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Andrew McCabe Fired by Sessions, Pension Benefits Threw Out of the Window; CNN: McCabe Denies He Misled Investigators. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired March 16, 2018 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon. It is breaking news, Andrew McCabe, the former deputy director at the FBI has been fired tonight, just two days shy of his official retirement on Sunday. In an exclusive interview tonight, McCabe tells CNN, he denies misleading the inspector general in any way

And he says the accusations against him fit into what he calls a pattern of attacks against him including President Trump. We have a lot to get to on this breaking news, the firing of the Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe.

Let's get right to CNN's Pamela Brown and Laura Jarrett with the very latest. Laura, tell us what you know.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Don, a stunning blow tonight for a man who had really climbed to the highest echelons of the FBI just less than two days away from his official retirement on Sunday when he turns 50. But now, fired tonight, effective immediately.

The Attorney General Jeff Sessions just released a statement that I want to read to you, in part, as it explains the basis for this decision, Don. He says, "That after an extensive and fair investigation, according to the Department of Justice procedure, the Department's Office of the Inspector General provided its report on allegations of misconduct by Andrew McCabe to the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility. It handles disciplinary actions."

He goes on to say, "The FBI's OPR then reviewed the report and underlying document and issued a disciplinary proposal recommending the dismissal of Mr. McCabe. He says both the O.J. and FBI OPR reports concluded that Mr. McCabe had made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor, including under oath on multiple occasions."

Now, Don, we have not seen this report. Multiple news outlets have been reporting on it for the last few days, but we haven't actually seen the content. So this is the first confirmation that we now have on the record from the attorney general that explains why McCabe is being fired at this time just, as we mentioned, just a few short days from his retirement.

Now, of course, the big aspect for McCabe in all of this is his pension. He is eligible to retire early if he had been able to stay until Sunday when he turns 50. But because he is being fired now at age 49, that jeopardizes a significant portion of his pension, Don.

LEMON: All right. Thank you, Laura, I want you to stand by. Again, the breaking news tonight at the top of the hour here at 10 p.m. Eastern on CNN. Jeff Sessions, the attorney general has fired the FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe just shy of his retirement on Sunday when he is to turn 50 years old, his 50th birthday, and to become eligible to receive retirement benefits.

We're just getting this reporting on the air now. New information coming in.

Pamela brown, I want to bring you in because you exclusively spoke to Andrew McCabe for an hour. What did he tell you?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Don. I did speak to Andrew McCabe and he said flat out that he never misled investigators and he said that he chalked up any misunderstanding between the two, between him and investigators with the DOJ inspector general's office.

He said there were times where he realized he walked away from talking with them, realizing there was perhaps a miscommunication, misunderstanding from what they were asking to what he said. And so he claims he proactively went back to them to clear up what he actually meant.

But as you see here, in the statement from the Department of Justice, misleading investigators is one of the reasons that he is being terminated just shy of his 50th birthday as well as the unauthorized disclosure of information to the media.

Now, McCabe told me that he was one of only three agents in the bureau to be able to authorize disclosure to the media. And that he gave the green light to two FBI officials to speak to a Wall Street Journal reporter about an article revolving around the Clinton Foundation.

He says that the reporter had factually inaccurate information, that he was trying to slow-roll the Clinton Foundation investigation, and so he wanted the agents to talk to the reporter to clear the air, to clear up any facts that were erroneous essentially, Don, and so he says that this is what he was authorized to do.

And he says his downfall after spending more than 20 years in the FBI as a result of a pattern of attacks against him, to undermine his credibility by the president. He said he became a political punching bag, essentially, of the president during the campaign when the Wall Street Journal released that article that his wife had run for a Democratic Senate seat in a state Senate seat in 26 -- 2015, rather. She lost that race but it was then the next year that he became deputy director of the FBI and oversaw the Clinton found -- the Clinton investigation into Clinton's server.

And so many people at that time when the Wall Street Journal released that article thought he should recuse himself, which he didn't do until just before the election. But McCabe is defending himself, saying he never did anything wrong, never misled investigators, and that he was authorized to release this information to the media, Don.

LEMON: He's also -- so many different facets to this story, Pamela. And again, you spoke to him just, you know, moments ago. It's just interesting because he's also talking about the -- what Nunes did during the investigation here. What did he say to you?

[22:05:00] BROWN: That's right. He said that the Nunes memo mischaracterized what he told the House Intelligence Committee. As you'll recall, in the memo, it made the case that McCabe said, allegedly, testified that no surveillance warrant would have been sought for the FISA warrant on Carter Page, the former campaign aide, without the dossier, and McCabe pushed back on said -- on that and said that that wasn't true, that he never said that the dossier was the linchpin to getting the FISA warrant approved for Carter Page.

He said yes, it was a material part of the application but it was not the majority of the application, and that the investigation into Carter Page, into Russia, began even before the dossier.

So, he said that essentially the Republicans and the House intelligence committee mischaracterized what he said in that testimony. This is the first time, again, that we're hearing from Andrew McCabe, talking about this and, now, in the wake of the news he has been terminated, just shy of his 50th birthday, Don.

LEMON: Could he end up as a witness in the Mueller investigation?

