Trump’s gripes against McCabe included wife’s politics, Comey’s ride home

The day after President Donald Trump fired James Comey as director of the FBI, he became so furious watching television footage of Comey boarding a government-funded plane from Los Angeles back to Washington that he called the bureau’s acting director, Andrew McCabe, to vent, according to multiple people familiar with the phone call.

Trump demanded to know why Comey was allowed to fly on an FBI plane after he had been fired, these people said. McCabe told the president he hadn’t been asked to authorize Comey’s flight, but if anyone had asked, he would have approved it, three people familiar with the call recounted to NBC News.

The president was silent for a moment and then turned on McCabe, suggesting he ask his wife how it feels to be a loser — an apparent reference to a failed campaign for state office in Virginia that McCabe’s wife made in 2015.

McCabe replied, “OK, sir.” Trump then hung up the phone.

A White House official, who would not speak on the record, disputed the account, saying, “this simply never happened. Any suggestion otherwise is pure fiction.” The FBI declined to comment on the call.

The previously unreported exchange was one of a series of attacks Trump has aimed at McCabe that fueled tensions between the White House and the Justice Department and culminated Monday with McCabe stepping down as the FBI’s deputy director.

In the past, Trump had also reportedly asked McCabe how he voted in the 2016 election and repeatedly made public references to campaign donations his wife had received from an ally of Hillary and Bill Clinton.

In an impromptu exchange last week with reporters who had been speaking with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, Trump said he did not recall asking McCabe who he voted for in 2016. “I don’t think I did,” he said. “I don’t know what’s the big deal with that because I would ask you … who did you vote for?”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that the White House was not part of McCabe’s decision-making process about stepping down.

In recent weeks the White House has agitated for McCabe’s exit, saying he is part of a broader pattern of bias against the president in the highest levels of federal law enforcement. Defenders of the Justice Department’s leadership say the charges of bias are part of the president’s effort to try to undermine the federal probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

Trump’s repeated criticism of McCabe, both in public and private, made the FBI’s deputy director the leading example of concerns Republicans have increasingly raised about potential impartiality at the Justice Department.

The phone call between Trump and McCabe after Comey’s firing last May underscores the president’s continued fixation on where the loyalties of people around him may lie and his frustration with autonomous arms of the government — particularly ones involved in the Russia investigation. It’s also emblematic of his early and persistent distrust of top Justice Department officials.

The combination of those sentiments whipped the president into such a fury over Comey last year that he wanted his firing to abruptly strip him of any trappings that come with the office and leave him across the country scrambling to find his own way home.

McCabe detailed his conversation with Trump after Comey’s firing to several people at the Justice Department, people familiar with the matter said.

In 2015 McCabe’s wife, Jill, had run for state office in Virginia. She accepted nearly $500,000 in campaign donations from the super PAC of Terry McAuliffe, a Clinton ally and former governor of Virginia. She lost by just over 2,000 votes.

Andrew McCabe was not involved in the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton while his wife was running for office. He became involved in the probe in February 2016.

Comey was criticized by many Democrats for his handling of the Clinton inquiry. The Justice Department’s inspector general is investigating.

Trump had publicly suggested that McCabe should not remain in FBI leadership at different times over the past year. Last July, the president questioned why Attorney General Jeff Sessions didn’t replace McCabe, whom the president described as “a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation.”

Last month the president also wrote on Twitter: “How can FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, the man in charge, along with leakin’ James Comey, of the Phony Hillary Clinton investigation (including her 33,000 illegally deleted emails) be given $700,000 for wife’s campaign by Clinton Puppets during investigation?” The amount the president said McCabe’s wife received was incorrect.

After he fired Comey, Trump met with McCabe in the Oval Office, and, according to The Washington Post, asked McCabe whom he voted for in the 2016 election. McCabe said he did not vote, the Post reported.

More recently, when reports surfaced last month that McCabe planned to retire in March after he’s eligible for full benefits, Trump seized on the news. “FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits. 90 days to go?!!!” the president wrote on Twitter.

McCabe’s exit comes in the middle of an investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into whether the president has tried to obstruct justice in Russia investigation. Given his position at the FBI and his interactions with the president, McCabe is likely to be of use to Mueller in the obstruction inquiry.

Mueller was named to oversee the Russia investigation after Comey’s firing, which became a catalyst for the obstruction investigation.

The firing sent shock waves across Washington, including within the Trump administration.

Comey’s dismissal on May 9, 2017, was hastily executed and even took many senior White House officials by surprise. As it was unfolding, some of them quietly discussed how Comey would get back to Washington, a senior White House official who was there at the time said.

“I don’t think anybody had thought about how he’d get home,” the official said.

Trump thought Comey should not have been allowed to take the FBI plane he had taken to California, according to people familiar with the matter. The president’s longtime bodyguard and aide, Keith Schiller, delivered the news of Comey’s firing in envelope he brought to FBI headquarters while Comey was in California. Trump believed any privileges Comey had received as FBI director should have ceased at that moment, the people familiar with the matter said.

Comey learned of his termination from news reports broadcast on a TV in the room where he was addressing FBI agents in the bureau’s Los Angeles office. He had been in Los Angeles to speak at a recruiting event later that evening. But after learning he was fired, Comey skipped the event.

Instead he went to Los Angeles International Airport. Images of Comey on the tarmac boarding the government plane for the flight back to Washington were among the first the public saw of him after he was fired.

[NBC News]

Trump ‘asked acting FBI chief Andrew McCabe how he voted’

After firing James Comey as director of the FBI, US President Donald Trump asked the agency’s deputy director whom he had voted for, US media report.

Andrew McCabe, who had just become the agency’s acting chief after the surprise dismissal last year, said that he did not vote in the 2016 election.

