By Sarah Lynch
FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, criticised by President Donald Trump for alleged bias against him and in favour of his 2016 Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, has stepped down as the agency’s No 2 official, a source familiar with the matter said on Monday.
McCabe had been expected to leave the Federal Bureau of Investigation in March. He will remain on leave with the law enforcement agency until his retirement date, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity because a public announcement has not yet been made.
Asked about McCabe’s departure, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters, “I can tell you the president wasn’t part of this decision-making process.” Sanders also said Trump continues to have “full confidence” in the FBI director, Christopher Wray.
McCabe served as acting FBI chief last year after Trump in May fired the agency’s director, James Comey, whose agency was conducting an investigation into potential collusion between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia.
The Republican president later said he dismissed Comey over “this Russia thing”, and the firing has become central to questions about whether Trump has sought to obstruct justice by impeding the Russian probe that Special Counsel Robert Mueller took over after Comey’s ouster. Trump named Wray as FBI director to replace Comey.
An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment on McCabe.
McCabe’s departure comes as Trump and some other Republicans have been stepping up their criticism of the FBI in a move that Democrats call part of a broader effort by Trump’s party to undermine Mueller’s investigation.
Republicans have criticised McCabe in connection with the FBI’s investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server while she served as US secretary of state. No charges were brought against Clinton.
Republicans have noted that McCabe’s wife previously ran for a seat in Virginia’s state Senate and received donations from then-Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a close ally of Hillary and Bill Clinton, the former president.
Trump has taken to Twitter to blast McCabe, asking how he could be in charge of the Clinton probe when his wife got donations from “Clinton Puppets.”
Trump in December referred to the FBI’s reputation as being in “tatters”, and has also publicly criticized US Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia probe, a move that paved the way for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appoint Mueller after Comey’s firing.
A handful of Republican-led congressional committees have launched inquiries into whether the FBI botched the Clinton investigation and showed bias in her favour. In December, McCabe was grilled behind closed doors by lawmakers on several of those panels for hours.
Democrats have said those inquiries are intended to undermine and distract from Mueller’s investigation.
The Justice Department’s inspector general is still conducting his own review into the FBI’s handling of the Clinton investigation. McCabe’s role is among those under scrutiny.
The inspector general is also looking into whether Comey made improper decisions, including his decision to announce the FBI would not recommend charges and his subsequent decision to publicly announce he was re-opening the investigation just 11 days before the 2016 election, after new emails were discovered.
McCabe began his FBI career as a special agent in 1996, where he was assigned to the New York Field Office to investigate and supervise organised crime.