Andrew McCabe was the Deputy FBI Director, and he had already planned to retire in March, but today we learned that he is moving up his timeline. Pete Williams of NBC broke the story simply saying that McCabe is going to remain on “terminal leave” until he can retire with full benefits in mid-March. Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo of the New York Times reported that the FBI Director, Christopher Wray, suggested moving McCabe to a different post in light of the inspector general’s pending report on the FBI’s investigation into both Hillary’s e-mail server and Russian influence in the 2016 election. McCabe reportedly chose to retire early than take what was effectively a demotion.
Under normal circumstances, this would be a minor story. A law-enforcement officer retiring six weeks early isn’t something that should send shockwaves through the news, but we left normalcy a long time ago. Given how little we know about this decision, it’s impossible to view it without taking the President of the United States’ attacks on the McCabe into consideration.
On top of this smear campaign, one of Trump's chief allies in the House of Representatives, Devin Nunes, has been pushing to release a memo he wrote based off classified information that supposedly paints the FBI in a negative light. He refuses to give it to either the FBI or the Department of Justice to review. Per the New York Times:
The memo's primary contention is that F.B.I. and Justice Department officials failed to adequately explain to an intelligence court judge in initially seeking a warrant for surveillance of Mr. [Carter] Page that they were relying in part on research by an investigator, Christopher Steele, that had been financed by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign.
Side note: This is abhorrent journalism by the Times. It is widely known that the conservative site, Free Beacon, initially commissioned the Steele dossier before Democrats picked it up in the general election. Both parties funded the dossier. Sadly, this is the more the norm than the exception amongst how mainstream media covers the genesis of the infamous Trump dossier. For some reason, they're afraid to say it was initially funded by conservatives, even though the hyperlink above is to Free Beacon admitting that they did initially fund the dossier.
The problem with this supposed allegation by the memo is that a judge, not executive staff at the FBI, determines whether a FISA warrant will be approved, and the Deputy Attorney General (Rod Rosenstein) is almost always the one to approve the submission of an application to the FISA court, not senior leadership at the FBI. This is a bank shot designed to smear the FBI as being in the tank for the Democrats while painting Carter freaking Page and Donald freaking Trump as victims.
This was going to be where my story initially ended, and it was supposed to just be a recap of what happened with the Deputy FBI Director and how it may or may not fit in with existing Republican attacks on the FBI. While there is a lot of smoke surrounding the connection to Trump, the memo, and McCabe's departure, there was no conclusive fire. I stepped out to grab lunch to let more reports come in so I could better understand what actually happened here, and Trump Jr. did more to confirm that this may all be connected than any news outlet has so far.
I'm only including this in order to fairly portray President Trump's side here, but also: nothing that's said by any White House Press Secretary should ever be taken as gospel.
Now, there is another very plausible explanation for why McCabe was pushed out early, and it has nothing to do with any of Jr.'s insinuations above, nor the GOP's war on the FBI. This all sounds a lot less harrowing when you frame it in the context of “the new FBI Director wanted his own deputy.”
However, even if this was a normal procedure, and not a replay of the James Comey episode, that still hasn't stopped Trumplandia from framing McCabe's departure as related to the FBI being in the tank for Democrats. To recap where we are heading into Trump's first State of the Union tomorrow:
— A former member of Trump's transition team wants to release a classified memo that he wrote, which paints senior leadership in the FBI as inherently biased towards Democrats.
— He does not want to share it with either the FBI or the DOJ. Nunes wants Congress to vote to release it, and then the White House will have legal cover to bypass the DOJ and publish classified information.
— That vote is being held today, the same day the Deputy FBI Director retired about six weeks earlier than he planned to, as well as a day before Trump's State of the Union.
— The president's son insinuated that McCabe's resignation has to do with Nunes' partisan memo.
— This all comes on the heels of a smear campaign against two other FBI agents whose anti-Trump texts were selectively leaked (leaving out their anti-Hillary and anti-Bernie texts, amongst other politicians they disliked), with GOP Senator Ron Johnson—head of the Senate Homeland Security Committee—accusing the FBI of being under the sway of a “secret society.” Yes, really.
— Trump's own Department of Justice opposes this memo's release without being able to review and redact classified information, and yet:
If the worst is to be believed about this saga, the Trump camp whipped up a phony memo that’s being pushed by his chief sycophant in Congress, all to discredit the FBI the same day the Deputy Director was reportedly forced out earlier than he had planned. On top of this, Trump reportedly asked the Deputy FBI Director who he voted for, and chastised him for his wife’s campaign—likely in a similar vein as his tweets above. Additionally, reports surfaced that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was pressuring FBI Director Christopher Wray to fire McCabe. NBC News reported that Trump asked Andrew McCabe the day after he fired Comey why the former FBI Director was allowed to fly on an FBI plane after he was fired, and in response to McCabe saying he didn’t know, but would have approved it, Trump took a shot at McCabe’s wife: asking him to ask her what it felt like to be a loser.
It’s pretty simple to see what’s going on: the Republican Party is smearing the FBI while it is investigating the Republican President for obstruction of justice and any nefarious connections he has to Russia. They are prioritizing protecting Trump over respecting the rule of law. The only question remaining is to what degree this plan tries to discredit the FBI. The past week’s events provide unsettling events which suggest this madness is not confined to the fringes of the GOP, but is now standard Republican dogma.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.