Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein removed then-Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe from the Russia investigation in May 2017 upon appointing special counsel Robert Mueller to take over the probe, according to a Feb. 14 statement by the Department of Justice.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) disclosed Rosenstein’s order in response to allegations McCabe made in a yet-to-be-aired interview with CBS, the content of which was partly revealed on Feb. 14.
“The deputy attorney general in fact appointed special counsel Robert Mueller, and directed that Mr. McCabe be removed from any participation in that investigation,” a DOJ spokesperson said in a statement.
The revelation is significant because, days prior to being removed, McCabe took the extraordinary step of opening an obstruction-of-justice investigation into President Donald Trump following Trump’s firing of then-FBI Director James Comey on May 9, 2017. McCabe opened the obstruction investigation days after telling the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that he wasn’t aware of any effort to impede the FBI’s Russia probe.
Rosenstein recommended Comey’s firing to Trump in a May 9, 2017, letter titled “Restoring Public Confidence in the FBI” (pdf). On May 17, 2017, Rosenstein appointed Mueller.
In the nine days between Comey’s firing and Mueller’s appointment, a series of events occurred suggesting that Rosenstein wrested control of the investigation from McCabe. On May 11, as McCabe testified before the Senate intelligence committee, Rosenstein pulled the committee chairman and ranking member into a private meeting in a secure room. On May 16, one day before the appointment of the special counsel, Rosenstein met with Trump and Mueller.
“We were interviewing replacements at the F.B.I. Did you know Mueller was one of the people that was being interviewed?” Trump told The New York Times. “… now what happens is, [Mueller] leaves the office. Rosenstein leaves the office. The next day, he is appointed special counsel.”
In the upcoming CBS interview, McCabe doubled down on accusations against Rosenstein, including the previously-reported allegation that Rosenstein suggested wearing a wire to record Trump. McCabe also alleged that he attended meetings at the Justice Department to discuss if the majority of Trump’s cabinet could be brought together to invoke the 25th amendment. The justice department denied the allegations in 2018 and issued another rebuttal in the Feb. 14 statement.
“The deputy attorney general again rejects Mr. McCabe’s recitation of events as inaccurate and factually incorrect,” a DOJ spokesperson said.
“The deputy attorney general never authorized any recording that Mr. McCabe references. As the deputy attorney general previously has stated, based on his personal dealings with the president, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment, nor was the [deputy attorney general] in a position to consider invoking the 25 Amendment.”
McCabe’s involvement in the Russia investigation predated the events in the spring of 2017 by months. McCabe played a key role in the counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign that started in late July 2016, in the midst of the presidential election season.
The investigation, Crossfire Hurricane, was tainted with bias and potential abuse of surveillance powers. Text messages exchanged by then-FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok, and his mistress, bureau attorney Lisa Page, demonstrated hatred toward Trump and support for Hillary Clinton. Page served as legal counsel for McCabe.
McCabe personally reviewed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) application for a warrant to spy on former Trump-campaign associate Carter Page. The bureau applied for the warrant using an unverified dossier of opposition research on Trump. The dossier was compiled by a foreign spy and ultimately paid for by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on Feb. 14 that in light of the to-be-aired interview, McCabe should appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer questions about his involvement in securing the FISA warrant.
“After Mr. McCabe’s 60 Minutes interview, it is imperative that he, and others, come before [the Senate Judiciary Committee] to fully explain how and why a FISA warrant was issued against Carter Page and answer questions about what appears to be, now more than ever, bias against President Trump,” Graham wrote on Twitter.
After Mr. McCabe’s 60 Minutes interview, it is imperative that he, and others, come before @senjudiciary to fully explain how and why a FISA warrant was issued against Carter Page and answer questions about what appears to be, now more than ever, bias against President Trump.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) February 14, 2019
McCabe was also “Andy” in the notorious “insurance policy” text message written by Strzok to Page. In the message, Strzok discussed an “insurance policy” in the “unlikely” event that Trump was elected.
Trump criticized McCabe in a pair of Twitter messages shortly after details of his yet-to-be-aired interview surfaced.
“Disgraced FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe pretends to be a ‘poor little Angel’ when in fact he was a big part of the Crooked Hillary Scandal & the Russia Hoax–a puppet for Leakin’ James Comey. I.G. report on McCabe was devastating,” the president wrote.
Disgraced FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe pretends to be a “poor little Angel” when in fact he was a big part of the Crooked Hillary Scandal & the Russia Hoax – a puppet for Leakin’ James Comey. I.G. report on McCabe was devastating. Part of “insurance policy” in case I won….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 14, 2019
“Part of ‘insurance policy’ in case I won,” Trump added. “Many of the top FBI brass were fired, forced to leave, or left. McCabe’s wife received BIG DOLLARS from Clinton people for her campaign–he gave Hillary a pass. McCabe is a disgrace to the FBI and a disgrace to our Country.”
….Many of the top FBI brass were fired, forced to leave, or left. McCabe’s wife received BIG DOLLARS from Clinton people for her campaign – he gave Hillary a pass. McCabe is a disgrace to the FBI and a disgrace to our Country. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 14, 2019
The FBI’s Russia investigation morphed into the special counsel probe. Since taking charge in May 2017, Mueller has not accused anyone of colluding with Russia. Strzok was removed from the special counsel team after Mueller was shown Strok’s messages with Page.
Months after being removed from the Russia investigation, McCabe lied to DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz about authorizing a self-serving leak to the media. The inspector general later issued a report about McCabe’s repeated lies. Then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired McCabe in March last year based on the report’s findings.
As of September 2018, a federal grand jury in Washington was investigating McCabe’s leaks, according to The Washington Post.