Andrew McCabe, a former top FBI official who fell into the crosshairs of President Trump’s angry tweets, has been fired less than two days ahead of his planned retirement Sunday after Justice Department officials concluded he had made misleading statements during an internal investigation.
McCabe was sacked Friday night by Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, who acted on a recommendation from the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which handles allegations of improper conduct.
The last-minute dismissal is likely to reduce or delay McCabe’s ability to take his government pension despite nearly 22 years of service at the FBI. He was planning to retire on March 18, when he turns 50, the minimum age to draw the pension.
Sessions said in a statement that McCabe “made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor — including under oath — on multiple occasions.”
“The FBI expects every employee to adhere to the highest standards of honesty, integrity and accountability,” he said.
McCabe had stepped down as deputy director, the No. 2 position at the FBI, in January because of the internal inquiry at the Justice Department, but took leave until he could claim his retirement benefits.
His ouster follows an extraordinary series of harsh jabs by Trump, who said that McCabe had a partisan bias against him. The president began attacking McCabe by name on Twitter last summer and exhorted Sessions to get rid of him.
At issue was McCabe’s role supervising FBI investigations into how Democrat Hillary Clinton handled government emails while she was secretary of State from 2009 to 2013, an issue that dogged her presidential campaign. Trump appeared to blame McCabe for the decision not to charge Clinton with a crime.
Trump and other Republicans also accused McCabe of an ethical conflict because McCabe’s wife had accepted $700,000 from a political action committee controlled by a close Clinton ally, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, when she unsuccessfully ran for public office in the state.
That made McCabe a lighting rod in the partisan battles over the special counsel’s Russia investigation and the politically charged inquiries into Clinton and her family foundation. McCabe’s supporters said he was a victim of a vindictive president who blamed the Justice Department and FBI for his Russia-related problems.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary who frequently declines to discuss personnel matters, had no such reluctance when it came to McCabe this week.
“We do think it is well documented that he has had some very troubling behavior and by most accounts a bad actor and should have some cause for concern,” she said Thursday.
Lawyers who specialize in workplace cases for FBI agents and other federal employees say the handling of the McCabe case is highly unusual — starting with the rush to fire him before he could retire. Most disciplinary cases take months or even years to resolve, they said.
Longtime federal employees facing disciplinary action toward the end of their careers typically are allowed to resolve the issue by leaving, said Wynter Allen, an attorney with Alden Law Group in Washington.
“I’ve never seen that and we’ve handled all sorts of cases. There have been pretty bad things that happen,” she said. “Usually if they want you out, they will allow you to retire.”
Even with the firing, lawyers said, McCabe probably will not lose his entire pension — but it may be reduced, and he may face years of delay before he can begin collecting the pension payments.
His dismissal came after the Justice Department inspector general reportedly concluded that McCabe had inappropriately allowed two FBI officials to brief a Wall Street Journal reporter on a 2016 investigation into Clinton’s family foundation, and then misled the inspector general’s team about his actions.
That led the Office of Professional Responsibility to recommend McCabe be dismissed. He has denied misleading anyone, and his defenders note that background briefings for reporters are common in the White House and other parts of government.
In a statement after his dismissal, McCabe said that he and his family had been “the targets of an unrelenting assault on our reputation and my service to this country.… The president’s tweets have amplified and exacerbated it all.”
He said his ouster is “a tale of what can happen when law enforcement is politicized, public servants are attacked, and people who are supposed to cherish and protect our institutions become instruments for damaging those institutions and people.”
He called the attack on his credibility part of a larger effort “to taint the FBI, law enforcement and intelligence professionals” in what he called the administration’s “ongoing war on the FBI” and the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the election.
McCabe said he spent half his FBI career investigating Russian organized crime in New York and the other half focusing on national security and terrorism. “I served in some of the most challenging, demanding investigative and leadership roles in the FBI,” he said.
Over the last year, the inspector general has been examining how FBI agents and prosecutors handled the Clinton investigation in the heat of the bitter 2016 presidential campaign.
Clinton has blamed her loss in part on the decision by James B. Comey, then-director of the FBI, to announce to Congress that he was restarting the investigation 11 days before the election. Like the earlier inquiry, it closed without finding evidence of wrongdoing.
McCabe started at the FBI as a field agent in New York and rose to the No. 2 job under Comey. He stepped down as deputy director in late December but had planned to stay at the FBI until Sunday to fulfill requirements for his pension.
But Trump was not happy about that either. “McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits. 90 days to go?!!!” he tweeted at the time.
After Trump fired Comey last May, McCabe ran the FBI for several months until the Senate confirmed Trump’s nominee, Christopher A. Wray, as the new director.
During that time, McCabe publicly pushed back against Trump’s claims that Comey had left the FBI in “tatters.” In a Senate hearing, McCabe said Comey had “broad support” among rank-and-file agents and staffers.