Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe said in an interview aired Thursday that he had rushed to authorize an investigation into possible obstruction of justice by the president out of fear that the president would soon fire him.
“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 would not be closed or vanish in the night without a trace,” McCabe told CBS, which will air its full interview on 60 Minutes on Sunday.
According to McCabe, he opened the probe just one day after meeting with the president in May 2017, soon after Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey. McCabe served as the bureau’s acting director for 10 months before being fired just hours before he was set to retire. While it had been previously reported that Comey’s firing was what led the FBI to open a probe into the president’s possible obstruction of justice and his Russia connections—and whether those ties made him a counterintelligence risk—Thursday marks the first time McCabe has spoken publicly about the decision to open an investigation into the president.
“I was speaking to the man who had just run for the presidency, and won the election for the presidency, and who might have done so with the aid of the government of Russia, our most formidable adversary on the world stage, and that was something that troubled me greatly,” McCabe said in the interview.
Scott Pelley, who interviewed McCabe for CBS, also said that the former acting FBI director had confirmed the earlier reported story that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was not joking about wearing a wire in meetings with the president—that instead “it came up more than once and it was so serious that he took it to the lawyers at the FBI to discuss it,” he said.
Pelley also described learning from the interview about eight hectic days between Comey’s firing and Mueller’s appointment as special counsel. “There were meetings at the Justice Department at which it was discussed whether the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet could be brought together to remove the president of the United States under the 25th Amendment,” Pelley said. “And the highest levels of American law enforcement were trying to figure out what do with the president.”
Rosenstein denied McCabe’s account of both Rosenstein’s alleged offer to record the president and the conversations about invoking the 25th Amendment, according to a Department of Justice spokesman.
As the interview aired, the Atlantic also published an excerpt of McCabe’s book that detailed his push to have a special counsel oversee the Russia Investigation while emphasizing his sense that the president’s buffoonery had debased the office.
In the excerpt, McCabe described what he considered an unusual call from the president just after Comey’s firing, asking to visit the FBI “to show all my FBI people how much I love them.” According to McCabe, Comey’s firing had not been well received news at the FBI, where he was popular.
The president said, I’m good. You know—boy, it’s incredible, it’s such a great thing, people are really happy about the fact that the director’s gone, and it’s just remarkable what people are saying. Have you seen that? Are you seeing that, too?
He went on: I received hundreds of messages from FBI people—how happy they are that I fired him. There are people saying things on the media, have you seen that?
According to McCabe, the president also railed against Comey’s use of a government plane to return home after his firing (the news of it broke while he was giving a speech in Los Angeles).
Since the members of the protection detail would all be coming home, it made sense to bring everybody back on the same plane they had used to fly out there. … The president flew off the handle: That’s not right! I don’t approve of that! That’s wrong! He reiterated his point five or seven times.
I said, I’m sorry that you disagree, sir. But it was my decision, and that’s how I decided. The president said, I want you to look into that! I thought to myself: What am I going to look into? I just told you I made that decision.
The ranting against Comey spiraled. I waited until he had talked himself out.
And as one last anecdote about inappropriate behavior from the president during that phone call, McCabe described the president asking about McCabe’s wife, Jill, who in 2015 had lost her bid—as a Democrat—for a state Senate seat.
He said, How is your wife? I said, She’s fine. He said, When she lost her election, that must have been very tough to lose. How did she handle losing? Is it tough to lose?
I replied, I guess it’s tough to lose anything. But she’s rededicated herself to her career and her job and taking care of kids in the emergency room….
He replied in a tone that sounded like a sneer. He said, “Yeah, that must’ve been really tough. To lose. To be a loser.”
Trump and McCabe have not masked their dislike of one another, and even as McCabe was still serving as acting FBI director, the president incorrectly claimed that McCabe had received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Hillary Clinton through contributions to his wife’s campaign. In Dec. 2017, McCabe announced he planned to retire early in 2018 when he became eligible for pension benefits, but then–Attorney General Jeff Sessions went on to announce McCabe had been fired just hours before he could claim those benefits. Trump, who had in the meantime renewed attacks on McCabe’s wife, then tweeted gleefully about McCabe’s firing. Since then, McCabe has been open about his disdain for the president.
On Thursday, after McCabe’s CBS interview, Trump again tweeted his thoughts on his former acting FBI director.
Support our independent journalism
Readers like you make our work possible. Help us continue to provide the reporting, commentary, and criticism you won’t find anywhere else.Join Slate Plus