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In upcoming interview, McCabe describes ‘panic’ at DOJ after Comey firing

Andrew McCabe, former FBI deputy director, says in an upcoming interview he feared President Trump would undermine the investigation into Russian election interference once Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. John Yang talks to NPR’s Carrie Johnson about McCabe’s claims of “panic and alarm” in the Justice Department, Trump’s reaction and the latest revelations in the special counsel’s probe.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    There are new developments in the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia.

    John Yang has the latest details.

  • John Yang:

    Judy, in an interview to be broadcast Sunday on CBS' "60 Minutes," former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe says that after meeting with President Trump about the firing of James Comey, he decided to launch a criminal investigation in order to protect the inquiry's integrity.

  • Andrew McCabe:

    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.

    I wanted to make sure that our case was on solid ground, and if somebody came in behind me and closed it and tried to walk away from it, they wouldn't be able to do that without creating a record of why they'd made that decision.

  • John Yang:

    To talk about what else McCabe had to say, and other developments in the Russia probe, we're joined by NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson.

    Carrie, thanks for being with us.

  • Carrie Johnson:

    Thank you, John.

  • John Yang:

    We should say McCabe is promoting his book, which is coming out next week.

    And according to CBS News, he also confirmed in that interview a New York Times report about Justice Department conversations about using the 25th Amendment to declare the president — a presidential disability and have him removed.

    What more can you tell us about that?

  • Carrie Johnson:

    This was a remarkable period, eight days or so inside the Justice Department and the highest ranks of the FBI after President Trump fired Jim Comey in May 2017.

    And the sense of panic and alarm at the DOJ and the FBI was so intense, according to Andrew McCabe, that they discussed wiretapping someone to go record the president of the United States about his intentions in firing Comey, whether that was an effort to obstruct the Russia investigation or — and/or discuss the 25th Amendment, the possibility of invoking the 25th Amendment to remove the president of the United States.

    Now, the Justice Department put out a statement today from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who was in these meetings with McCabe. Rosenstein said he never authorized anybody to wear a wiretap, and he denies any discussion of the 25th Amendment, but McCabe is standing by his account.

  • John Yang:

    And Rosenstein says he said it sarcastically.

  • Carrie Johnson:

    Rosenstein's aides have said that he talked about wiretapping in a sarcastic manner. McCabe said it wasn't a joke, according to him.

  • John Yang:

    And, also, they were going to recruit members of the Cabinet to help them in declaring a presidential disability.

  • Carrie Johnson:

    The New York Times talked about the idea of getting other members of the Cabinet or getting a head count in the Cabinet. Rosenstein says none of that ever happened.

  • John Yang:

    Now, the president has replied on Twitter. He said: "Disgraced FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe pretends to be a poor little angel, when in fact he was a big part of the crooked Hillary scandal and the Russia hoax, a puppet for leaking James Comey."

    And then Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham said it was imperative now that McCabe appear before the committee to "answer questions about what appears to be, now more than ever, bias against President Trump."

    What is the president and the president's defenders trying to do with this?

  • Carrie Johnson:

    Basically, they're raising questions about the integrity of the people who approved this investigation into Russian election interference and Trump associates.

    Remember, John, that people like Michael Flynn, the national — former national security adviser, Michael Cohen, the president's former fixer, George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy aide, and others have pleaded guilty and have been convicted in courts for lying about parts of this investigation or their financial dealings.

    And the president and Lindsey Graham, one of his main allies in Congress, are trying to discredit parts of this investigation.

  • John Yang:

    Talk about lying in the investigation, a judge yesterday said that the preponderance of the evidence presented by the special counsel's office proved to her that Paul Manafort, the former chairman of the president's — the presidential campaign, lied, violated the plea agreement, and in one case in particular, the — misled investigators.

    What was the — sort of the more important point that they say he lied about?

  • Carrie Johnson:

    The key takeaway here is that the judge determined Paul Manafort, the president's former Trump — former campaign chairman, lied about his contact with a business associate named Konstantin Kilimnik.

    Kilimnik, according to the FBI, has been linked to Russian intelligence. And Manafort met with and had conversations with Kilimnik throughout 2016, including meetings in August of 2016, while Manafort was still the campaign chairman, when authorities suggest that he was talking with Kilimnik about polling data and also about a Ukrainian peace plan, which, for Russia, was an important policy goal, foreign policy goal.

  • John Yang:

    And they say — the special counsel's office says that this presents a larger view of what we think is going on there, and what we think the motive is here.

  • Carrie Johnson:

    They haven't shared much more than that, but it's very tantalizing.

    Remember, the mission of the Mueller investigation is to investigate links or coordination between the people from Russia who attacked the election in the U.S. in 2016 and Americans in Donald Trump's orbit.

    And Paul Manafort was campaign chairman during a central period in 2016. We now know he was meeting with a figure the FBI has linked to Russian intelligence during that time.

  • John Yang:

    And this judge is going to sentence Paul Manafort. What does her finding mean for that sentencing?

  • Carrie Johnson:

    Yes, Manafort is going to be sentenced March 13 by Judge Amy Berman Jackson.

    She says prosecutors are no longer obligated to seek leniency in the sentencing for Manafort since he didn't really cooperate. And he could in fact get an enhancement, an extra penalty, for not taking responsibility for his actions.

  • John Yang:

    Paul Manafort is 69 years old. Could this mean that he will spend the rest of his life in prison?

  • Carrie Johnson:

    It possible, John.

    Remember, he is not only 69. He's suffering from severe gout, depression and anxiety, according to his own lawyers. Manafort also faces punishment in a separate court in Virginia after a jury there convicted him of eight counts of financial fraud last year.

  • John Yang:

    NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson, thanks for walking us through this.

  • Carrie Johnson:

    Thank you.

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