Andrew McCabe’s decision to step down as deputy director of the FBI rocked the political world on Monday. But the move is not entirely surprising given McCabe’s central position in several controversies that have raised questions about political bias at the top levels of the bureau.
McCabe, 49, had planned to retire from the bureau in a couple of months, but Monday’s move, first reported by NBC News, means that he will take early leave before retiring in March with a full pension.
It is unclear what exactly prompted McCabe’s decision to step down early.
Fox News’ Jake Gibson reported that McCabe was “removed” from his position while CNN’s Jim Acosta reported that a source close to McCabe said that he was pushed out by FBI Director Christopher Wray, who wants to put his own team into FBI leadership.
McCabe’s removal comes a day after Wray was granted access to a House Intelligence Committee memo which alleges that senior FBI and Justice Department officials abused the surveillance warrant process in order to spy on Trump associates.
It was reported last week that the classified four-page memo alleges that McCabe and other FBI and DOJ officials were involved in those alleged abuses. Democrats who have seen the document have claimed that it overstates the case against the FBI and DOJ and that it is being used to provide Trump with political cover.
McCabe, who joined the FBI in 1996, first came under scrutiny just before the 2016 election when it was reported that his wife, Jill McCabe, received hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions for a 2015 Virginia state senate run from political committees controlled by then-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
The FBI was reportedly investigating McAuliffe over campaign contributions he received from a Chinese billionaire in 2013.
McCabe recused himself from that probe but remained involved in the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton, one of McAuliffe’s closest allies. McCabe recused himself from the Clinton investigation days before the 2016 election, after The Wall Street Journal reported about the McAuliffe donations.
McCabe has also been scrutinized because of politically biased text messages exchanged between FBI counterintelligence official Peter Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page.
In one text exchange from Aug. 15, 2016, Strzok referred to a meeting that had occurred that day in McCabe’s office.
“I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office — that there’s no way [Trump] gets elected — but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk,” Strzok wrote to Page, who worked directly under McCabe.
“It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40,” Strzok wrote in the text.
Republicans have expressed concern that Strzok’s reference to “insurance policy” suggested an attempt to derail Trump by pushing a bogus investigation into whether the campaign colluded with the Kremlin. (RELATED: FBI Agents Discussed ‘Insurance Policy’ Against Trump)
Other text messages show that Strzok and Page were highly critical of Trump while supportive of Clinton. Some exchanges suggest that the two officials had concluded months before the end of the Clinton investigation that the FBI would not charge her with a crime.
Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, a conservative Republican who has led the push for a FBI shakeup, cited the “insurance policy” text in a statement praising McCabe’s resignation.
“The news that FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is stepping down is a step forward,” said Gaetz. The past several weeks and months have seen worrisome evidence of bias and wrongdoing at the FBI come to light, including Peter Strzok’s ‘insurance policy’ that was discussed in ‘Andy’s office,'” he added.
While McCabe has consistently been at the center of controversy since the election, he appeared to be in President Trump’s good graces at one point last year.
Trump interviewed McCabe last May to replace James Comey as FBI director. Trump fired Comey on May 9. Comey’s predecessor, Robert Mueller, was picked a week later to take over the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the election.
Details of Trump’s interactions with McCabe remained secret until last week, when The Washington Post reported that the Republican asked McCabe during an Oval Office meeting who he voted for in the 2016 election. Trump also reportedly berated McCabe over the political donations his wife received from McAuliffe.
The leak of the Post story suggested that the rift between the White House and McCabe had reached an untenable position.
Axios also reported last week that Wray threatened to quit as FBI director over pressure from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to get rid of McCabe. Sessions backed down and McCabe remained on at the bureau.
McCabe has also been at the center of major developments in the Russia investigation.
As The Federalist noted on Monday, Fox News media reporter Howard Kurtz writes in a new book that McCabe prompted a conversation with then-White House chief of staff Reince Priebus about a New York Times report from Feb. 14 asserting that Trump associates had “repeated” contacts with Russian operatives.
But an initial report from CNN about that exchange portrayed Priebus and the White House as putting pressure on the FBI and McCabe to publicly rebut the report.
The White House responded by telling reporters that McCabe told Priebus, “I want you to know story in NYT is BS.”
After McCabe volunteered that assessment, Priebus says he asked McCabe whether he would be able to make a similar statement to the public. McCabe offered that he would have to check with the FBI. Days later, CNN reported that Priebus pressured McCabe to refute the Times report. (RELATED: White House Says McCabe Told Reince Priebus That Russia Report Was ‘BS’)
In his forthcoming book, Kurtz writes of Priebus’ response:
Priebus was stunned by the implication that he was pressuring law enforcement. Had he been set up? Why was the FBI leaking this information when one of its top officials had initiated the conversation?
McCabe was at the center of another major development in the Russia investigation.
It was McCabe’s office that first contacted Michael Flynn’s staff to set up an interview with the national security adviser just after Trump’s inauguration.
During the Jan. 24 interview, Flynn lied to agents — one of whom was Strzok — about contacts he had the month before with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Flynn did not have a lawyer present during the interview and reportedly did not tell others in the White House about the meeting. According to reports sympathetic to the White House, Flynn believed that he would be meeting with the FBI to discuss routine law enforcement issues rather than his own conduct.
Flynn has since pleaded guilty to lying during that interview. Some supporters of Trump have suggested that McCabe sought to trap Flynn in that interview, though there has been no evidence that that is the case.