Is Trump a Russian asset? 'I can't rule that out,' says ex-FBI head Andrew McCabe
FBI had 'reasonable belief' to suggest Trump had ties to Russia, Andrew McCabe says
Former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, who led the bureau for three months last year, contends a "crime may have been committed" during U.S. President Donald Trump's dismissal of FBI chief James Comey.
McCabe assumed the FBI's No. 1 spot following the abrupt firing of Comey in May 2017 and immediately opened counterintelligence and obstruction of justice investigations into potential election meddling, Russian collusion and any other wrongdoing.
He explains the decision was prompted by mounting evidence, which suggested Trump may have ties to Russia.
"We had facts that we could not deny [that] clearly formed the basis of a belief that the president may have committed a federal crime — that being obstruction of justice — and that he may present a threat to national security," McCabe told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti in his first Canadian interview.
"You know, there was really nothing else for us to do. To have failed to open a case under those circumstances, I think, would have been a dereliction of duty."
Watch McCabe explain what led him to investigate Trump:
When asked if Trump is a Russian asset, McCabe said: "I can't rule that out."
"I anxiously await the results of [Special Counsel Robert] Mueller's investigation and hopefully we'll have that question answered," he said of the ongoing probe into potential co-ordination between Russia and Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.
McCabe outlined a series of interactions with Trump, which he says led him to question whether the president was a threat to national security and trying to obstruct justice in his newly released book, The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump.
"The facts, as we knew them at that time, so clearly indicated a reasonable belief that those conditions existed," he said.
On the night of Comey's firing, McCabe explains that he was summoned to the Justice Department. There he met the attorney general, who he says asked him to fill the FBI's top job on an interim basis.
"As I crossed the office to shake his hand, he said: 'I don't know if you've heard, but we've had to fire the director of the FBI,'" McCabe recalled.
"I was both stunned and surprised, but also very focused on kind of not reacting in that way."
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Later that evening, McCabe says Trump requested a one-on-one meeting with him at the White House, where he referred to Comey's dismissal as a "great thing" that "people in the FBI were happy about."
"All things that were in complete contrast to the reality that I had just seen at FBI headquarters," he said, pointing out that his colleagues were "distressed and shocked" and didn't understand the reasons behind it.
To have failed to open a case under those circumstances, I think, would have been a dereliction of duty.- Andrew McCabe
McCabe also claims that Trump told him, "I heard you were part of the resistance" that didn't approve of Comey's leadership and his treatment of the Clinton email case.
"I realized that he was offering me the opportunity to adopt his narrative," he said of the president's comments.
"I see it now as my own loyalty test … Would I go along with the facts and the circumstances that he was trying to engineer or was I on the other side?"
He added: "It was, of course, contrary to the truth and it was not something that I could do."
Two days later, top FBI officials launched investigations into the president.
McCabe claims the underlying reasons he set the investigations into motion immediately after being asked to serve as acting director was because Trump had made it clear he "might not be in the job long."
In fact, McCabe held the position for nearly three months before it was filled.
"I wanted to make sure that the cases we had were on solid ground, that the investigative efforts we felt should be taken, were documented ... so that if anyone came in behind me with the goal of kind of eliminating those investigations, they couldn't do it without establishing a clear record of their own decisions," he said.
Trump's 'war' on the FBI
McCabe, a longtime and frequent target of Trump's anger, was fired on March 2018 by then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions — just two days before his planned retirement date.
Sessions cited an internal investigation that concluded McCabe continually leaked information to reporters, was not forthcoming about the FBI's handling of the email probe into former Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton, and misled investigators about his actions.
Trump has also repeatedly slammed McCabe for being biased against his administration, alleging the 20-year FBI veteran is part of a deep state plot to overturn his presidency.
"He and Rod Rosenstein, who was hired by Jeff Sessions (another beauty), look like they were planning a very illegal act, and got caught," Trump said on Twitter.
"This was the illegal and treasonous 'insurance policy' in full action."
Wow, so many lies by now disgraced acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe. He was fired for lying, and now his story gets even more deranged. He and Rod Rosenstein, who was hired by Jeff Sessions (another beauty), look like they were planning a very illegal act, and got caught.....—@realDonaldTrump
....There is a lot of explaining to do to the millions of people who had just elected a president who they really like and who has done a great job for them with the Military, Vets, Economy and so much more. This was the illegal and treasonous “insurance policy” in full action!—@realDonaldTrump
The one-time FBI chief has disputed the findings as "absolutely ridiculous," claiming he was wrongfully targeted over the Russia probe as part of Trump's "war" on the bureau.
"We're pretty familiar at this point with the president's tweets and the falsehoods in the exaggerations they routinely contain, but this one really stretches the bounds," he told Tremonti.
"To throw around words like coup and treason ... inflammatory terms that are, I think, intentionally designed to get people's attention off the facts and focused on the false narrative that the president is trying to perpetuate."
Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.
Written by Amara McLaughlin. With files from Thompson Reuters and The Associated Press. Produced by Howard Goldenthal.
- An earlier version of this story attributed a quote regarding James Comey's dismissal to Donald Trump. In fact, Andrew McCabe was informed of Comey's firing by the attorney general.Feb 21, 2019 9:16 AM ET