FBI special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether Mr Comey’s firing was an attempt to obstruct justice.

Mr Mueller leads the probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

During Mr McCabe’s introductory meeting with the president after he took over the federal law enforcement agency, Mr Trump also allegedly expressed anger with Mr McCabe over his wife’s ties to the Clinton family.

Mr McCabe reportedly found the conversation “disturbing”, according to the Washington Post.

Jill McCabe, a failed Democratic candidate for the Virginia state senate, had received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from a political action committee controlled by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a longtime Clinton ally.

Last July, Mr Trump told the New York Times: “We have a director of the FBI, acting, who received $700,000, whose wife received $700,000 from, essentially, Hillary Clinton.”

He also erroneously claimed in a subsequent tweet that Mr McCabe had led the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email during her time as US secretary of state.

Mr McCabe had recused himself from any investigations involving Virginia political figures, but Republicans have questioned why he was allowed to be involved in the investigations into Mrs Clinton’s emails, claiming he has a conflict of interest.

The FBI has said that Mrs McCabe’s campaign had ended months before Mr McCabe became involved in that investigation, which he later recused himself from as the date of the presidential election neared.

[BBC News]

Trump Rips Sessions on Twitter, While He Attends a White House Meeting

The one-sided feud between President Donald Trump and his attorney general persisted Wednesday, even as a battered Jeff Sessions trudged ahead with his Justice Department duties.

Less than an hour after Sessions was deposited at the White House by a black SUV for routine meetings in the West Wing, Trump proclaimed from another corner of the same building that his displeasure in his attorney general hasn’t waned.

“Why didn’t A.G. Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation but got big dollars ($700,000) for his wife’s political run from Hillary Clinton and her representatives,” he tweeted. “Drain the Swamp!”

The message, which stretched facts, was the latest chapter in a humiliating ordeal for the nation’s top law enforcement official, who has refused to resign even amid the increasingly hostile barbs being issued by his boss. Over the past two days, Trump has deemed his attorney general “beleaguered” and “very weak.” His anger has stemmed from Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from an FBI investigation into Russian election meddling.

Even as Sessions was attending a so-called “principals small group meeting” in the West Wing on Wednesday, Trump — who remained in his private residence — declined to confront his attorney general face-to-face. Some of Trump’s aides have encouraged the President to speak with Sessions directly, rather than angrily lambast him over Twitter, but that advice appeared to go unheeded Wednesday morning.

Speaking on CNN, Trump’s newly installed White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci defended the President’s tactics for communicating his ire, saying Sessions was likely among Trump’s Twitter followers and thus a direct recipient of his messages.

“Jeff Sessions is probably one of the 113 million people” who follow Trump online, he said on CNN’s “New Day.”

Sessions, however, doesn’t maintain an active Twitter account, and his campaign account — @JeffSessions — hasn’t posted since 2014. That account doesn’t follow Trump.

The disconnect between the two men has caused deep consternation among some members of Congress, who question Trump’s public needling of Sessions while stopping short of firing him.

“I would fire somebody that I did not believe could serve me well rather than trying to humiliate him in public, which is a sign of weakness,” said Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-South Carolina, on Wednesday. “I would just go ahead and say, ‘I appreciate your service, you need to be fired.’ ”

Despite Trump’s attacks, Sessions has no plans to resign, sources have told CNN. Instead, he’s forging ahead with his duties as attorney general, including routine meetings with administration officials at the White House.

His vehicles were spotted around 9 a.m. ET at the West Wing, where he regularly meets with fellow officials. He was not expected to meet with Trump. He departed about 90 minutes later, striding stone-faced wearing a dark checked suit to his car, toting a briefing binder in his right hand.

The President, meanwhile, wasn’t officially scheduled to begin his workday until 10:30 a.m. ET, and wasn’t present in the West Wing while Sessions was there.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s press secretary, said later Wednesday that Sessions did not meet with the President while he was at the White House.

“The President’s been very clear about where he is,” Sanders said. “He is obviously disappointed.”

“You can be disappointed in someone but still want them to continue to do their job,” she added.

Trump’s message on Twitter revived a convoluted and largely debunked criticism of Sessions and McCabe, who has served in the acting FBI position since Trump abruptly fired Comey in May. Trump interviewed McCabe for the permanent role, but eventually chose Christopher Wray, whose nomination is pending in the Senate.

McCabe’s wife, who ran for a position in the Virginia legislature in 2015, received a large donation from a political action committee affiliated with Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat with close ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton. But there’s no evidence that she received donations from Clinton herself. The donation also predated the point at which McCabe assumed oversight responsibilities for the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server. McCabe consulted ethics officers at the FBI before his wife’s run.

Aside from concerned lawmakers and members of his staff, the prolonged standoff between Trump and Sessions, a former US senator who endorsed Trump early in his campaign, has also drawn criticism from some conservative media outlets, who still regard Sessions as an essential right-wing voice within the administration.

Sessions himself sought to highlight those credentials Tuesday, announcing that “sanctuary cities” would be ineligible for key law enforcement grants. And he soon plans to announce a stepped-up effort to go after leakers, a project that Trump himself has pressed.

But those efforts may not be sufficient to overcome Trump’s anger, which has been simmering for months but which he first revealed publicly in a New York Times interview last week.

Publicly, Trump’s aides say Sessions is merely experiencing a regular facet of Trump’s personality — one that values loyalty and isn’t for the weak of heart.

“I’m telling my fellow teammates here in the West Wing and my fellow friends that happen to be Cabinet secretaries that this is his style and nature,” Scaramucci said on CNN. “You’ve got to have a very tough skin to work for and deal with the President.”

Asked about Sessions’ uncertain fate during a news conference on Tuesday, Trump offered only caprice.

“We will see what happens,” he said in the Rose Garden. “Time will tell. Time will tell.”