Sorry Trump, A Top FBI Official’s Departure Isn’t As Sketchy As You Think

Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, attends a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 11, 2017. It is an annual hearing about the major threats facing the U.S., but former FBI Director Jim Comey's sudden firing is certain to be a focus of questions. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Jacquelyn Martin/AP

What President Trump suggested is an embattled FBI official’s suspicious run for the exits may actually be a fairly typical career step for the FBI’s upper management, former officials at the bureau told TPM.

Reports over the weekend that Andrew McCabe — the FBI deputy director who has become a target of conservative criticism — is expected to depart early next year drove Trump to weigh in on Twitter.

As the reports mentioned, McCabe will become eligible for a full retirement package in March, and is expected to step down then.

The FBI did not return TPM’s request for comment.

But former officials at the bureau say that the GOP accusations against McCabe are likely playing only a limited role in his decision, and that his departure is probably driven by other factors that most agents of McCabe’s age and career trajectory face.

“I don’t think there’s anything singularly unique about his decision to depart once he’s eligible to depart,” Michael Mason, a former FBI executive assistant director, told TPM. “What’s unusual is that it is being characterized as if he is trying to escape some kind of punishment or something, which I do not think is a driver for him at all.”

McCabe is 49 years old, has been at the FBI for more than two decades and served as acting director while Trump’s pick to lead it, Christopher Wray, was confirmed.

It’s not uncommon for FBI officials to leave in their early 50s, particularly given how the bureau’s pension plan is set up, former FBI officials told TPM.

According to Marc Ruskin — who spent 20 years as an FBI special agent and is the author of “The Pretender,” about his time undercover — once an FBI official has climbed as far up the ladder as McCabe has climbed, there’s nowhere else to go or ways to increase one’s salary within the agency.

“It’s the norm, especially in upper management,” for officials to leave once they become eligible for retirement, Ruskin said.

Mark Rossini, a former FBI unit chief who spent 17 years at the bureau, said that “it doesn’t make economic sense to stay any longer beyond your eligible retirement date.”

“A lot of people at that senior executive level are solicited for private sector jobs, so it would make sense that if you’re eligible to go, you might as well go,” Rossini told TPM.

McCabe has become a subject of attacks by Trump and his allies due to his wife’s unsuccessful run for Virginia state Senate in 2015; a PAC led by then Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) (or “Clinton Puppet,” as Trump put it), donated to her campaign, prompting claims that McCabe was biased while overseeing the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server.

The scrutiny increased when he was referenced in texts exchanged by two top FBI officials who were working on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. The two officials, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, also expressed ant-Trump sentiments, leading to Strzok’s removal from Mueller’s team. (Page, who also had worked under McCabe, had left the probe prior to the revelation of the texts).

Republicans have attacked McCabe and have accused him of stonewalling their inquiries. As Mueller’s probe has heated up, some GOP lawmakers have called for a “purge” of the top levels of the Justice Department, alleging an anti-Trump bias.

According to the Washington Post, some law enforcement officials worry about the message McCabe’s departure sends since it appears to be an appeasement of the Republican demands.

The former FBI officials that TPM spoke to didn’t deny that the political pressure could have weighed in on McCabe’s decision.

“Given all that’s going on right now in Washington, I would assume that Andy just probably has had enough,” Rossini said. “But it could be purely financial. I’m not aware of any law that would allow him to be terminated in for any way shape or form without just cause.”

Ruskin pointed out that, while seven figure salaries might await McCabe in the private sector now, the value of those offers may diminish as his reputation continues to take a beating by conservatives.

“He may figure that this is the best time for him to take the money and run,” Ruskin said.

Regardless, the former officials said to be wary of Trump’s spin around McCabe’s departure.

“All the president is doing is casting the die do that if this investigation happens to target somebody close to him or the President himself, he can say ‘I told you so, they were after to me to begin with,’” Mason said.

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