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Why Andrew McCabe sees the president as a threat

Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe has published a new book that includes some stunning allegations about President Trump -- including that he is the "most prolific liar" McCabe has ever encountered, despite decades of dealing with sophisticated criminals. McCabe sits down with Judy Woodruff to discuss why FBI investigations aren't political and whether he plans to sue over his termination.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now our conversation with former FBI acting Director Andrew McCabe.

    First, some background on the man who directed the FBI to investigate President Trump.

    Andrew McCabe was thrust into the spotlight, and before the Senate Intelligence Committee, in May 2017. Two days earlier, President Trump had fired FBI Director James Comey, making his deputy, McCabe, the acting FBI chief.

    He pledged support for the bureau's Russia investigation he now oversaw.

  • Andrew McCabe:

    You cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing, protecting the American people, and upholding the Constitution.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The same day McCabe testified, President Trump told NBC News he fired Comey in part because of the bureau's probe into the Trump campaign's ties with Russia.

  • Donald Trump:

    This Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In his book, "The Threat," McCabe says the FBI then launched a counterintelligence investigation into the president.

  • Andrew McCabe:

    Is there an inappropriate relationship, a connection between this president and our most fearsome enemy, the government of Russia?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    McCabe said this week he told the so-called Gang of Eight congressional leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, then House Speaker Paul Ryan, and their Democratic counterparts, about the investigation at the time.

  • Andrew McCabe:

    No one objected, not on legal grounds, not on constitutional grounds, and not based on the facts.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The investigation was eventually taken over by special counsel Robert Mueller, who was appointed eight days after Comey was fired.

    Over the summer of 2017, President Trump repeatedly accused McCabe of a conflict of interest. McCabe's wife, Jill, had run unsuccessfully two years earlier for a Virginia state Senate seat, and had received donations from a Hillary Clinton ally.

    McCabe himself had overseen the investigation into former Secretary Clinton's use of a private e-mail server, but not while his wife was running for office. Then, in March 2018, just days before his retirement, McCabe was fired for allegedly lying to federal investigators about improper media disclosures unrelated to the Russia probe.

    McCabe contends he did nothing wrong and that his firing was retaliation for the investigation into the president.

    And Andrew McCabe joins us now.

    Welcome to the "NewsHour."

  • Andrew McCabe:

    Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So your book is titled "The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump."

    Is one more of a threat than the other?

  • Andrew McCabe:

    Well, I think they're both significant issues that the FBI has to confront in this modern age.

    I think terrorism is a threat that we have grown to in the post-9/11 world. We have very much modified the way that we approach our role in counterterrorism investigations and how we mitigate the threats posed by terrorists. I think the FBI is now going through that same sort of adaptation to understanding how to work in this era under a Trump administration.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, as we sit here, I'm sure you know there is increasing speculation that the Mueller report is just about to be finished, transmitted to the Department of Justice.

    Based on everything you know, do you think the president could well be implicated in it?

  • Andrew McCabe:

    Well, it's hard to imagine a report that doesn't talk about the president, obviously.

    Of course, I don't know what will be in the report. I have incredible faith in Director Mueller and his team's abilities to deliver honestly and independently the results that they have come to.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you have said you will accept what the findings are, even if the president is exonerated?

  • Andrew McCabe:

    Absolutely. Absolutely.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, again, based on what you know, do you think it's more likely the president is implicated under the heading of collusion, coordination with the Russians, or under obstruction of justice?

  • Andrew McCabe:

    Well, Judy, I don't know that I could identify kind of a likelihood of either result.

    I can tell you that we were concerned about both in May of 2017, when we initiated the case, on the president as a part of the overall investigation into Russian connections with his campaign.

    I think some of the information that we're all aware of now — it's been publicly disclosed — is highly concerning. The sheer number of interactions and contacts between folks in and around this administration and people connected to Russian intelligence is truly remarkable.

    It's not like anything I have ever seen before. Additional people trying to affirmatively conceal or lie about those contacts through the course of the investigation is something that should also give us pause.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's came across pointedly in the book at one point. You said in — you said, in your last days at the FBI, you had been investigating the Russian government's interference in the 2016 election, possibly with the knowledge and involvement of that election's winning candidate.

    You didn't say campaign. You said candidate.

  • Andrew McCabe:

    That's right. That was — our decision in May was that we felt we were at the point where we had to focus our investigative efforts on the president himself, not just on the campaign, which we had been doing that work since the end of the summer of 2016, but it was time to start looking in earnest at the president himself.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, in connection with all this, we know that, only hours after that infamous "Access Hollywood" tapes were released — that was October of 2016 — just hours after that, there was a huge leak of damaging e-mails about Hillary Clinton — from Hillary Clinton and from her then campaign manager, John Podesta, which had been stolen by WikiLeaks.

    Do you think that was a coincidence?

  • Andrew McCabe:

    It's hard to say.

    I will say this, though. It's extraordinary the number of events just like that that we now know about. You look back over the course of that period of time, it — I think, as those events add up, it becomes harder and harder to explain them as sheer coincidence or unrelated events.

    The president's own calls to the Russians to find the e-mails and continue, find — to find Hillary Clinton's e-mails, and the now activity that Director Mueller's team has exposed of Russian intelligence individuals doing exactly that, I mean, these things are so close in time, they seem to be responding to each other. We don't know that for a fact. But it's truly curious.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You do write extensively in the book, Andrew McCabe, about after you became the acting director of the FBI, after the president had fired James Comey, that the president was aggressively seeking assurances of personal loyalty from you.

