Firing McCabe Is a “Gut Punch” and “Blow to What is Right”

| Frank Montoya Jr.
Frank Montoya Jr.
Retired FBI Special Agent

Such is the world in which we now live that I cannot say I was surprised to learn late Friday that former FBI Deputy Director Andy McCabe had been fired. A part of me wanted to think it was just a bad dream, but then a middle-of-the-night tweet, from President Donald Trump, confirmed the worst.

“Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI-A great day for Democracy,” Trump tweeted.

No, it wasn’t. Neither for the great men and women of the FBI, nor for our democracy – particularly not for our democracy, an ideal and a principle the president seems to offend on a daily basis.

But, as if that were not enough, the president had to give the knife he had the attorney general stick in Andy’s back a gratuitous little twist.

“Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!”

Andy’s dismissal was yet another gut punch to a proud and distinguished institution. A blow to what is right and good in this country in the name of corruption and inequity. A dog whistle to the cult of personality that continues to inexplicably fever the minds of the president’s most ardent admirers.

Without a doubt, it was enough to make one wonder the true meaning behind the attorney general’s late-night attack on a good man’s reputation and pension.

I know Andy well, having worked with him closely in the FBI. He is a man of high ideals, honor and integrity, who has dedicated his life to the service of our country.

I also know, as he does, that the cardinal sin of any FBI employee, but particularly a Special Agent, is to demonstrate a lack of candor under oath.

It is a firing offense.

That makes the sequence of events leading to McCabe’s dismissal particularly confounding to me. The attorney general, who fired him, said Andy was dismissed for making “an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor — including under oath — on multiple occasions.”

To be honest, and I served for 26 years, I can’t remember the last time an FBI employee was fired for an unauthorized disclosure to the media, particularly if it wasn’t classified. There was no indication in the attorney general’s statement this was the case.

What’s more, McCabe has publicly stated he not only had the authority to make the disclosure, but asked his public affairs officer and an FBI lawyer to participate in the process, which, he said, occurred over a period of days.

Why on earth, then, would a man of McCabe’s experience, professionalism and dedication to duty identify such a course of action, include witnesses, and then lie about it?

It makes no sense.

As McCabe himself has said in a statement released after his firing, “The investigation subsequently focused on who I talked to, when I talked to them, and so forth. During these inquiries, I answered questions truthfully and as accurately as I could amidst the chaos that surrounded me. And when I thought my answers were misunderstood, I contacted investigators to correct them.”  (Italics added for emphasis)

That seems reasonable and in accordance with the process as I understand it. Subject interviews—when the subject of an internal inquiry is interviewed—for instance, are never a “one shot, one kill” event. The signed, sworn statement the subject ultimately signs—which, somewhat counterintuitively is written by the interviewer, not the interviewee—is a matter of negotiation until the subject is satisfied the statement accurately represents his or her views. The statement is not completed until the subject signs and swears to it. What that means is there is inherently room for the kind of clarification, or correction, McCabe said he engaged in.

It also means, quite frankly, that internal investigators like Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) or FBI Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) – the “career professionals” who were involved in this particular matter – do not always get it right. I know, for instance, of several individuals who have been fired on account of an internal investigation that determined there was lack of candor, only to learn those same individuals were reinstated upon appeal. I cannot explain why, but I can say it happens.

And, in Andy’s case, OPR acted on the recommendations of OIG, which Andy said, and which we all know from reading the tweets, was under heavy pressure to get a result.

No, I do not intend this reasoning as an excuse for bad behavior. Lack of candor, as I have already noted, is a cardinal sin in the FBI. Thou shalt not lie. Our effectiveness as an investigative and intelligence agency is dependent on our integrity. If Andy lied, there should be a consequence.

But I simply can’t believe that he did. Especially not with everything that is at stake. My reasons for believing this are many.

For one, I have never known Andy to prevaricate. Nor, I am certain, would he have risen to his high office in the FBI if he lacked integrity. Neither could he have won the abiding confidence and admiration of great Americans and exemplary leaders like former Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper, former CIA chief John Brennan, and former FBI Director Jim Comey—all who have come to Andy’s defense in recent months—if he were a liar.

And, perhaps, most important of all, there were those witnesses.

To lie in the face of all that would not only have been a colossal error, but a shocking failure of character.

Sure, we all of us, are human. Sometimes even the best of us make inexplicable mistakes. But in this case, I go back to what was at stake.

The FBI has been under constant public attack from a vindictive and uninformed president. A man who is under scrutiny for his actions and those who are closest to him for reason that are not only extraordinary, but unprecedented in our history. Aiding and abetting an enemy foreign power’s attempts to undermine our sovereignty.

No, this is not an indictment of the president. But not only is there smoke, there is fire. The number of indictments and convictions already brought against prominent and high-ranking members of his campaign are indicative of that.

There is a likelihood there are more indictments to come. The plethora of revelations in the media about possible criminal conspiracies, corruption, and incompetence—which is not illegal, but can lead to illegal behavior when one holds the kind of power in a president’s grasp—has all of us rushing to our smart phones every morning wondering what is going to happen next in this great national tragedy of ours.

