Terry H. Schwadron
March 17, 2018
I am a fan of fairness, whether at work, in baseball or in my view of effective government.
Firing Andrew G. McCabe, the former FBI deputy director, less than two days before he was eligible for a pension from his 21-year career, may have been politically astute for Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions and for President Donald Trump, but it was not fair. It was possible, said The Washington Post, that McCabe could pursue a legal challenge.
Indeed, it underscores Trump’s bullying tactics, which have also been on display this week in the curiously coincidental awfulness that is the Stormy Daniels affair. In each case, Trump has used surrogates to commit public, harsh humiliation and punitive personal attacks to win some kind of self-perceived moral high ground.
Even if Trump-Sessions wanted him out, which he already was, they shouldn’t touch a career-spanning pension benefit, if not also his health benefits, which has nothing to do with what they regard as his missteps.
Bullying doesn’t wash in either case, frankly, but in the case of McCabe, who has become a particular victim of Trump attacks, there will come another chapter, as McCabe is a likely witness for Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III in any possible obstruction of justice case that may emerge from the continuing inquiries.
Trump took no time in flinging yet another tweet early this morning to belittle McCabe, saying “Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard-working men and women of the FBI — A great day for Democracy. 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!”
For his part, McCabe declared that his firing, and Trump’s attacks, were intended to undermine the special counsel’s investigation in which he is a potential witness.
McCabe was fired after he left the job last month and was serving out his last official days on accrued vacation time and leave. An internal Justice Department Inspector General’s report said that McCabe had violated departmental standards of failing to be fully forthcoming about a conversation he had authorized between F.B.I. officials and a journalist — ironically, over the FBI’s investigation issues involving Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent in the 2016 race. As a senior departmental employee, McCabe has no Civil Service protections; he is an “at will” employee and manager who can be fired for cause. Lack of candor is a firing offense at the FBI.
Sessions said that McCabe had withheld information under oath. Adding that “The F.B.I. expects every employee to adhere to the highest standards of honesty, integrity and accountability. I have terminated the employment of Andrew McCabe effective immediately.”
McCabe told The New York Times from his home that “The idea that I was dishonest is just wrong,” he said, adding, “This is part of an effort to discredit me as a witness.” McCabe had appealed to Sessions not to cut off his pension.
Nevertheless, McCabe’s firing was immediately seen as a highly politicized move. In a statement released by his lawyer, Michael Bromwich, McCabe said, “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. 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.” Just for nothing, Bromwich had been a DOJ Inspector General himself in the past.
McCabe said he answered questions truthfully in the internal investigation.
As deputy director, McCabe was among the those at the FBI to raise questions about any links between the Trump campaign and Russia, and he remains a witness to what James Comey had said after meetings with the new president about being goaded into dropping any investigation into Michael Flynn, the fired national security advisor, and Russia connections. Trump, meanwhile, has singled out McCabe as a biased foe whose wife ran unsuccessfully for state office in Virginia as a Democrat and had accepted money from former Democratic Gov. Terry McCauliffe, who over many years has been an ally and friend to Hillary Clinton. McCabe has always described himself as a Republican.
McCabe briefly became the acting F.B.I. director after the sudden firing of Comey, and he disputed Trump’s reason, publicly contradicting the president over whether Comey had lost the support of rank-and-file F.B.I. agents.
Even as the White House said the issue of firing would be decided by Sessions, it was clear that the president wanted him fired. The Times and others noted that the president is not involved in the firing decisions of career employees at the FBI, but that presidential wants loomed over the decision.
With Sessions himself at war with the White House, some suggest that Sessions had to fire McCabe to hold onto his own job. As such, you could read this firing as Sessions bowing to Trump’s wants.
The firing also was a clear signal of toughness about leaking from the FBI and other law enforcement groups.
Through the FBI press office, McCabe authorized a spokesman and a bureau lawyer to speak with The Wall Street Journal to rebut allegations that McCabe had slowed down an investigation concerning the Clinton Foundation. The article ultimately noted that McCabe had insisted that his agents had the authority to investigate the foundation, even if the Justice Department refused to authorize grand jury subpoenas.
McCabe joined the FBI after law school and was recognized for his ability to manage complicated cases.
Just not this one.