WASHINGTON DC: Former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, who has endured a year of withering attacks from President Donald Trump, was fired by the Justice Department Friday just days before he was to retire.
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"Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI - A great day for Democracy," Trump tweeted soon after the firing.
"Sanctimonious [ex-FBI director] 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!" Trump wrote.
McCabe pushed back hard at the decision, saying he was the victim of a "war" by the Trump administration against both the FBI, and the special counsel probing allegations of Russian election meddling.
Announcing McCabe's ouster, the Justice Department said an internal investigation found that he had made unauthorised disclosures to the media, and had not been fully honest "on multiple occasions" with the department's inspector general.
"The FBI expects every employee to adhere to the highest standards of honesty, integrity and accountability," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. The decision was taken "after an extensive and fair investigation," Sessions said.
Details of the inspector general's probe were not made public, but it involved the FBI's handling of the 2016 investigation into Trump's election rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton.
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Trump has repeatedly accused McCabe and Comey of having protected Clinton from prosecution over her misuse of a private email server while she was secretary of state, and over the actions of the private Clinton Foundation set up by her husband, former president Bill Clinton.
Trump was also publicly upset about McCabe's defense of Comey -- whom the president fired in May 2017 in frustration at the ongoing FBI probe into alleged collusion between his election campaign and Russia.
McCabe hit out following his sacking in a blistering statement. "I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey," McCabe said.
McCabe said the inspector general's probe "became part of an unprecedented effort by the administration, driven by the president himself, to remove me from my position, destroy my reputation, and possibly strip me of a pension that I worked 21 years to earn."
The firing came as the White House shows increasing frustration with the collusion probe, now in the hands of Special Counsel Robert Mueller -- himself a former FBI director -- and increasingly threatening the president's inner circle.
Mueller is notably examining whether Trump obstructed the investigation with his sacking of Comey, an episode that McCabe would be a crucial witness for. Trump had repeatedly criticised McCabe as biased, pressing Sessions to take action against him.
Under pressure, on January 30 McCabe announced he would retire at the end of March, when he became eligible for full pension benefits. Meanwhile he halted work and went on leave.
"This attack on my credibility is one part of a larger effort not just to slander me personally, but to taint the FBI, law enforcement, and intelligence professionals more generally," McCabe said.
"It is part of this administration's ongoing war with the FBI and the efforts of the special counsel investigation."
McCabe denied any impropriety in speaking with the media about the Clinton probe, and denied that he handled the probe with any bias. He also denied having deliberately lied to the inspector general.
The firing means the Justice Department can deny him his pension. McCabe reportedly has said he will appeal Sessions' decision.
Trump took advantage of McCabe's links to the Democrats. His wife ran for state office under the Democratic party banner in Virginia in 2015, receiving $467,000 in campaign funding from a close political ally of Hillary Clinton.
"Why didn't AG Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation," Trump tweeted in July 2017, adding a reference to the donation.
Trump raised the heat in December, taunting McCabe over his looming retirement. "FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits. 90 days to go?!!!"
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The firing will only stoke the political fires around the Mueller investigation of Trump. It could also fuel discontent inside the FBI, where Comey and McCabe both held the respect of the thousands of agents. Republican Representative Lee Zeldin labeled the firing "appropriate" and "timely."
"McCabe was a ringleader of rogue actors who were a shameful exception at top; not the norm," he tweeted.
But Democrat Adam Schiff said that the action, coming after Trump urged the Justice department to deny McCabe his pension, "gives the action an odious taint."
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