That, by the way, is the reason I believe McCabe has become the latest victim of tragic circumstance. Certainly, observers who say we should see the Inspector General report before reaching any conclusions about Andy’s reported actions, have a point.

But I don’t need to see it. In fact, there is no question in my mind the report is going to be critical. It is going to challenge the actions of FBI leadership in the wake of the Clinton e-mail investigation. It is going to question any decision made that was a violation of Justice Department conventions.

But they’ll be procedural criticisms. They won’t be matters of law. They won’t be a judgment on whether FBI leadership, for the sake of the country, chose the harder right than the easier wrong when it came to the tough decisions in the many unprecedented situations that have arisen in the last two extraordinary years not only in the history of the FBI, but our nation.

I was there for a lot of those decisions. I either participated in them or witnessed them first hand and I can tell you, often, it was a matter of, “Damned if we do, damned if we don’t.” But in no circumstances were the decisions influenced, as many claim, by bias, or politics, a lack of professionalism’s, or an intent to mislead, ourselves, or the public we served.

Yes, we often wondered how in the hell we got stuck in such a difficult situation, slammed on all sides by the toxic partisan politics of the moment.

But, I also say this with a convert’s passion and commitment. We always chose the right, for the sake of our country, our families, and our own self respect.

It was the only way to deal with the nonsense that was, and is, coming from places—like Congress and the White House—that should know better. It was the only way to preserve our own faith in a system and way of life that each of us were willing to defend with our lives.

It was a mission I know Andy was as committed to as I was, and why I simply cannot believe he is the “bad actor” the president would like us think he is.

The Author is Frank Montoya Jr.

Frank Montoya Jr. is a retired FBI special agent and senior executive with extensive experience in counterintelligence matters.  In addition to running FBI field offices in Honolulu and Seattle in the course of his career, from February 2012 to May 2014, he was detailed to the ODNI as the National Counterintelligence Executive (now NCSC).

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11 Replies to “Firing McCabe Is a “Gut Punch” and “Blow to What is Right””
  1. As a retired DEA Special Agent I know lying to OPR or the OIG is a offense that will get you fired. Street Agents are fired for this when it happens. What few people want to admit is there is a double standard for members of the senior executive service (SES) and street Agents. I suggest readers look at Brick Agent Underground where this issue is discussed in detail as it applies to the FBI. If McCabe is as smart as everyone say he is, he would have realized that appearances are often more important then fact. He would have recused himself from any issues dealing with the Clinton’s, after his wife’s political campaign took several hundred thousand dollars from a PAC controlled by one of the Clinton’s close friends. He also would not have said anything relating to the Clinton’s should he have accidentally heard anything.
    A second fact that needs to be kept in mind is that this investigation was conducted by the Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General. Everyone forgets the head DOJ OIG is an appointee of President Obama. This investigation was not a witch hunt started by President Trump. It is an investigation that was started because of McCabe’s poor judgment and actions. In addition, as a senior manager in the FBI’s SES ranks McCabe actually needs to maintain a higher standard of conduct then an Agent on the street. This he failed to do. Now he gets to live with the consequences of his action.

    1. Doesn’t he get credit for 21 years of exemplary service to the country and the FBI? Trump, with access to all of our national secrets, could never get a security clearance if another President was considering hiring him for a high level position.

    2. I agree with about everything stated. I retired from Federal Civil Service, over 30 years time.
      I saw people fired for making comments to press about conditions in a Federal facility of a derogatory nature, and that changed official policy, that any release to press would need to be through a public information officer.
      Perhaps McCabe was authorized in that he said making press statements, he had checked with the lawyers and also public information officer.
      I think the biggest issue was that he had access to Weiner’s laptop computer which contained thousands of emails, with some being some of the missing emails that Hillary Clinton had deleted from her secret, private email server. Apparently he wasn’t going to have them surveyed until after the election, a period of weeks, perhaps months.
      I think the IG looked at that issue and the Office of Professional Responsibility also looked at that activity and apparently they both thought it was unprofessional and recommended firing.
      McCabe and his supporters were angry, upset, pointing fingers, but it was McCabe’s apparent political motivation that got him fired. I think it was just that one more thing.
      He had been skating on thin ice for a long time and that was just too much and they both said “You’re fired”.
      Besides my personal feelings on the McCabe firing, it was for cause, and by the people in the agency who had the responsibility to carry it out, not by Trump, although I’m sure Trump was happy to see it happen, since it was outside confirmation of what Trump has been saying, that they were out to get him.
      I’m not sure what happens next, if the IG inspection by Horowitz will show more bias, or even some kind of politically motivated behavior at the highest tiers of the FBI at the politically appointed levels requiring Senate confirmation. I personally think McCabe’s firing will be the start of an avalanche of upper echelon employees, and it’s possibly there may be criminal indictments and prosecution, but will need to wait and see.

