Outgoing FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe owes us some answers

FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe announced yesterday morning that he was retiring, effective immediately.

Some blamed the president for what appeared to be a stunningly premature departure. Those in-the-know knew this had been in the works for months.

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A source close to the situation tells me it had nothing to do with the two popular competing partisan echo chamber conspiracy theories:

 

1. No, Sean Hannity, FBI director Christopher Wray didn’t happen upon a “smoking gun” when he reviewed the infamous “memo” on Capitol Hill two days ago, and then storm back to headquarters and demand McCabe’s resignation.

2. No, Joy-Ann Reid, this wasn’t the result of some onerous interference by the White House.

McCabe is 49 years old; he was waiting to turn 50. His targeted retirement date was March 18. The president’s constant tweeted harangues also contributed to what could legally be defined as harassment or a hostile work environment. The public battering must have been debilitating.

McCabe took advantage of accrued vacation days and left on “terminal leave.”

Apologies to the grassy knoll conspiracy theorists. We need to examine how we arrived here, at this place. So, allow me to share some backstory.

In late 2002, after assuming the helm as senior team leader of the FBI’s New York office SWAT program, I formally met a young special agent and member of the team — Andrew G. McCabe. He appeared bright, with a quick wit. My SWAT colleagues advised me that he was a “standup guy” — bureau parlance for “loyal to the mission and his teammates.”

He had worked for the legendary Ray Kerr, a longtime bureau organized crime division supervisor; whom he considered a mentor. Kerr was an example of the FBI’s leadership ranks that had worked under J.Edgar Hoover, or been schooled by his acolytes. He was “old school” and had avoided tenure at FBI headquarters (FBI HQ), earning his “bones” by toiling decades on the street, chasing down mobsters and putting together solid cases against them.

Kerr was the quintessential agent’s boss. He had been there, done that and earned his street cred.

And though McCabe openly expressed his reverence for Kerr, he was built differently.

McCabe joined the bureau in 1998 during the reign of its fifth director, former federal judge Louis Freeh. And when Freeh’s successor, Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerFox News legal analyst says Trump call with Ukraine leader could be 'more serious' than what Mueller 'dragged up' Lewandowski says Mueller report was 'very clear' in proving 'there was no obstruction,' despite having 'never' read it Fox's Cavuto roasts Trump over criticism of network MORE, was unceremoniously welcomed to his post a week after his swearing-in with the 9/11 attacks, the bureau’s mission focus and manner of “doing business” was to be irrevocably altered going forward.

Imbued with healthy amounts of intellectual curiosity and naked ambition, McCabe expertly read the writing on the wall. Recognizing that Mueller was bent on reconstituting an FBI HQ that Freeh had summarily dismantled, McCabe made his move.

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Director Mueller had begun enticing, cajoling — hell, “bribing” with cash bonuses and incentives — the younger Gen X agent population to accept promotions to HQ supervisory desks. Senior agents, who for years had been resistant to leaving the field for HQ tours, bristled at the offered quid pro quo.

Junior agents, some with three years on the job and no significant case accomplishments to their names, were flocking in droves to D.C.

The bureau had begun to be reshaped in a massive way. As the proud criminal division ranks were shrunk, senior gumshoes took advantage of early retirement opportunities and left, taking with them decades of experience. As the counterintelligence and counterterrorism branches were built up, a shifting power structure inside the agency began to develop.

McCabe was on the leading edge of this movement. Right place, right time.

Once leaving New York, he made a life inside the Beltway. He shuttled back and forth between FBI HQ and the Washington field division — commonplace for ladder-climbers interested in hastening their ascent in the midlevel and senior executive ranks.

And with James ComeyJames Brien ComeyFederal prosecutors interviewed multiple FBI officials for Russia probe review: report State cites 38 people for violations in Clinton email review GOP cautions Graham against hauling Biden before Senate MORE’s arrival on the scene as FBI chief in September 2013, he found a kindred spirit in in McCabe.

Comey was personally responsible for quickly guiding McCabe through a number of senior-level positions. As some FBI bystanders groused — these “blue-flamers” are put into positions long enough for a cup of coffee; just enough time to touch the base and move up.

This wasn’t McCabe’s fault. He was taking advantage of a new bureau promotion system introduced by Mueller and continued by Comey.

But all the age-old arguments made by the rank and file in the wake of Mueller’s remaking of the bureau have come home to roost now.

The insularity, disconnection from field operations, and prevalent groupthink that began to manifest itself in what some agents angrily refer to as the “HQ cabal” are now on full display.

This is why the Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonJill Stein: 'I am not a Russian spy' Trump criticizes Clinton for suggesting Jill Stein was Russian asset Graham: I'm seeking to make Trump successful 'but not at all costs' MORE email investigation was controlled by FBI HQ and worked as a “special,” when the Washington field division or the New York office had venue, senior investigator expertise and necessary resources to run.

And that is why the counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s meddling in our election was also controlled by FBI HQ, with the same recycled team of executives providing case oversight.

It is why deputy assistant director Peter Strzok and FBI attorney (for McCabe) Lisa Page had their fingers in two of the most highly publicized and consequential investigations of our lifetimes. And, shockingly, no one thought independent eyes should look at cases with huge political implications and possible overlaps.

And it is also why, incredibly, McCabe was allowed to shuttle back and forth between Washington field division and FBI HQ tours of duty, and maintain oversight, in part or full, of the Clinton case.

Could no one inside the insulated seventh floor bunkers at FBI HQ not sense the obvious conflict of interest presented the moment his wife announced a Virginia state Senate run and accepted a rather sizable donation from Clinton ally Terry McAuliffe? And then McCabe waits an inordinate amount of time to decide to recuse himself from the case?

Really? Um, okay.

And then the damning revelations from the Strzok-Page text message captures that indicate that an “insurance policy” was discussed in “Andrew’s office.” Apparently, Strzok, Page, McCabe — and possibly others on the seventh floor — viewed Trump’s potential ascendancy to the presidency as a “grave risk.”

It is unconscionable to think that members of my beloved former agency would, or could have felt empowered enough to discuss a means to silence the voices of the American public.

But, sadly, it appears they did.

Last evening, Comey tweeted support for McCabe. But, in my humble opinion, it rings hollow and smacks of sophistry. The supportive message appears to be grandstanding — a frequent charge against Comey — and aimed passive-aggressively toward his main antagonist, the current president.

Remember, it was some of the aforementioned who prematurely “exonerated” Clinton, inexplicably provided immunity to her closest associates, and allowed the destruction of her team’s personal electronic devices after it had been determined she “bleach-bit’ed” 30,000 emails she was under subpoena to provide.

All the above actions are troubling. In almost all of them, McCabe played some role. Whether the House Intelligence Committee’s infamous, soon to be publicly released memo proves to be the Holy Grail of corruption at FBI HQ or not, we need some answers.

I knew Andrew McCabe, once, to be an honorable public servant.

We are all entitled to the benefit of the doubt, and he is certainly entitled to the benefit of the doubt and his bureau pension.

But we are entitled to some answers to some perplexing questions.

Andrew needs to testify under oath.

James A. Gagliano is a CNN law enforcement analyst and retired FBI supervisory special agent. He also serves as an adjunct assistant professor at St. John's University and is a leadership consultant at the Thayer Leader Development Group at his alma mater, the United States Military Academy at West Point. You can find him on Twitter, @JamesAGagliano.