,” as McCabe put it, leaks to the press revealed that he had told lawmakers he could corroborate Comey’s recounting of conversations with Trump before the president fired his FBI director.

And soon after that, as McCabe tells it, he heard that the Justice Department inspector general would expedite the portion of its long-planned report on the Clinton investigation that related to him. “FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits,” Trump tweeted on Dec. 23. “90 days to go?!!!”

“I don’t know if anyone from the White House or within the Department influenced the IG,” McCabe said. “It’s a striking coincidence. One that can’t be seen outside the context of the president’s own public communications.”

The inspector general’s report has yet to be released, but McCabe was feeling its black mark on his future even before his firing. When it finally does come out, he predicted, it will attempt to bolster the claim by Trump allies that previous FBI leadership “was corrupt, was politically biased, politically motivated.”

“[For] some people, like the president and others who are intent on undermining me for the reasons I’ve stated, it will be very satisfying,” McCabe said.

“I think most people will be like, ‘Really?’”

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Source: POLITICO – TOP Stories

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