Trump Wanted Russia in Memo Firing Comey, Former FBI Leader Says
(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump wanted the Russia investigation cited in the memo firing FBI Director James Comey, and believed Russia’s president over his own intelligence agencies about North Korea’s missile capability, former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe said.
McCabe said in a pre-recorded interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes” broadcast on Sunday that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein didn’t want to include a reference to the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election in the memo he wrote citing reasons why Comey should be fired, but that Trump insisted.
Rosenstein “explained to the president that he did not need Russia in his memo. And the president responded, ‘I understand that, I am asking you to put Russia in the memo anyway,’ ” McCabe said. In the end, Rosenstein didn’t mention Russia in the memo, but Trump made the connection anyway, in a subsequent interview with NBC’s Lester Holt.
‘I Believe Putin’
McCabe also described an incident in which an FBI official whom he didn’t identify heard Trump say he didn’t believe that North Korea could hit the U.S. with ballistic missiles -- because Russian President Vladimir Putin “had told him that the North Koreans don’t actually have those missiles.”
“Intelligence officials in the briefing responded that that was not consistent with any of the intelligence our government possesses, to which the president replied, ‘I don’t care. I believe Putin,”’ McCabe said. “It’s just an astounding thing to say.”
The network had previously released parts of the interview, including an excerpt in which McCabe said Rosenstein discussed how many members of Trump’s Cabinet might support removing the president as being unfit under the U.S. Constitution’s 25th Amendment, Rosenstein offering to wear a “wire” to talk to Trump, and McCabe’s immediate actions to protect the Russia probe after Trump fired Comey.
McCabe is promoting a book -- “The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump,” to be published on Tuesday -- in which he writes about the 2016 election and its aftermath, as well as about his career at the FBI.
The “60 Minutes” interview focused on the turbulent days between Comey’s firing and the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller when, according to to CBS correspondent Scott Pelley, “the highest levels of American law enforcement were trying to figure out what to do with the president.”
Trump reacted to the “60 Minutes” excerpts in a Feb. 14 tweet saying a “disgraced” McCabe was pretending to be a “poor little Angel” when he was a part of what the president calls “the Russia Hoax.” He reissued that tweet on Sunday, minutes before the “60 Minutes” segment aired, and also tweeted that Mueller’s investigation was a “Witch Hunt.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also said in a statement that McCabe’s “selfish and destructive agenda drove him to open a completely baseless investigation into the president” and that he “has no credibility.”
McCabe, 50, was fired last March after internal FBI investigators found that he hadn’t been forthcoming about authorizing discussions with a reporter about a pending investigation.
McCabe, who was immediately elevated from his deputy director post in the wake of Comey’s firing, said he moved to buffer the obstruction of justice and counterintelligence investigations involving the president and his ties to Russia the day after meeting with Trump in the Oval Office in May of 2017. Trump had just fired Comey, and McCabe said he was concerned that the Russia probe could “vanish.”
“I was very concerned that I was able to put the Russia case on absolutely solid ground in an indelible fashion that were I removed quickly or reassigned or fired that the case could not be closed or vanish in the night without a trace,” he said.
McCabe recounted Justice Department meetings shortly after Comey’s firing in which he said Rosenstein offered to wear a wire when talking to Trump. Rosenstein, according to McCabe, also commented about invoking the 25th Amendment, which allows for the vice president and “the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide” to remove a president who’s “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”
Rosenstein has denied that, and a spokesman for McCabe said Friday that he wasn’t asserting that Rosenstein had engaged in an extended discussion of invoking the amendment.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday that he plans to hold a hearing of the Judiciary Committee about the matter, and could subpoena Rosenstein and McCabe to testify about whether “the deputy attorney general was basically trying to do an administrative coup.”
Rosenstein, who plans to leave his DOJ post soon, also has denied that he ever “pursued or authorized recording the president,” and Justice Department officials have presented the episode as a passing, sarcastic reference. McCabe, however, said Rosenstein raised the issue more than once and “was absolutely serious.”
An assertion that Rosenstein considered secretly recording Trump has been backed up in private testimony to Congress by two FBI lawyers, Bloomberg News reported on Sunday. The officials also told lawmakers that there was simultaneous talk in the spring of 2017, months after Trump’s inauguration, that two unidentified Cabinet officials were on board with the idea of invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump.
Rosenstein appointed Mueller to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and whether anyone in the Trump campaign was involved. Mueller’s prosecutors have charged more than 30 people as a result of the probe, and several have pleaded guilty.
Fired by Sessions
Then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired McCabe hours before the veteran agent was scheduled to retire with a full pension, over allegations he’d violated FBI and Justice Department policy on disclosures to the media. He’s responded that he was the target of a political attack by Trump, who has repeatedly slammed the FBI as biased.
McCabe has also come under fire from Trump and Republicans for the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of email in 2016 because his wife had accepted donations from Democratic political organizations for an unsuccessful campaign for the Virginia state Senate the previous year. McCabe said he wasn’t involved in that probe.
The Justice Department’s inspector general referred McCabe’s conduct to federal prosecutors in Washington to determine whether he should be criminally charged. McCabe said he never intentionally misled anyone.
Democratic Representative Adam Schiff of California, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee -- which has own its investigation into possible Russia collusion -- said on CNN on Sunday that McCabe should be held to the same standard as anyone else who has come under scrutiny “in this investigation or any other.”
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