The early departure of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe has led to a spasm of speculation and criticism ranging from Comey’s warning of the destruction of FBI knuckling under President Donald Trump to overwrought analogies to the rise of Hitler by one CNN commentator. However, there are indications that McCabe may have been shown the door by FBI Director Chris Wray and even told that he faced demotion in light of an internal investigation. Notably, on the eve of this disclosure a story was leaked that detailed the conversation between McCabe and Trump where Trump taunts McCabe about his wife being a political “loser.” If true, the comments were shocking and distasteful but the emergence of these conflicting accounts show the intense struggle in Washington to control the narrative following McCabe taking leave pending his retirement. There have also been allegations of leaks by McCabe as both sides seeks to frame this controversy.
What is also notable is the continued leaks from Trump’s inner circle. A new report describes Trump having a “tirade” on Air Force One because a top Justice Department official objected to the release of the four-page memo. The content and speed of his leak is clearly meant to damage Trump and has to be coming from within his close staff — a recurring problem. The motivation behind these leaks is an interesting question. It is not clear if it is meant to simply damage or somehow to deter the President .
CNN is reporting that Wray hinted in a message of FBI employees that McCabe was forced out and did not voluntarily take his leave. The impression left by the memo was that this followed Wray looking at a forthcoming inspector general report about the FBI’s conduct during the 2016 election. It has also been noted that the leave was taken after Wray personally read the controversial four-page memo being released by the House committee.
The abrupt departure of McCabe obviously played into the association with these investigations but Wray amplified those connections in his message to staff.
Notably, after the Comey termination, we saw his leaking of his memos which notably changed the narrative over Comey’s past performance issues. I have written that the memos, which would have inevitably been reviewed by the investigators, were leaked for tactical reasons by Comey. The same purpose may be behind the sudden leaking of the alleged conversation between Trump and McCabe after Comey’s termination.
In the conversation, Trump demands to know why Comey was allowed to fly back to Washington on an FBI plane after he was fired. Comey learned of his termination from news reports. I (and others) have criticized the Administration for not giving Comey advanced notice as a simple matter of courtesy and professionalism. Comey was caught out of town by the news. Trump was irate that the FBI flew him home and McCabe correctly noted that, while he was not asked, he would have given Comey permission to return on the plane. That would, in my view, be the decent thing to do for a longtime public servant who was blindsided by this news — as opposed to abandoning him to find a way back. Trump, according to the report, was silent after McCabe’s response and told him to ask his wife what it felt like to be a loser. McCabe reportedly responded by saying simply “OK, sir,” before Trump hung up.
If the account is true, it is highly disconcerting that a president would engage in such taunting or begrudge Comey a return flight. It is also interesting however that this story would be released by someone with news of McCabe’s alleged forced departure from the agency.