There are sound reasons for Trump to find Andrew McCabe suspicious and to want him out, starting with that mysterious “insurance policy” discussion that Peter Strzok had last year in McCabe’s office. But POTUS got an early Christmas present yesterday: McCabe *is* out, or he will be come March when he’s racked up enough service time to qualify for a federal pension.
So why keep dunking on him on Twitter? Trump has taken potshots at him three times (as of this writing, so stay tuned!) since news of his impending retirement broke yesterday. McCabe has done nearly 20 years at the FBI, much of it involving counterterrorism and interrogating jihadis, and doubtless has scores of friends in the Bureau who’ll be aggravated by the president making a spectacle of him in public. Trump’s relationship with the FBI has been tense from the start, got worse when he fired Comey, and has deteriorated further lately with the news about Strzok. It seemed like he wanted to try to turn a corner on that when he visited the FBI Academy a few weeks ago, but no, here he is swinging at McCabe on his way out the door:
McCabe should never have agreed to oversee the Hillary Emailgate investigation after his wife had taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from Clinton crony Terry McAuliffe’s PAC for her failed electoral run in Virginia. That was a recusal no-brainer, particularly given the political sensitivity of the investigation. His role in the Strzok “insurance policy” text made his motives even more suspect. But if there’s any reporting out there that McCabe tried to stand in the way of Comey’s fateful letter last October notifying Congress that Emailgate had been reopened, I missed it. If McCabe was a bought-and-sold Hillary hack prepared to sacrifice the Bureau’s integrity to get her elected, presumably he would have raised hell internally to try to stop Comey from sending that letter. There’s no public record of that having happened despite plenty of behind-the-scenes journalism about Comey’s deliberations before sending the letter.
And let’s be real. It’s probably not McCabe’s role in Emailgate that’s bugging Trump. He won the election, after all, and Comey’s initial announcement that Clinton had been “extremely careless” in mishandling classified information did real damage to her polling at the time. (One of the great what-ifs of 2016: If Comey had done what Republicans wished by recommending charges against Clinton and she had been replaced by Biden or Bernie Sanders as nominee, does Trump still win the election?) The deeper reason Trump is chronically annoyed at McCabe is likely the fact that one of his first acts as acting director after Comey was fired was to contradict the president in testimony before Congress. One of Trump’s excuses for canning Comey was that, supposedly, Comey had lost the confidence of the FBI’s rank-and-file due to his dubious role in the election. Is that true, McCabe was asked by the Senate Intel Committee? Not at all, he said. In fact, Comey enjoyed broad support within the Bureau. Comey pal Benjamin Wittes claims that support for McCabe within the FBI skyrocketed after that since it showed he would speak the truth despite pressure from an overweening president. Trump being Trump, he may have never forgiven McCabe for failing to show “loyalty” by backing him up when he was taking flak for firing Comey.
Anyway, who’s really suffering from these Twitter attacks? Is it McCabe, who’ll doubtless embark on a lucrative new career in the public sector soon? Or is Trump’s own handpicked replacement for Comey, Christopher Wray, who’s now caught in a trap? If he stands up for the Bureau against Trump, Trump will be pissed off. If he sides with Trump against the Bureau, his own agency will be pissed off. McCabe was in the same trap as acting director but wasn’t as vulnerable to accusations of political cronyism if he had sided with Trump since his time at the FBI began long before Trump’s presidency. Wray, however, is a Trump appointee. The more POTUS attacks the FBI while Wray sits by silently, the greater the risk that his deputies will come to see him as a lackey.
Current and former F.B.I. officials say Mr. Trump’s criticisms, and those of normally supportive Republican members of Congress, have damaged morale in some quarters of the bureau. Senior agents have expressed fear that if their names appear in the news media, they will be singled out for attack by politicians…
When Mr. Wray accepted the offer to replace Mr. Comey, he knew the job would not be for the “faint of heart,” as he told Congress during his confirmation hearing. He has had to walk a fine line, trying to gently rebuff the president while not inviting a direct confrontation with him. Mr. Wray has kept a low profile, making sure his anodyne speeches inside and outside the F.B.I. do not inflame the White House.
“He’s got to be the top cover for the agency,” said James F. Yacone, a former senior F.B.I. official who retired in 2015. “He’s the chief fact collector, and he has to avoid being politicized. He has a difficult job.”
The punchline is that McCabe almost certainly would have been reassigned soon by Wray anyway if Trump had just kept his mouth shut. A new director obviously will want to assemble his own leadership team. McCabe is a Comey holdover, just as newly reassigned FBI general counsel James Baker was. (Baker has also been accused by some on the right of conspiring against Trump, in particular by feeding details about the dossier to reporters. David Corn, who broke the dossier story for Mother Jones last year, flatly denies that Baker was his source.) Had Trump left McCabe alone, he either would have retired in March without controversy or Wray would have moved him to a different position to clear the way for him to name his own deputy director. As it is, with Trump taking shots at McCabe, Wray may have flinched at the thought of reassigning him lest it appear to have been at the behest of the president. It may well be that Wray and McCabe huddled and decided that the easiest course would be for the latter to retire in order to spare Wray that dilemma.
By the way, if you’re thinking Trump might try to spoil McCabe’s pension by firing him the day before he qualifies for it — which would be awfully Trump-y, even for him — there are rules that would likely prevent that. Political appointees serve at the pleasure of the president, but since McCabe is a career FBI agent he’s subject to civil service rules according to Wittes: “Civil service rules prevent a simple firing, and while McCabe can be reassigned or encouraged to retire, he cannot be reassigned for four months after installation of a new agency head without his consent.” You’d like to think POTUS would have the good sense not to do that, rules or no rules, since McCabe has served the country for decades and such a gratuitous move to deprive him of a pension would doubtless damage relations with the FBI even further. But hey, Trump’s gonna Trump.
Exit quotation via Scott Lincicome:
Forget he's POTUS for a sec. Just imagine this were any random boss, tweeting abt an employee like this to millions of ppl. Nuts. Just nuts. https://t.co/WmHfytRkXP
— Scott Lincicome (@scottlincicome) December 23, 2017