    And you also write he is the most prolific liar you have ever encountered.

    That is saying something from somebody like you, who spent your career dealing with notorious criminals and terrorists.

  • Andrew McCabe:

    It is.

    It's remarkable. It's the kind of thing I think that people should think about more often as they — as they reassess and evaluate where we are as a nation. The fact that the president himself stands before this country on a daily basis and says things that many of us know are not true is just — I don't remember ever living through a time like this.

    It's — it's just incredible.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Of course, he calls you a liar.

  • Andrew McCabe:

    He does.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And has been very, very tough on you.

  • Andrew McCabe:

    He does, as recently as yesterday. The president gave — made remarks to the press yesterday where he continues to perpetuate this false narrative about me, about my wife, about her campaign for state Senate in Virginia in 2015.

    You know, it's sad that we have, as a family, had to not just endure these attacks, but we are starting to expect them. And that's a truly sad commentary on the state of the presidency.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You have described how deeply concerned people were inside the FBI after Director Comey was fired, even conversations about whether the president could be removed from office.

    The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote this week about what they call elites in Washington who far overreacted after the president firing James Comey.

    And I'm quoting. They said: "This elite panic was a bigger threat to constitutional norms than anything Mr. Trump is known to have done."

  • Andrew McCabe:

    Well, they're certainly entitled to their opinion. I see it very differently.

    As the acting director of the FBI, the person responsible for the investigators, my responsibility at that time was to determine what the investigators should be doing.

    And the FBI's guidelines, given to us by the attorney general, are very clear. When we have an articulable basis to believe that there may have been a federal crime committed or there may be a threat to national security, we are obligated to investigate, whether that's the president of the United States or your next-door neighbor or anybody else.

    We don't investigate because we like someone or don't like someone or because they are on one direction or the other on the political spectrum. We investigate because the information in our possession calls us to do so. And that's what we did in May of 2017.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Another question for you.

    Former Chairman of the House Congressional Oversight Committee Trey Gowdy is this week criticizing you for revealing that May 2017 briefing of the so-called Gang of Eight congressional leaders about the fact that you had opened an investigation into President Trump.

    You said that, in that briefing, the Republican leaders in the meeting didn't raise concerns. But Mr. Gowdy is saying you know that congressional leaders just cannot talk about classified briefings like that. So you have been able to put your version of what happened out there. They're not able to respond.

  • Andrew McCabe:

    Well, I think that there's already been discussion of that briefing. Mentions of that briefing have already been in the public sphere.

    So I'm not — I have — in many years of interacting with leaders on the Hill and all kinds of different committees, my experience has not been that they are reluctant to discuss their business.

    But, nevertheless, I have simply related my experience and my observations. And, to be clear, it wasn't just that the Republicans didn't ask questions, and the Democrats did. It was that the deputy attorney general and I convened a group, provided an extensive, detailed briefing, the status of our case. And we didn't receive any questions or pushback or resistance or concern from any of the membership or staff in attendance about the steps that we had taken.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you're saying that they should be able to speak about it?

  • Andrew McCabe:

    No, I'm saying that if — that was the reaction I would respect — I would expect from people who thought that we had done the reasonable and necessary thing. That's what I took away from the briefing, that nobody objected because we had taken a step that was clearly called for by the facts in our possession at that time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Last thing I want to ask you about is your firing from the FBI.

  • Andrew McCabe:

    Sure.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The inspector general said, in so many words, that you were not candid, you didn't tell the truth on a number of different exchanges with the inspector general's office about sharing information with the news media.

    Your attorney said today that the investigation into all this is still under way. And I think the question is, why is this investigation still under way? Who's doing this investigation? Where does this stand?

    I know you have disputed that version of events, but the fact that it's still going on, help us understand what's happening.

  • Andrew McCabe:

    Well, it's maybe a little bit more nuanced than that.

    At the conclusion of their investigation, the Office of Inspector General referred the matter to the D.C. U.S. attorney's office for investigation. And that's where it's still being pursued. So that's what my lawyer was referring to, I think, in those comments.

    It's — they are — whatever work they're doing continues. My attorneys are in our in frequent, regular contact with them. I really can't say much more about it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you have said you plan to sue the Justice Department. Is that correct?

  • Andrew McCabe:

    Well, I did. I will.

    I will bring a civil action against the department, challenging the circumstances around my termination. You know, Judy, I will tell you that I have deep disagreements and I completely reject the conclusions drawn in that report.

    The inspector general is well aware of this. We have — we have made our position clear to him in the past.

    I can tell you that at no time did I ever intentionally mislead anyone, not in his office and not in the FBI. I have been consistent about that. The process that I was put through, both during the investigation and after the conclusion of the report, is not like anything I had ever seen in my time serving in the FBI.

    And I had — oversaw numerous matters that were handled, investigations of alleged employee misconduct. So I will be challenging that process as well.

    And, finally, I don't think it's a surprise to any of us that the result delivered by the inspector general is exactly the one that the president was calling for publicly, a president who long before I had any interactions with the attorney general — with the Inspector General's Office, had made it clear, both to Director Comey and to others, that he wanted me gone.

    So, when you add those circumstances together, all things ignored in the inspector general's report, I think you will see a very different side of things.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Andrew McCabe.

    The book is "The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump."

    Thank you very much.

  • Andrew McCabe:

    Thank you, Judy.

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