WASHINGTON — Donald Trump has full confidence in his new FBI director despite a series of attacks on the impartiality of his soon-to-retire deputy, a presidential adviser said Sunday.
Trump is “very pleased” with Director Chris Wray and “the changes that are taking place,” White House legislative affairs director Marc Short told “Fox News Sunday” as Trump continued to assail Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who plans to retire from the bureau next year.
McCabe’s supervision of the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email practices came under scrutiny because his wife’s Senate campaign received contributions from Clinton-ally Terry McAuliffe’s political action committee. The president and congressional Republicans have seized on that as a sign of anti-Trump bias in FBI leadership.
But, asked if Trump is telling Wray to “clean house,” Short said only: “I think he has full confidence in Chris Wray.”
Trump’s frequent and blistering attacks on the nation’s premier law enforcement agency have proven a tough challenge for Wray, who took the reins in August after Trump fired James Comey as he was leading the bureau’s probe into possible Trump campaign ties to Russia during the 2016 presidential election. Wray aggressively defended the bureau against Trump’s claims its reputation was “in tatters.”
But it’s less common for a deputy director to be in the spotlight.
McCabe, a lawyer by training, was a fast-rising leader within the FBI. He was the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s counterterrorism division at the time of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, later ascending to executive assistant director of the national security branch and moving on to lead the Washington field office, one of the bureau’s largest and most prominent offices.
He was named deputy director by Comey in early 2016.
Yet he became entangled in presidential politics with the October 2016 revelation that his wife’s state Senate campaign had received contributions from McAuliffe’s political action committee. Though the FBI said that McCabe had consulted beforehand with ethics experts, and was not at the time of the donations in a supervisory role in the Clinton email investigation, Trump nonetheless was able to use the contributions in the final days of the campaign — and as president — to attack FBI leadership as biased against him.
The Justice Department’s inspector general’s office has been scrutinizing the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email case, including McCabe’s actions.
“When we put all of our faith and our confidence in the Department of Justice and the FBI knowing that there should be no bias there, (Trump) is making the point that we need to be sure there’s no bias,” Short said.
Trump’s personal attacks against McCabe have continued even though McCabe could ostensibly be in a position to corroborate concerns about the president’s conduct that Comey has said he raised internally with senior leadership. Trump tweeted over the weekend about McCabe’s wife’s campaign being given money by “Clinton Puppets” and seemed to gloat about McCabe’s departure.
It was broadly known within the FBI that McCabe was eligible to retire this coming spring. It is standard for FBI officials to leave the bureau for new opportunities upon becoming retirement-eligible, and it was widely expected that McCabe — independent of the criticism from Trump — would retire to give the new FBI director a chance to select his own No. 2.
As for McCabe, Short said, “We wish him well.”
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.