Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced late Friday that he was firing FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, a frequent target of attacks from President Donald Trump. Mr. Sessions said that he dismissed Mr. McCabe, a career FBI agent who oversaw both the Clinton e-mail investigation and the FBI’s Russia probe, for “a lack of candor” in statements to the Department of Justice’s internal watchdog about an unauthorized disclosure to a Wall Street Journal reporter in 2016. That is a credible enough explanation, but Mr. Trump’s evident disdain for Mr. McCabe complicates the picture.

Mr. McCabe has been portrayed by Mr. Trump and his defenders as the villain in what they claim is a politically-motivated FBI plot against Mr. Trump in support of his election rival Hillary Clinton. And, Mr. Trump has publically vented his frustration with Mr. Sessions’ that he didn’t fire him sooner. “Why didn’t A.G. Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation,” Mr. Trump tweeted in June.

After news broke that Mr. McCabe had finally been sacked, Mr. Trump took to Twitter for a victory lap. “Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI – A great day for Democracy,” Mr. Trump proclaimed.

Mr. Trump and his allies’ primary complaint about Mr. McCabe relates to donations to Mr. McCabe’s wife’s unsuccessful 2015 campaign as a Democrat for Virginia State Senate by Common Good VA, a Super PAC controlled by Terry Mcauliffe, a close ally of the Clintons and the then governor of Virginia. Evidence, they say, that Mr. McCabe is a politically motivated ne’er-do-well.

Mr. McCabe, unsurprisingly, disagreed. “Here is the reality: I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey,” Mr. McCabe said in a statement.

For his part, Mr. Sessions maintains that the decision was unrelated to Mr. Trump’s calls for McCabe’s head. Instead, he says, McCabe was fired based on the recommendation of career officials at the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) and the findings of a yet to be released report on a broader investigation into the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email investigation and the Russia probe conducted by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) led by Michael Horowitz, a well-regarded career Justice Department official.

“Both the OIG and FBI OPR reports concluded that Mr. McCabe had made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor − including under oath − on multiple occasions,” he said in a statement late Friday. “…The F.B.I. expects every employee to adhere to the highest standards of honesty, integrity and accountability. I have terminated the employment of Andrew McCabe effective immediately.”

As Mr. McCabe’s defenders are eager to point out, the story in question had nothing to do with Mr. Trump and wasn’t exactly favorable to Mrs. Clinton either. The October 2016 Wall Street Journal report by Devlin Barrett chronicled a dispute between the FBI and the Justice Department about how aggressively to pursue a probe into the Clinton Foundation. In it, Mr. McCabe’s allies portray him as advocating continued investigation of the Clinton-linked charity over the objections of Justice Department prosecutors who saw little merit in the case.

Mr. McCabe contends that his actions were entirely appropriate and that he was merely trying to defend the FBI against perceptions that the Bureau was not pursuing the Clinton Foundation case vigorously enough. “The FBI was portrayed as caving under that pressure, and making decisions for political rather than law enforcement purposes. Nothing was further from the truth,” McCabe said in his statement. “In fact, this entire investigation stems from my efforts, fully authorized under FBI rules, to set the record straight on behalf of the Bureau, and to make clear that we were continuing an investigation that people in DOJ opposed.”

Mr. McCabe maintains that interactions with journalists were neither unusual nor inappropriate. “The OIG investigation has focused on information I chose to share with a reporter through my public affairs officer and a legal counselor,” his statement said. “As Deputy Director, I was one of only a few people who had the authority to do that..I answered questions truthfully and as accurately as I could amidst the chaos that surrounded me. And when I thought my answers were misunderstood, I contacted investigators to correct them.”

It’s hard to know who is right without seeing the OIG’s report. Still, from what we know so far,  Mr. McCabe’s dismissal seems to have gone through the proper process. The FBI takes the honesty of its agents seriously and lack of candor is absolutely a fireable offense. The Justice Department took great care to avoid the perception that Mr. McCabe was sacked at the behest of Mr. Trump by emphasizing that the decision was guided by career civil service officials.

But, Mr. Trump’s past calls for Mr. McCabe’s ouster were sure to make his dismissal controversial. And, Mr. Trump’s tweets trumpeting it did nothing to diminish Mr. McCabe’s claim that he is a victim of a “larger effort not just to slander me personally, but to taint the FBI, law enforcement, and intelligence professionals more generally. It is part of this Administration’s ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the Special Counsel investigation, which continue to this day.”

 

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