Attorney General Jeff Sessions is facing a decision about whether to fire former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe just days before he is scheduled to retire, media reports said Wednesday.
In the wake of repeated public and private criticism from President Donald Trump, McCabe stepped down in January and announced plans to take accumulated leave in advance of his retirement. But if he is fired before Sunday, he could be deprived of the pension for which he is currently eligible.
The FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility recommended McCabe’s firing in response to allegations in an as-yet-unreleased inspector general’s report, a source close to the investigation told POLITICO Wednesday.
The inspector general review covers the bureau’s activities before the 2016 election, including the handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail account. The inspector general believed McCabe was not forthcoming during the review, triggering a disciplinary process that led to the recommendation he be fired, the New York Times and other outlets reported.
The DOJ watchdog’s review has focused on alleged disclosures by McCabe in October 2016 relating to reports about his role in politically sensitive matters at the FBI and his wife’s unsuccessful bid for the state Senate in Virginia.
Some agents complained that McCabe’s ties affected the email probe and other work the FBI was doing related to the Clinton Foundation. Text messages released to Congressional investigators show the FBI sought to push back against the news stories.
Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores declined to discuss any aspect of McCabe’s case but said officials are following established protocols for employee discipline.
“The Department follows a prescribed process by which an employee may be terminated. That process includes recommendations from career employees and no termination decision is final until the conclusion of that process. We have no personnel announcements at this time,” she said in a statement.
A spokesman for the inspector general declined to comment on McCabe’s situation.
The case puts Sessions in an awkward position between the president — who has criticized McCabe publicly and said he shouldn’t be able to retire with his pension — and rank-and-file employees who might see firing McCabe as politically motivated.
“When you have Trump tweeting and Sessions under threat, I’m not really sure what justice looks like in this case,” said former FBI assistant director Ron Hosko, who now runs the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund. “What you have playing out now is very unusual.”
Hosko said FBI employees facing discipline are normally entitled to protest any finding of wrongdoing and any potential punishment. Punishment is typically imposed after consideration of 12 factors, including an employee’s work history, past punishment of other employees for similar conduct, “the notoriety of the offense or its impact upon the reputation of the agency,” and the clarity of the policy violated.
An FBI spokeswoman had no immediate comment on the process.
Sessions’ decision will involve input from the senior career official at the Justice Department, Associate Deputy Attorney General Scott Schools, a DOJ official said.
Sessions recused himself last year from all decisions related to investigations stemming from the 2016 presidential election. However, Justice officials have stressed in recent days that his recusal does not cover personnel matters or issues related to the professional responsibility of department employees.
Elana Schor contributed to this report.