  2. This is a heartfelt defense of a colleague by a senior FBI official, but it comes at a bad time — before the IG’s report is released. When that happens, all of us, including the writer, will possibly better understand why Andrew McCabe was fired.

    But as a former senior government employee (not FBI), I couldn’t help but react to several things Mr. Montoya said. It appears to an outsider that “lack of candor” is a disingenuous way of saying “lying”, and in this case under oath. And, it must be added, doing so after having had the opportunity to “negotiate” the final signed statement, according to Mr. Montoya. That is precisely the same wordsmithing the FBI engaged in as they were trying to excuse Hillary Clinton’s abuse of classified documents. I held a TS clearance for many years, and her actions were inexcusable, except to FBI employees who had become overly political. McCabe likely falls into this category, as his wife’s acceptance of a sizable political donation from Terry McAuliffe strongly suggests.

    Mr. Montoya writes: “Why on earth, then, would a man of McCabe’s experience, professionalism and dedication to duty identify such a course of action, include witnesses, and then lie about it?” A believable answer is that he thought, before the election, that Trump would not win and his actions would not be noticed.

    Mr. Montoya then cites statements by James Clapper, John Brennan, and James Comey as defending McCabe’s actions. He could hardly have chosen three more imperfect character witnesses — the first two have routinely been on the Hill and on TV making statements that are clearly dishonest and partisan. And Comey was caught up in the politics of the election from a very early date. It remains to be seen if they will emerge unscathed from this whole mess.

    Mr. Montoya might not like the President, or the way he operates. That is his right as a citizen and a voter. But he cannot carry that dislike into the halls of the FBI and still remain professional. It appears — and we still need to see the results of the IG report — that Mr. McCabe forgot that very important lesson.

    All of us who have worked at the senior levels of government (unless we were Schedule C) knew this. Mr. Montoya is welcome to defend Mr. McCabe as a friend and a colleague, but we all must wait to see the IG report before trying to defend his professionalism.

    1. John Brennan, in his tweet this weekend, had it just right. Aren’t you just a little concerned about what’s coming out of the Trump White House?

  3. Thank you for this piece. It reinforces my feeling that DD McCabe’s firing was an act of petty vindictiveness. It appalls me to see the F.B.I. attacked and demeaned in this way. I, for one, treasure the dedication and integrity of the men and women in the F.B.I. and appreciate their sacrifice for the safety and the good of our nation. I also trust the integrity of the institution itself. I feel that the “president” is attacking one of our national treasures.

    1. The same divisiveness that grips the country is found here. As a lifetime IC professional and someone who has held a TS and above for over 30 years, the issue comes down to TRUST. Sorry, but when you start being more concerned with protecting your political master (on either side of the political spectrum) instead of maintaining TRUTH, you will be branded by one side or the other as untrustworthy and biased. It is the end of one’s credibility and the death sentence for the intelligence professional. You now find half of the nation that believes the FBI as untrustworthy. What a shame for the Bureau rank and file who have done so much and sacrificed so much to protect the nation and its people.

  4. Frank,

    I agree with you that President Trump’s tweets on McCabe’s firing are as disgraceful as all of his other tweets, but beyond that point I can’t share your sympathy with McCabe. Unless OPR and OIG are completely out to lunch (and if they are we have bigger problems) then he almost certainly lied to federal investigators. And as I’m sure you know, ordinary citizens who do this typically have other worries than loss of their pension–even when the conversation took place out of court and not under oath. Mike Flynn (to take an obvious example) has taken a criminal plea for the same offense, and there are at least some allegations that his misstatements took place in a deliberately casual ‘sting’ that McCabe engineered. Distinguished public servants like Marine General James Cartwright have had to take criminal pleas in like circumstances. And of course Martha Stewart, although innocent of any substantive offense, was sent to prison for out-of-court, not-under-oath statements made to the FBI (an aggressive, up-and-coming prosecutor named Comey had something to do with that). Even “good” people caught in the spotlights tend to prevaricate–it’s a natural reaction–but so long as the Government imprisons citizens for that offense it’s hard to feel sympathy when one of the wielders of those spotlights faces some pension risk.

  5. I am really thankful for McCabe’s firing. It means the FBI and DOJ have not been turned into political hit squads which are used to destroy one’s political opposition, or anyone who opposes those occupying places of power in the government.
    It means that one’s allegiance is to the country, not to the party.
    We have seen many countries which have all the trappings of democracy, elections, presidents, parliaments, but the real power lies with the party.
    The people of the United States and the Constitution have endured one more day.

  6. It’s been over two months since this column. What impact does the recent release of the DOJ IG’s draft report bear on this now? And what about the constant drip, drip, drip of exposures of FBI, DOJ and IC wrong-doing? Granted that the dripping seems to only be reported on Fox News, but the investigative reporters and retired Feds is more and more credible; so much so that even GEN Clapper is now admitting to spying on the Trump campaign (although he hates that word, “spying”). For people who has sworn to uphold the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, to attempt a soft coup against a lawfully elected President just because they don’t like the election’s outcome is unconscionable.