McCabe interviews spark new questions, possible Senate investigation

    FILE - In this May 11, 2017, file photo then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe listens on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

    Former FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe’s new book and accompanying publicity tour are ostensibly aimed at addressing long-lingering questions regarding the Russia investigation and his dismissal from the agency, but before the book even hits the shelves, McCabe seems to be raising more new questions than he answers.

    Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is already calling for McCabe and others to testify before Congress over discussions within the FBI and the Department of Justice about potentially removing President Donald Trump from office.

    “We will have a hearing about who’s telling the truth,” Graham said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday.

    McCabe appeared on “60 Minutes” Sunday and on NPR Monday to promote the book, “The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump,” which is set for release Tuesday. Much of what he said has been previously reported, but he is shedding new light on the chaotic days between the firing of FBI Director James Comey and the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller.

    McCabe became acting director of the FBI after Comey’s firing in May 2017, and he said he was one of many within the bureau and the Department of Justice who were troubled and confused by the president’s actions. According to McCabe, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was so concerned that he proposed wearing a wire during meetings with the president and floated the prospect of invoking the 25th Amendment to force Trump out of office.

    “He was not joking,” McCabe claimed in an interview with “60 Minutes” correspondent Scott Pelley. “He was absolutely serious. And in fact, he brought it up in the next meeting we had. I never actually considered taking him up on the offer.”

    McCabe claimed Trump pressed Rosenstein to include something about the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election in his memo justifying Comey’s firing. In an interview days after removing Comey, Trump also told NBC News the Russia probe was part of his reason for doing it.

    “These circumstances were articulable facts that indicated that a crime may have been committed. The president may have been engaged in obstruction of justice in the firing of Jim Comey,” McCabe said.

    Following the Comey termination, McCabe order an investigation of whether Trump was trying to impede the Russia case and whether Trump was acting on behalf of the Russian government. McCabe told CBS News he acted quickly because he feared Trump would fire him too.

    “I was very concerned that I was able to put the Russia case on absolutely solid ground in an indelible fashion that were I removed quickly or reassigned or fired that the case could not be closed or vanish in the night without a trace,” he said.

    Days later, Rosenstein appointed former FBI Director Mueller to oversee an independent investigation of Russia’s influence on the election and ties to the Trump campaign. Several former Trump aides and allies have since been charged with lying to investigators and other crimes, but none have been accused of illegal contact with the Russian government.

    Critics say McCabe’s account cannot be trusted. He was fired last year days before his retirement was set to take effect after the Department of Justice Inspector General’s Office found that he “lacked candor” in interviews with investigators about media leaks he facilitated.

    “If ever there was a case that demands prosecution, McCabe's is that case,” former Rep. Jason Chaffetz wrote in a Fox News op-ed. “For an FBI employee, integrity and credibility are the most important tools of the trade. How can one testify credibly if they have been shown to ‘lack candor’ – in FBI parlance – in other cases?”

    According to former FBI agent James Wedick, who headed a public corruption unit in Sacramento, McCabe’s actions were worse than just lying. Investigators said he alleged the leakers were in FBI field offices, casting doubt on innocent agents and wasting time and resources.

    “Agents are really ticked about that,” he said.

    McCabe has repeatedly denied willfully misleading investigators, and he maintained his firing was purely political in interviews. A grand jury has been impaneled to consider whether he violated the law, but it is not yet clear if prosecutors intend to pursue criminal charges.

    “There's absolutely no reason for anyone and certainly not for me to misrepresent what happened,” he told CBS. “So, no. Did I ever intentionally mislead the people I spoke to? I did not. I had no reason to. And I did not.”

    Though McCabe’s credibility may be damaged by the circumstances surrounding his exit from the FBI, Claire Finkelstein, director of the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law at Penn Law School, argued much of what he said aligns with what other officials and investigators have previously revealed.

    “I don’t think it does cast doubt because we have had his version of events confirmed from other sources,” she said.

    Given what is known about contacts between Trump confidantes and Russians and the suspicions generated by Comey’s firing, Finkelstein said launching the investigation was a reasonable step.

    “Even if the president never said anything about his motives for firing Comey... the FBI would be remiss in their duties if they didn’t investigate,” she said.

    However, Wedick stressed firing the FBI director and requesting the deputy attorney general include certain information in a memo are within Trump’s authority as president.

    “I’m sorry, that doesn’t get me there,” he said. “That doesn’t articulate facts that a law might have been broken. Those are two things a president can do.”

    Especially dealing with public corruption where the crime is not always obvious and the target of the investigation is a public figure, Wedick believes the suspicion McCabe described would be insufficient to open an obstruction case.

    “I walked away from many cases where you say, ‘It looks like a case,’” he said.

    The conversations with Rosenstein, originally revealed in media reports last year, have sparked outrage and accusations of treason from President Trump’s supporters, and at times from the president himself. Monday morning, Trump tweeted a quote from Fox News commentator Dan Bongino alleging “an illegal coup attempt.”

    “So many lies by now disgraced acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe. He was fired for lying, and now his story gets even more deranged. He and Rod Rosenstein, who was hired by Jeff Sessions (another beauty), look like they were planning a very illegal act, and got caught,” Trump also tweeted, though he personally appointed Rosenstein and Sessions, his original attorney general, to their positions.

    There is no evidence the discussions recounted by McCabe violated any laws or indicated an intent to do so. According to Finkelstein, government officials discussing the possibility of implementing a constitutional means of removing an unfit president from office that would require support of a majority of the Cabinet and a supermajority in Congress is far from a coup.

    “A lot of people are talking about the 25th Amendment with regard to this president,” she said.

    Rosenstein has disputed McCabe’s version of events, insisting he never seriously discussed wearing a wire or invoking the 25th Amendment. However, according to Fox News, former FBI General Counsel James Baker testified before the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees last fall that McCabe told him Rosenstein claimed two Cabinet officials were “ready to support” removing Trump.

    McCabe recalled his meeting with Baker about Rosenstein’s officer to secretly record the president.

    “I think the general counsel had a heart attack,” he told Pelley. “And when he got up off the floor, he said, ‘I, I, that's a bridge too far. We're not there yet.’”

    According to Wedick, Baker’s shocked reaction should have been a warning sign for McCabe.

    “He was not there yet and, surprisingly, he didn’t see that himself,” he said. “The president has authorities and is singularly responsible for the security of the United States. There are many things he might know that you don’t know.”

    Little of what McCabe has said in recent days is surprising to Finkelstein, but she added it is highly unusual for a former law enforcement official to speak so candidly while an investigation is ongoing.

    “It is somewhat concerning he is willing to discuss the inside workings of the FBI as transparently as he does in this book,” she said.

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