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The Politics Of The McCabe Firing


President Trump's personal lawyer, this weekend, called for an end to the Mueller probe. And the president tweeted it should have never been started - that after reports earlier in the week that the special counsel has subpoenaed the Trump organization for documents - some related to Russia. And what does this all have to do with the firing of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe on Friday? NPR's Mara Liasson is here to tell us. Hey, Mara.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mara, why indeed is the firing of Andrew McCabe so significant?

LIASSON: It's significant because Andrew McCabe has been a constant target of the wrath of Donald Trump. Donald Trump has accused him of being pro-Hillary. But more importantly, McCabe was the No. 2 deputy under former FBI Director James Comey, who Trump also fired and has become Trump's No. 1 nemesis. And McCabe told Congress that he could corroborate Comey's story about how he felt pressured by Donald Trump to end the Russia investigation. So he's a potential witness in a possible obstruction of justice prosecution. He also was instrumental in getting Rod Rosenstein to hire Bob Mueller. And, of course, Donald Trump, as you said, wants the Mueller investigation to end. So McCabe has been in Donald Trump's crosshairs for quite some time.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So a very significant person in all of this. But he is the target of an inspector general inquiry that was expected to criticize him.

LIASSON: That's right. He was the target of an investigation about whether he was candid about the reopening of the Hillary Clinton email investigation in the fall of 2016. We haven't seen the inspector general's report. So we don't know what McCabe did that warranted a firing instead of a reprimand because he wasn't just fired. He was fired just a few hours before he would've qualified for his full pension. And this is something that the president had wanted to happen. He's been tweeting about how horrible it is that McCabe could get his full pension.

And the president did a victory dance in the end zone on Twitter after he was fired. He said Andrew McCabe being fired is a great day. He said he knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI. Then what happened was even more significant because the president's private lawyer John Dowd released a statement saying that now that McCabe has been fired, he hopes that acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow Jeff Sessions' lead and bring an end to the Mueller investigation. Now, at first, Dowd said he was speaking for the president when he issued this statement. Later, he backtracked, although it doesn't really matter.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. It's not news, though, that the president hates the Mueller probe. He's been pretty vocal about that on Twitter. Why is his lawyer statement so important?

LIASSON: It's important because it's a change in the legal strategy. Up until now, Donald Trump has always stopped short of saying something that could be perceived as an order to Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller. He's always said, no, I'm not going to fire him. He's even said he looks forward to talking to him. Now it looks like they're opening a new phase, openly calling on the Department of Justice to shut down the Mueller investigation.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Democrats have been pretty vocal. I've been seeing a lot of their reaction. Do we know what the Republicans in Congress have been saying or doing?

LIASSON: Well, the Republican reaction is pretty typical. Whenever we see Donald Trump act like a stress test on democratic institutions, Republicans in Congress are usually silent. They don't seem to be concerned by the president involving himself in an internal investigation or openly calling for the Mueller investigation to end unless they are Republicans who are not running for re-election. So we have heard some criticisms from Republicans who are planning to retire. In the past, Republicans have come to the defense of Attorney General Jeff Sessions because the president has relentlessly humiliated and criticized him. And Republican senators have stood up for Sessions. He's become a kind of proxy for the rule of law. What we don't know is if firing Bob Mueller is a kind of red line for Republicans in Congress. That's really the big question.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what do we know about the Justice Department? What are they saying about all this?

LIASSON: Well, there has been pushback from former DOJ officials who say this firing was inappropriate. We also know how Andrew McCabe has reacted. He said he was singled out and treated this way because of what he witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey. He says that he was fired to undermine the credibility of the Mueller investigation. We also know that McCabe made contemporaneous notes just like his boss, James Comey, did. All FBI agents are trained to do this. And coincidentally, James Comey is about to embark on a book tour, one of the highest-profile book tours ever.


LIASSON: And this morning, Donald Trump tweeted, calling Comey a liar. But Comey now will have a pretty big platform to push back against the president.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Indeed, he will. NPR's Mara Liasson following all this for us. Thanks so much.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.