Michael Bromwich, McCabe’s attorney, said in a statement that Trump’s attacks on McCabe were “quite clearly designed to put inappropriate pressure on the Attorney General to act accordingly.” McCabe decided to step down in January, having by then become a frequent target of the president. But he wanted to make it effective this month so he could receive his full benefits.
Dave Gomez, a former FBI agent and a senior fellow at George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, echoed Miller’s assessment that the timing was linked to Trump. “I think there’s a substantial amount of evidence that this is the result of retaliation on the part of the Justice Department and the White House,” Gomez told me. “While there might have been sufficient cause to fire him under FBI rules, the way it was done, [shortly] before retirement, smacks of a vindictive and retaliatory nature.”
Ali Soufan, a former FBI agent who now runs the Soufan Group security firm, suggested the charge that McCabe “lacked candor” was hypocritical. He pointed to Sessions’s own testimony under oath to the Senate last year, in which he falsely stated he had no contact with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign. “He was fired for lack of candor by people who have no candor,” Soufan said.
McCabe joins a growing list of FBI officials to be demoted or pushed out of the bureau in recent months. James Baker, a top FBI lawyer and Comey ally, was reassigned to a different post in December. James Rybicki, Comey’s former chief of staff, was also replaced.
And then there’s Comey himself. His May 2017 dismissal was publicly justified as a consequence of his departure from Justice Department protocol ahead of an election—first, with his July press conference in the Clinton case, and later with his October letter to Congress stating that the Clinton email probe had been reopened.
The latter decision, made just days before the 2016 presidential election, was based on the possibility that new evidence had been found; no additional evidence ever was. At the time, the FBI was also investigating links between the Trump campaign and Russia, though that probe did not become public knowledge until months into the Trump administration.
Despite the initial justification for Comey’s dismissal, the president later told NBC News that he was thinking about “this Russia thing” when he decided to fire him.
Soufan said that the McCabe firing, combined with the recent nomination of Gina Haspel to be CIA director, sent a clear message to law-enforcement and intelligence officials. Haspel is a longtime CIA official who oversaw a secret “black site” in Thailand where detainees were subject to waterboarding and other so-called enhanced interrogation techniques; she was later involved in the decision to destroy videotapes of waterboarding sessions.
“A lot of these FBI agents have families, mortgages, kids, and they just want to put fear in your heart. They want to make you think twice before doing your job,” Soufan said. “At the same time, you can destroy tapes, torture people, and we’ll have your back.
“It’s a very chilling message,” he said.