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What does McCabe’s firing mean for the Russia investigation?

Two days before he was set to retire, FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe was fired on Friday by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. McCabe, a possible witness in the Russia investigation case, said his dismissal was part of the president’s “ongoing war on the FBI.” NPR Justice Correspondent Carrie Johnson joins Megan Thompson for more.

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  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions has fired a top F.B.I. official, Andrew McCabe just hours before he planned to retire with full benefits. McCabe is the former deputy director of the F.B.I. He'd put in more than 20 years at the agency. His fiftieth birthday is tomorrow and that's when he was scheduled to retire. Sessions says the firing came after an internal Justice Department investigation that found professional misconduct by Mr. McCabe. President Trump called it a great day for democracy and said McCabe knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI. In a statement McCabe suggested his firing is part of what he called "the president's war on the FBI" and the efforts of the special counsel investigation meaning Robert Mueller's look into Russia's possible collusion with the Trump campaign. There are also reports that McCabe kept detailed memos of his interactions with President Trump, which could become evidence for the special counsel investigation. For more on all this, I'm joined now by Carrie Johnson, Justice Correspondent at National Public Radio. Carrie, thank you so much for joining us.

  • CARRIE JOHNSON:

    My pleasure.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    So President Trump and McCabe have been at odds for quite some time now. Can you just walk us through all the controversies that have led up to this?

  • CARRIE JOHNSON:

    Now remember, Andy McCabe was the deputy director of the F.B.I, and when the president fired Jim Comey, the F.B.I. director last May, McCabe took over as acting director for several months. But pretty soon, tension with President Trump began to emerge. President Trump started tweeting about McCabe because McCabe's wife had run unsuccessfully for a seat in the Virginia state legislature and had taken some money from Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a close ally of the Clintons. Even though McCabe said he vetted his role in the Clinton investigation with F.B.I. ethics, experts President Trump just couldn't let go of it. He's accused the F.B.I. of a multitude of sins over the last year and particularly targeted McCabe. Just a few weeks ago he accused me McCabe in a tweet of running out the clock to his retirement. And this all culminated of course and a firing by DOJ just hours before McCabe was set to turn 50-years-old his birthday is Sunday and to collect his full federal law enforcement pension.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired McCabe he said because of a "lack of candor" and we're now hearing word about an inspector general report that has even more accusations against McCabe. Can you just explain to us what all these accusations are?

  • CARRIE JOHNSON:

    The inspector general of justice has been investigating how the F.B.I. and the Justice Department handled the Clinton investigation in 2016. He interviewed Andy McCabe last year as part of that investigation and the Justice Department says that McCabe was not honest. You asked McCabe about this, he says he may have misstated some things in the course of the chaos at the F.B.I. and the attacks from President Trump but he always corrected the record. The key issue with respect to McCabe is his contacts with the Wall Street Journal about an F.B.I. investigation of the Clinton Foundation in 2016. McCabe said he didn't authorize that investigation. The inspector general and the Justice Department appear to be saying he did, and then he didn't tell the truth about it later.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    McCain is also a potential witness into the investigation as to whether or not President Trump may have obstructed justice in the Russian investigation. So what effect could his firing have on that investigation?

  • CARRIE JOHNSON:

    Well, it's really interesting Andy McCabe and his lawyer Michael Bromwich who both put his firing in the context of this ongoing special counsel probe. McCabe says this is all part of an effort to discredit him personally and to discredit the F.B.I. and the Justice Department generally because President Trump so fears what Special Counsel Robert Mueller may be turning over in the Russia investigation. He said you cannot separate what he considers his abuse by the president for over a year from this Russia probe. McCabe says that he testified in closed session of the House Intelligence Committee in December and shortly thereafter it became clear to him that the Justice Department may have been out to get him, trying to punish him before he could collect his full retirement benefits this year.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    On that point, what do you make of the timing of this firing?

  • CARRIE JOHNSON:

    Well it's true with the Justice Department investigations into wrongdoing often take a really long time. So the notion that this one was speeded up in some regard to try to have some implication or some effect on Andrew McCabe's pension does seem to be a little unusual at this point. McCabe is not explicitly threatening to sue but that may come down the pike. And certainly the tweet from President Trump just a couple of hours after McCabe was fired late Friday night could be evidence that fellow politicians here were trying to weigh in and press Attorney General Jeff Sessions to punish McCabe before he could collect those pension benefits he was to.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    All right. Carrie Johnson of National Public Radio. Thank you so much for joining us.

  • CARRIE JOHNSON:

    My pleasure, thank you.

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