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Trump Uses Twitter To Criticize FBI, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Lulu Garcia-Navarro is off for the holidays. I'm Lauren Frayer.

President Trump is celebrating Christmas in Florida, but Washington is still clearly very much on his mind. He took a few moments out of his break to take aim at a frequent target of his lately, the FBI. NPR's justice reporter Ryan Lucas has been following this and joins us now. Hey, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

FRAYER: Trump's been going after one man in particular, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. What can you tell us about McCabe?

LUCAS: Well, McCabe is a career FBI official. He's been at the bureau for more than 20 years. He rose up through the ranks, worked a number of mob cases in New York City early on in his career before he shifted more to counterterrorism work. He's held senior positions at the Washington field office, at FBI headquarters in Washington. He was named deputy director by James Comey in January of 2016. This is the No. 2 position at the bureau. So McCabe was overseeing domestic and international investigations, which gave him a central role, of course, into the biggest and most high-profile cases of late. That would be the Clinton email server investigation and the Russia probe. He also, you may remember famously, stepped in as acting director after Comey was fired in May. And McCabe is expected to retire early next year when he's eligible for his full pension, and that's been the plan for some time.

FRAYER: So why is Trump then taking aim at McCabe on Twitter like he is?

LUCAS: Well, it's part of the president's broader pattern of negative remarks that he's laid at the doorstep of the FBI. And you may remember how a few weeks ago he said that the FBI's reputation was in tatters and the worst in history. And this really ties back into McCabe's role overseeing the Clinton and Russia investigations. Trump has criticized the FBI over its handling of the Clinton probe. He frequently asks why the bureau and the Justice Department aren't taking a closer look at that matter. In his tweet on Saturday, Trump also alluded to political donations that McCabe's wife took. When she unsuccessfully ran for a Virginia State Senate seat, she received around $500,000 in political donations from a political organization tied to Governor Terry McAuliffe, who was a longtime Clinton friend.

FRAYER: So she ran as a Democrat.

LUCAS: That's right. Yes. Now, the FBI says McCabe cleared everything with ethics folks at the bureaus. Everything was above board. And also McCabe didn't become deputy director until after that election. But still, Republicans have suggested that it may have tainted McCabe's decision-making in the Clinton probe. And all of this, of course, is part of a broader pattern from the president and his allies of, you know, disparaging remarks directed at the FBI and the Justice Department, alleging political bias in the upper ranks of the bureau in particular and by extension, of course, with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team conducting the Russia investigation.

FRAYER: And it's not just the president who's criticizing him. He's facing a lot of pressure from Republicans on the Hill, as well. Is that right?

LUCAS: That's very much so. McCabe was dragged up to Capitol Hill twice last week. He spent around eight hours testifying behind closed doors for the House Intelligence Committee. That was about Russia. And he spent a little more than eight hours with the House Oversight and House Judiciary Committees a few days later talking about the Clinton matter.

Now, there's one thing in particular that Republicans want to talk to McCabe about, and that's a senior FBI agent by the name of Peter Strzok, who's been in the news a lot. He worked on both the Mueller probe and the Clinton investigation, and he sent highly charged, politically charged text messages about Trump. Now, Strzok was removed from the Russia investigation, but those text messages have given Republicans a lot of ammunition for their allegations of political bias.

FRAYER: With about 30 seconds left, what sort of effect does all of this criticism from the president, from Republicans on the Hill have on the FBI?

LUCAS: Well, it's not a position that the bureau wants to be in. It was in the middle of the political fight in 2016, and that's continued into 2017. And there's a lot of pressure from Republicans to clean house in the senior ranks at the FBI. That's made life difficult for Christopher Wray. But one source has told me that there's not a lot of appetite at the bureau to bend to that pressure and dump McCabe before he's set to retire.

FRAYER: That's NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas. Ryan, thank you.

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

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.