Firing of FBI’s McCabe prompts president to attack the bureau
McCabe may have evidence that could prolong Mueller’s probe
President Donald Trump made his most direct attack to date on the Justice Department’s investigation into Russian election meddling being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the latest sign that a showdown may be brewing over the probe.
“Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans,” Trump said early Sunday on Twitter. “Does anyone think this is fair?”
In other tweets, the president questioned the integrity of former FBI Director James Comey and former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe. “Wow, watch Comey lie under oath,” Trump said. He also said that accounts kept by McCabe and Comey detailing their interactions with him were “Fake Memos.” McCabe, said Trump, “never took notes when he was with me.”
John Dowd, Trump’s personal lawyer, said on Saturday that Mueller’s investigation should be shut down after the late-Friday firing of McCabe by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Trump’s response since then suggests he’s lost patience with the months-long investigation that’s cast a dark shadow over his presidency.
Trump’s lawyers, who’ve been negotiating terms for Mueller to interview the president, had assured their client for most of last year that the investigation would wrap up by the end of 2017, said a person familiar with the matter. Trump was talked out of firing Mueller back in June, but there are strong signals that the special counsel and his team of 17 prosecutors have at least several months more work ahead of them.
“The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime,” Trump said Saturday, using Mueller’s name in a tweet for the first time. “It was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC, and improperly used in FISA COURT for surveillance of my campaign. WITCH HUNT!”
Any move to fire Mueller is expected to ignite a political firestorm in Washington. Democrats have warned of a constitutional crisis, and even most Senate Republicans have cautioned Trump against doing anything to curtail the special counsel’s investigation.
It’s unclear whether Republicans would take steps to rein the president in if he took drastic action, although some, including Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, said on Sunday that McCabe’s firing was wrong.
Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, a frequent critic of Trump, said Sunday that removing Mueller would be “a massive red line that can’t be crossed.” Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina repeated a previous comment that removing Mueller would be the beginning of the end of Trump’s presidency.
Republican leaders have been silent so far, although Speaker Paul Ryan issued a statement through spokeswoman Ashlee Strong: “As the speaker has always said, Mr. Mueller and his team should be able to do their job.”
McCabe’s firing also adds fresh fuel to Mueller’s probe. Michael Bromwich, a former Justice Department attorney now serving as one of McCabe’s lawyers, said that the veteran FBI agent was fired after the disclosure that he’s a cooperating witness against Trump. McCabe documented his interactions with Trump in a series of memos, according to a person familiar with the matter, and those memos could play into Mueller’s investigation. The memos have been provided to the special counsel’s office, according to AP.
Now that McCabe has lost his job and possibly a substantial portion of the pension accrued in more than two decades with the FBI, he has little reason not to speak out — starting with the lengthy statement Friday night where he noted that he could “corroborate former Director Comey’s accounts of his discussions with the president.”
McCabe is “a loose cannon right now. Talk about a guy who has nothing to lose — literally, nothing to lose,” said Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor who’s now managing director of the international investigation firm Berkeley Research Group LLC. “If he was holding anything back out of loyalty to the FBI or a sense of duty, well that just walked out the door. If he has any information he hasn’t revealed out of a sense of loyalty, that might be told now.”
Comey, meanwhile, is about to embark on a high-profile publicity tour and series of television interviews to promote his memoir, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership,” which is being released on April 17. “Mr. President, the American people will hear my story very soon,” Comey said Saturday in a tweet. “And they can judge for themselves who is honorable and who is not.”
The White House on Saturday did nothing to clear up the confusion about Trump’s stance toward Mueller’s probe.
“I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier,” Dowd said in an emailed statement early in the day.
Dowd quickly clarified that he was speaking for himself, not for the president. Even so, Trump cheered the firing of McCabe, calling the FBI corrupt, and claiming the House Intelligence Committee found “there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.” The full committee released no such finding, although Republicans on the panel said they found no evidence of collusion.
The White House didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment. White House lawyers have said in the past they plan to cooperate fully with Mueller’s probe, but Trump’s other personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, has used his daily radio show to chip away at Mueller’s investigation for months.
The show, which Sekulow has broadcast for more than two decades to an audience of more than 1.5 million daily listeners, has become a key venue for challenging the basis for Mueller’s investigation. Sekulow has regularly attacked the credibility of McCabe and other FBI officials looking into Russian election meddling, as well as the use of a surveillance warrant against a Trump campaign adviser.
Democrats said they were alarmed by the latest attacks on the investigation.
“Any attempt by the president to obstruct or remove the special counsel would create a constitutional crisis and represent an attack on the core American principle that nobody, including the president of the United States, is above the law,” warned Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware.
The president can’t fire Mueller directly, since he answers to the Justice Department official who appointed him, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Usually a special counsel would report to the attorney general, but Sessions recused himself from the inquiry because he advised and supported Trump’s 2016 campaign. But Trump still has options.
A series of potentially pivotal events are on the horizon for the investigation. Beyond a possible interview of the president, Mueller still hasn’t had wide-ranging interviews with members of Trump’s family who were witnesses to some of the issues he’s investigating.
While Mueller is believed to be nearing the end of his investigation into whether Trump obstructed justice, he may hold off on releasing any conclusion until other parts of his probe are settled, current and former officials said.
Mueller also appears to be looking into Trump’s business, including asking witnesses about a proposed Trump Tower Moscow. The New York Times reported Mueller issued a subpoena for documents to the Trump Organization several weeks ago. Dowd had previously said it would be outside Mueller’s mandate to probe into Trump’s business dealings. He declined to comment on the subpoena.
Given McCabe’s role as an important witness with details about the firing of Comey, his termination could add to — but not derail — an obstruction of justice case, said William Yeomans, a 26-year Justice Department veteran who’s served as an acting assistant attorney general.
“If anybody had any doubts about the integrity of this process, they were put to rest by the president’s tweet, which basically announced he had forced this, and it was a good thing that this long-serving FBI employee who had done some wonderful things during his career was going to be forced out two days before he qualified for his retirement,” Yeomans said in an interview.
Sessions fired McCabe ahead of his planned retirement on Sunday at age 50, a move that Trump celebrated on Twitter as a “a great day for Democracy.” Sessions said he was responding to a report by the Justice Department’s inspector general and finding by the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility. Those offices found that McCabe hadn’t been fully forthcoming with investigators in discussing his contacts with a reporter, according to a person familiar with the matter.
McCabe, who joined the FBI in 1996, became a Republican target partly because he helped oversee the investigation into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s email practices in 2016, even though his wife had accepted donations from Democratic political organizations during a losing campaign for the Virginia state Senate the previous year.
“How many hundreds of thousands of dollars was given to wife’s campaign by Crooked H friend, Terry M, who was also under investigation?” Trump said in an earlier tweet. Twitter. “How many lies? How many leaks? Comey knew it all, and much more!”