FBI's McCabe, a frequent Trump target, abruptly leaves post

2018-01-30 07:48
Then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe listens during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin, AP)

Then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe listens during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin, AP)

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Washington - FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, a target of frequent and aggressive criticism by US President Donald Trump, abruptly stepped down from his position on Monday ahead of his planned retirement this year.

A 22-year veteran of the FBI, McCabe has been publicly and repeatedly lambasted over the past year by Trump, who has accused him of bias because of his wife's political connections and an FBI investigation that produced no criminal charges against Hillary Clinton.

McCabe, who has held a number of FBI leadership roles and been heavily involved in investigations into major crimes including the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, becomes eligible for retirement in a matter of weeks.

READ: Trump lashes out at own FBI in a series of tweets

FBI staff learned on Monday that McCabe was leaving the bureau's No 2 post effective immediately, according to people who spoke only on condition of anonymity to discuss an internal personnel move. He is expected to retire with full pension benefits.

The departure comes as FBI Director Christopher Wray makes changes to his senior leadership team, replacing two other top aides last week.

Multiple ongoing investigations

Such changes are not unusual when a new director takes charge, but they are notable amid Trump's public pressure on Wray to get rid of officials who were confidants of James Comey, whom he fired as FBI director in May 2017.

In a message on Monday to FBI employees, Wray said McCabe would be retiring on March 18 and denied that the move stemmed from political pressure.

"I will not be swayed by political or other pressure in my decision-making," Wray wrote.

READ: What we learned from Comey's testimony

The exit comes amid multiple ongoing investigations, including a Justice Department watchdog probe into the actions of McCabe and other top FBI officials during the Clinton email probe.

In addition, special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether the Trump campaign improperly co-ordinated with Russia during the 2016 presidential election and whether Trump sought to obstruct the inquiry by, among other actions, firing Comey.

McCabe has been repeatedly assailed by Trump since the fall of 2016, when it was revealed that his wife had accepted campaign contributions from the political action committee of then-Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat and close Clinton ally, during a failed state Senate run.

That episode is among the decisions under review by the Justice Department's inspector general, which is expected to complete its report soon.

The FBI has said McCabe received the necessary ethics approval, and that at the time of the contributions, he was not in a supervisory role on the Clinton email investigation.

Classified memo

But that has not stopped Trump and Republicans in Congress from repeatedly asserting that McCabe, and other FBI officials, are partisan law enforcement officials harbouring a bias against him.

Responding to December news reports that McCabe would retire, the president wrote: "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?"

Another of the president's tweets from 2017 said: "Why didn't AG Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation," referring to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Monday evening, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee voted to release a classified memo they wrote that alleges that the FBI and the Justice Department improperly used government surveillance during the Russia investigation.

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