The reasons for McCabe’s abrupt exit are not clear, though. It’s not even clear whether McCabe’s exit came as a surprise to FBI insiders or not. Some reports say yes, while others say no. For what it’s worth, NPR’s Carrie Johnson said in December that McCabe might use accrued leave to depart before March.
At Monday’s press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the president had not played any role in McCabe’s dismissal. This may be true in a narrow sense—Trump may have not ordered his terminal leave—but it’s preposterous in a broader sense. Trump has repeatedly tweeted attacks on McCabe, a move unprecedented before Trump, and according to The Washington Post demanded to know for whom McCabe voted during a meeting in May 2017. The president apparently believes that McCabe is a Democratic plant out to get him, in part because McCabe’s wife ran for state senate in Virginia in 2015, receiving funds from a PAC controlled by then-Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe, a longtime ally of the Clintons. McCabe recused himself from investigations into Virginia political figures, but was reportedly involved in the probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and account, which ended with the FBI recommending against charges for her.
NBC News also reported Monday that after Comey was fired, Trump called McCabe, furious that Comey had been allowed to return home from Los Angeles on a government plane. McCabe reportedly told the president that he had not been asked to approve the flight but would have done so:
The president was silent for a moment and then turned on McCabe, suggesting he ask his wife how it feels to be a loser — an apparent reference to a failed campaign for state office in Virginia that McCabe’s wife made in 2015.
McCabe replied: “OK, sir.” Trump then hung up the phone.
Whether the president explicitly ordered McCabe pushed out is somewhat beside the point: His position was clear. Axios reported last week that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, responding to Trump’s public comments, had asked FBI Director Chris Wray to fire McCabe, but that Wray had refused and threatened to resign.
Assuming both that the White House didn’t deliver the final push now, and that Wray refused to fire McCabe before, what changed to produce his departure?
Fox News reports McCabe was instructed to begin terminal leave in advance of a report from the Justice Department’s inspector general. In January 2017, the inspector general launched an inquiry into several areas: whether Comey ignored DOJ guidelines in making public pronouncements about the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server; whether McCabe should have been recused from the Clinton investigation; whether another DOJ employee should have been recused or gave information to the Clinton campaign; whether DOJ employees leaked information; and whether tweets containing documents about the Clintons shortly before the campaign were improper. The IG’s investigation has not yet become public.