Mar. 14 — For Andrew McCabe, the FBI deputy director fired by President Trump just 26 hours before he would have retired with a pension, it’s tougher than ever for anyone to do the job he did for more than 21 years.
The FBI faces a dilemma with “the continuing attacks by the president and his supporters” against the agency’s leaders, whom Trump has called corrupt and biased against him, McCabe said in an hour-long, sold-out appearance before the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.
The FBI can’t “get in a Twitter war with the president,” McCabe said Wednesday. “It’s hard for the bureau to publicly fight back against conspiracy theories, since by fighting back you give oxygen to the lie.”
As someone who is no longer with the FBI, “I’m in a unique position to speak about these things, and that’s one of the reasons I wrote this book,” he said.
McCabe was in town to promote his memoir, “The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terrorism and Trump.” He was interviewed on stage by Audrey Cooper, The Chronicle’s editor in chief.
McCabe took over as acting director of the FBI in May 2017, the day Trump fired the director, James Comey, over what the president later suggested was the bureau’s investigation into Russian efforts to disrupt the 2016 presidential campaign.
McCabe said that after he was asked to take over the agency on a temporary basis, he was called to meet Trump in the Oval Office.
The president came out from behind his desk, shook McCabe’s hand “and began talking nonstop,” the former FBI official said. “It’s an overwhelming experience to talk to the president face to face. He just goes on.”
Trump talked about how proud he was to have fired Comey and that people, especially FBI agents, were pleased that the director was gone, McCabe said. He suggested that McCabe had been part of the “resistance” against Comey.
“I didn’t know of any FBI ‘resistance’ and had worked closely with Comey” on many of the decisions the president opposed, McCabe said. “It was very clear that this was my opportunity, and Trump didn’t like the way I handled it.”
McCabe was fired from the FBI last March, after being suspended for what the Justice Department’s inspector general said were lies he told under oath about leaks of an investigation into the Clinton Foundation. The inspector general concluded that McCabe authorized the leaks.
McCabe said he had learned of his firing online, “the way every important announcement comes these days.” McCabe also denied intentionally making any false statements and said he is preparing a lawsuit against the government in an effort to clear his name and collect his pension.
McCabe said he used his brief time as acting director to tie up loose ends in the FBI’s ongoing investigation into Russian election influence and ensure that it would be difficult for a new director to shut down the project without publicly giving the reasons why.
That investigation was taken over by former FBI Director Robert Mueller in 2017, when he was appointed as special counsel for a probe that apparently is also looking into whether Trump, his aides or campaign officials had untoward contacts with Russian officials.
McCabe, who began his FBI career investigating Russian mobsters in New York City, said those original efforts had found “notable Russian organized crime figures we now know are linked to the Trump Organization.” However, he added that he does not know if Mueller is following these leads.
Asked if he was looking forward to the release of Mueller’s report, he answered quickly:
“Yeah, isn’t everybody?”
While the report will go to only the attorney general, McCabe said that as much of it should be made public as possible.
Even in cases where no criminal charges are filed, the FBI has released reports when there is widespread public interest, McCabe said.
“I can’t think of a case where there is more public interest,” he added.
John Wildermuth is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @jfwildermuth
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