If you don’t like the way the question’s phrased in the headline, how about this: Why didn’t the DOJ wait to fire McCabe until after the IG report was released? Watch Trey Gowdy yesterday underline a point that’s been obscured in all of the Democratic heavy breathing over McCabe’s firing. It wasn’t House Republicans who insisted that he be canned. It wasn’t Jeff Sessions who initiated the process. It was the FBI’s own Office of Professional Responsibility that recommended termination, working off of the allegations in the Inspector General’s draft report.
.@TGowdySC on McCabe firing: "Make no mistake, the FBI is who recommended that he be fired. It wasn't crazy House Republicans and it wasn't the Trump administration. It was his own fellow bureau agents." #FoxNewsSunday pic.twitter.com/yWmikWN9rU
— Fox News (@FoxNews) March 18, 2018
Gowdy could have gone further than that. Lawfare’s Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes, normally ardent Trump critics, note that there’s plenty of reason this time to believe McCabe’s firing was handled by the book:
To begin with, the charges against McCabe arose out of the broader Justice Department Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigation into the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email investigation. While the inspector general is appointed by the president, the current head of that office, Michael Horowitz, was appointed by President Barack Obama and is himself a former career Justice Department lawyer. As Jack Goldsmith has written, the inspector general has a great deal of statutory independence, which Horowitz has not hesitated to use: Most notably, he produced a highly critical 2012 report into the Justice Department’s “Fast and Furious” program. So a process that begins with Horowitz and his office carries a presumption of fairness and independence.
After investigating McCabe, Horowitz’s office provided a report on McCabe’s conduct to the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), which investigates allegations of misconduct against bureau employees. This office is headed by career Justice Department official Candace Will, whom then-FBI Director Robert Mueller appointed to lead the OPR in 2004.
Yes, really. It was an official appointed by none other than Bob Mueller who recommended that the axe fall on McCabe. Is there any reason at all to believe Michael Horowitz and Candace Will are under Trump’s thumb? If not, what’s left of McCabe’s claim, articulated here by his lawyer (himself a former IG of the Justice Department), that McCabe was railroaded?
We will not be responding to each childish, defamatory, disgusting &
false tweet by the President. The whole truth will come out in due
course. But the tweets confirm that he has corrupted the entire
process that led to Mr. McCabe’s termination and has rendered it
— Michael R. Bromwich (@mrbromwich) March 18, 2018
Back to the first question, though. Horowitz’s much-anticipated report on DOJ conduct during the 2016 campaign, which includes the firing offenses against McCabe, apparently is finished and had been finished more than a week before news leaked that Sessions was considering firing McCabe. If so, why wasn’t McCabe’s firing timed to coincide with the release of the report? They could have put the report out on Friday morning so that the world would know the precise charges against him before Sessions nuked him on Friday evening. Or they could have held off on both, putting out the report later this spring and announcing when they did that McCabe would have been dismissed for the “lack of candor” described in it if he hadn’t retired already.
Instead, axing him before we’ve seen the evidence against him and waiting until the very eve of his eligibility to draw off his pension reeks of vindictiveness. And while Trump might relish vindictiveness, note Jurecic and Wittes, it’s unclear why anyone at the DOJ would. Trump doesn’t care about his reputation or the reputation of his Justice Department, which he attacks regularly. Sessions, Horowitz, and Will presumably do, and the irregular timing in McCabe’s case makes them look like toadies and the Department look like it’s in Trump’s pocket by targeting his political enemies. In fact, per Bromwich, the timing was allegedly more irregular than we know:
The investigation described in the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report was cleaved off from the larger investigation of which it was a part, its completion expedited, and the disciplinary process completed in a little over a week. Mr. McCabe and his counsel were given limited access to a draft of the OIG report late last month, did not see the final report and the evidence on which it is based until a week ago, and were receiving relevant exculpatory evidence as recently as two days ago. We were given only four days to review a voluminous amount of relevant evidence, prepare a response, and make presentations to the Office of the Deputy Attorney General. With so much at stake, this process has fallen far short of what Mr. McCabe deserved.
Why the rush? Note that, contra media reports, McCabe hasn’t lost his pension, he’s lost his ability to access it right now. He’ll still get it but he’ll need to wait until he’s 57 to do so instead of qualifying on his 50th birthday. That makes the rush job for his termination feel even more petty, less a matter of denying a corrupt official benefits he doesn’t deserve than simply wanting to signal to the president that the DOJ was going to make life as hard as possible short-term for one of his least favorite federal employees.
Here’s Democrat Adam Schiff yesterday, forced to acknowledge that there may in fact have been good cause to fire McCabe but that without the IG report we can’t judge for ourselves. In the absence of fuller information, it’s easy to chalk up McCabe’s expedited firing to an anxious desire to please Trump by an Attorney General who lives in the shadow of the axe himself. For that reason alone, you would think Sessions would have demanded Horowitz’s report be released in full before the firing. If you’re not a toady, why not do everything in your power to make sure you don’t come off like one?