Andrew McCabe: FBI Investigations Into Trump ‘Were Extraordinary Steps’

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Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe says it's not normal for the bureau to open investigations into the president.

"We don't have a lot of experience with investigating presidents of the United States," McCabe says. "There is not a standard S.O.P. on the shelf that you pull down to say, 'Here's how it's done.'"

Nevertheless, McCabe told 60 Minutes on Sunday that after former FBI Director James Comey was fired in the spring of 2017, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein mentioned using the 25th Amendment to challenge Trump. McCabe, then acting FBI director, opened counterintelligence and obstruction of justice investigations into the president.

McCabe stresses that the decision to investigate the president was not made lightly.

"These were extraordinary steps. They were ones that we took only after great consideration and review," McCabe says. "This was the recommendation of the investigators who were already looking into the Russia case, the idea that Russia may have meddled in our election."

Before authorizing the investigation, McCabe shared his reasoning with the "Gang of Eight," a bipartisan group of senators and Congressional representatives who oversees intelligence issues.

"In that process, no one objected [to the investigation]," he says. "The leadership on the Hill did not disagree."

The president may have taken exception to the investigation, however; in March 2018, McCabe was fired from the FBI, just 26 hours before his scheduled retirement.

Trump responded to McCabe's ouster by tweeting: "Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI - A great day for Democracy."

McCabe points to that tweet as further evidence that Trump is undermining the efforts of the nation's top law enforcement agency.

"It is just taking us one step closer to the world of bullying and fear that this president prefers to function in," McCabe says. "It makes the job harder for the men and women of the FBI to protect America."

McCabe's new book is The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump.

Interview highlights

On President Trump and Fox News host Sean Hannity characterizing McCabe's conversation with Rosenstein about the 25th Amendment as a "coup"

The fact that the president uses a word, or that right-wing media uses a word, or that Sean Hannity uses the same word, simply does not make it true. I mean, we know that many of the words that all three of those folks use are frequently false and, in my own experience, proven to be slanderous and incredibly hurtful. But nevertheless, I will answer it directly: To characterize those comments by Rod Rosenstein as a "coup" is just utterly ridiculous.

On Sen. Lindsey Graham's vow to hold a hearing with McCabe about the 25th Amendment conversation

I will cooperate with the committee in whatever way I can. ... I will take every step I possibly can to sit down with the committee and tell them what I know. But I will say this: If all they are interested in is Rod Rosenstein's mention of the 25th Amendment or Rod Rosenstein's offer to wear a wire — if that's all they're interested in — it will be a very short and uneventful hearing.

I invite the committee, or any other committee on the Hill, to look beyond that, to ask themselves why is it two of the highest ranking officials in the Department of Justice and the FBI in May of 2017 had to even consider the fact that the president of the United States might pose a national security risk to this country. I think that would be a much broader hearing and a much more interesting and important one.

On what made the FBI believe that the president might pose a threat to national security

There were a number of things that we considered over the weeks leading up to [FBI Director] Jim [Comey]'s firing. And then, of course, the firing itself, really, I think, changed the way that we added up all those elements of kind of circumstantial evidence.

The president was clearly dissatisfied with or angry about the existence of the Russia investigation. He had publicly attacked it. I know this seems quaint now, because it's been going on for years, but at the time to see the president publicly attacking and undermining the investigation was concerning to us, because, again, it raised the question: Why would he engage in this? Why would he say these things?

The fact that he came to Jim Comey and asked Jim Comey to get rid of the investigation into Michael Flynn was greatly concerning to us. The fact that he insisted that the director publicly announce that he was not under investigation was also somewhat concerning to us then. So that's kind of where we were before Jim Comey was fired.

Then, of course, he fires the director of the FBI, makes a series of of odd statements about his decision to do so, culminating with the public announcement to Lester Holt in that now infamous NBC interview where he said, "Yes, I was thinking about Russia when I fired the director." And then, of course, he follows that with the comments to the Russians themselves about having fired the director, and how that had released a lot of the pressure that was on him. All of those circumstances put us in a position where we couldn't any longer deny the fact that we were in possession of articulable facts that might indicate a national security threat could exist.

On an instance where Trump didn't listen to what his intelligence officers were telling him

He was very focused on North Korea and the fact that the North Koreans had recently test-launched several missiles, which is a topic that was concerning everyone at the time. He shared with the group that he did not believe that the North Koreans had actually launched any missiles. He did not believe that they had the capacity to launch missiles. And he explained that he didn't believe that because he had been told that by the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin. ...

That's a very troubling thing to hear, as a senior intelligence officer and as one of the people responsible for getting information to the president and his staff for the purpose of making the decisions that they need to make. So when you are doing that in an environment where the president has made it pretty clear that he doesn't trust the intelligence agencies, he doesn't trust the process, that is a very hard problem to fix.

On interviewing with Trump for the FBI director position following Comey's firing

The president began our interaction by launching into about a five minute monologue on the Electoral College results in North Carolina from the 2016 campaign, which, quite frankly, was a topic I could not speak to. I didn't really know anything about that. So I kind of sat there and just listened to what he had to say.

He then kind of spun off in a few different directions. He talked a lot about how great it was that I was there interviewing for the job. ... I thought that the chances were probably not good at that point that I'd be getting the job, but you know I was still honored to be asked. And that's an interview that I don't think any FBI agent would ever turn down. ...

He's an overwhelming communicator. He talks quickly. He jumps from topic to topic and then sometimes gets kind of stalled on one particular thought that he'll repeat several times. He kind of sits behind the desk but leans forward with his hands out towards you, gestures a lot with his hands. It's hard really to get a word in under any circumstances. I thought a job interview might be more of an exchange, but it turned out not to be.

On being fired from the FBI

The president has a pretty well-known and well-established habit of attacking people who say things that he doesn't like, and he attempts to destroy first someone's credibility so that others won't listen to what they say, or believe what they say. So the fact that that's exactly what he has done to me here really shouldn't have been a surprise. I think I probably should have seen this coming.

On working in the '90s in the FBI Organized Crime Task Force and following Russian organized crime in New York

Part of the work we did on the squad was to really try to watch and understand and hamper the efforts of major organized crime figures overseas, Russian organized crime figures overseas, who were at that time attempting to establish a foothold in the United States for their criminal activity, or for their purportedly legitimate business activity. And that's something that concerned us greatly. Do I recognize some of the names we are currently talking about now? I absolutely do.

Sam Briger and Seth Kelley produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Meghan Sullivan adapted it for the Web.

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