Andrew McCabe, frequent Trump target at FBI, stepping down early

FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, a frequent target of President Donald Trump’s criticism who led the bureau for three months last year, is leaving his position ahead of a previously planned retirement this spring, people familiar with the decision said Monday.

McCabe had been widely expected to retire upon his eligibility date, but his departure from the FBI’s No. 2 slot is effective Monday, according to the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an internal personnel move.

McCabe alerted FBI staff of his decision Monday. He is expected to retire with his pension benefits.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Monday that Trump played no role in the decision-making process, characterizing it as an internal matter for the agency, but the bureau and the Justice Department have been on the receiving end of repeated public criticism from the president.

McCabe has been the subject of a series of tweets over the past months since the fall. The president has tried to taint McCabe due to his association with former colleague James Comey, the FBI director whom Trump fired in May and then accused of lying in testimony on Capitol Hill.

Two days after Comey’s firing, McCabe pushed back at a congressional hearing against White House assertions that Comey had lost the support of the FBI workforce, telling lawmakers at a hearing, “I can tell you that the majority, the vast majority of FBI employees, enjoyed a deep and positive connection to Director Comey.”

Holder defends McCabe

Trump has also highlighted McCabe’s wife’s bid for a Virginia Senate seat in 2013, during which she received donations from prominent Democrats.

The FBI has said McCabe received the necessary ethics approval before his wife received the donations, and that at the time of the contributions, he was not in a supervisory role of the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email use.

McCabe served as acting director of the FBI after Comey was fired, with the director position eventually filled by Christopher Wray, who was confirmed in August.

Comey’s departure helped pave the way for the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to look into potential election meddling, Russian collusion and any other wrongdoing uncovered in the probe.

Trump, as well as several Republicans in Congress, have seized upon texts sent by a former member of Mueller’s investigation team, Peter Strzok, to discredit the special counsel probe. This is despite the fact that the appointment of Mueller last year was met with bipartisan praise.

Trump has expressed frustration he can’t become personally involved in the workings of the FBI and the Justice Department, even though tradition has dictated that criminal inquiries launched by the federal government should operate free from the political influence of the White House.

“The saddest thing is that because I’m the president of the United States, I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department,” he told conservative radio host Larry O’Connor in a November interview.

“I’m not supposed to be involved with the FBI. I’m not supposed to be doing the kind of things that I would love to be doing,” he said.

Eric Holder, attorney general under Barack Obama, praised McCabe on Monday and blasted what he said were “bogus attacks on the FBI and DOJ.”

According to a biography on the FBI website, McCabe first joined the bureau in 1996. He was named deputy director on Feb. 1, 2016, after years spent in the agency’s counterterrorism and organized crime units.

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