BROWN: He absolutely could. And in fact, we talked about that and he believes that that is one of the reasons why he believes he has been a target by the president. He says every time it comes out that he could be a witness in the Mueller investigation in terms of the firing of James Comey, that it seems as though the attacks escalate toward him.

And he also said that he found out shortly after news broke when he testified to the committee that he was aware of some of the interactions between the president and Comey. He said shortly after the news broke about that, he found out there would be a separate inspector general report just focused on him.

Now I asked him what point he was trying to make with that. And he said he didn't know, but all he could say was that the attacks would escalate against him once it became more clear that he could be a witness in the Mueller investigation, Don.

LEMON: All right, Pamela Brown with the breaking news tonight. The deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe has been fired by the Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Pamela Brown speaking to him exclusively, McCabe, I should point out, speaking to him exclusively for CNN. And he's giving some very interesting information.

I want to get to the White House now. I want to get to Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, listen, you know, Sessions -- I'm not sure if he had much of a choice because he's been under pressure from the White House. Also with that inspector general report, recommending that McCabe be fired. Not sure that Sessions really had much of a choice in this.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's actually a good point, Don. But let's not forget that the president really goaded Sessions into doing this. He publicly mused on Twitter why Sessions hadn't fired him yet. Why he was going to be allowed to retire with full benefits. Talking about racing the clock down. And the president has been highly critical of McCabe for months now and not just publicly but also in private. He at one point asked him who he voted for according to reports. So let's not forget that either.

But, an important context here is that the president actually interviewed McCabe to be the FBI director after he fired James Comey just a year ago. We're closing in on that one year date. So he interviewed him for that job. He only interviewed a handful of people. And he never raised these concerns about McCabe's past during that publicly at the time.

So it's important to keep that in mind. But certainly, a lot of pressure from the White House for Jeff Sessions to make this decision. Of course, Jeff Sessions was the final person who had to make a decision here who had -- it was the last one to decide whether or not he should be fired with just two days to go before his retirement.

But certainly, a lot of pressure from the White House. And I even spoke with several White House officials today who said that they did believe he should be fired. So it seems they got their wish. You can almost guarantee we're going to hear from the president on this over this weekend.

LEMON: All right, Kaitlan, I want you to stand by. Pamela standing by, as well. As well as our Laura Jarrett who's been reporting on this. Laura, I'll ask you the very similar question that I asked Kaitlan. Jeff Sessions has been under intense scrutiny from the president. What choice did he really have?

JARRETT: Well, it's an interesting question here, Don. Because on the one hand, we've all talked to former FBI officials who have said, look, lack of candor is a serious, serious grievance. You know, one even called it the kiss of death to me.

So the idea that that is the basis that underlies this decision seems to be something that is well supported in the past. Other people have been fired for this very issue. But the problem for Sessions is that the president has made this political. He has used McCabe as the proverbial pinata ever since the campaign trail. He has tweeted about it as Kaitlan and Pamela mentioned. And so that political overlay I think adds a certain complexity to Session's decision even if he thought he was playing it by the book here.

LEMON: Pamela Brown, I want to get to you. Talk to me more about the relationship between McCabe and the president.

BROWN: I will. And I'm just as this news is breaking, Don, I'm getting text messages, responses from people in the bureau who are just expressing their shock. Just for context, this is extremely unusual for a career FBI agent who spent more than 20 years in the FBI to be terminated like this in such a public way.

[22:10:06] And yes, part of the reason why this is so public is because what the president has tweeted about Andrew McCabe, and now we're learning more, Don, about the interactions that the two men had.

In fact, Andrew McCabe told me during an interview that they had at least four interactions in May and each time he said, Don, that the president would bring up his wife, who, again, had a failed bid for the state Senate seat in 2015 and accepted money from Terry McAuliffe's PAC who, of course, is tied to the Clinton family.

He said on these occasions, Trump taunted him with it as a mistake or a problem. Calling his wife a loser. He said he was fixated on his wife and that he would push back, saying that he didn't see a problem with her running that he stayed out of it.

And he also said, as has been reported, that the president did ask him the day after he was appointed acting director of the FBI who he voted for, and he told the president at that time that he didn't vote in the last election because of the political sensitivities given the ongoing investigations in the bureau on both sides.

But it's just interesting here that he also pointed out, Don, that the president brought up McCabe to the Director Comey, before Director Comey was fired, saying in his words, in McCabe's words, "what's up with your deputy director?" So it appears that the president, and as we know from his tweets, was fixated on the idea that Andrew McCabe could have been politically motivated due to the actions of his wife running for the state Senate, the Democratic seat in 2015.

That behavior from the president started on the campaign trail and has been going on ever since. So it's interesting to get sort of behind the scenes look at the interactions between the two men.

LEMON: Let me just real quick, Pamela, I want to talk about this, because some people are saying this has already been decided in December once the president started tweeting about McCabe. There's a tweet as you know in this administration for everything.

"FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits, 90 days to go, question mark, exclamation points." That was December 23rd. Also on December 23rd, "How can FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, the man in charge, along with leaking James Comey of the phony Hillary Clinton investigation including a 33,000 illegally deleted e-mails be given $70,000 for his wife's campaign by Clinton puppets during investigation."

So, one wonders if this was a foregone conclusion since December, and here we are in March, and it just played out just a couple days before he was supposed to retire.

BROWN: It certainly raises that question. The FBI, which is the office there, did recommend that he be terminated. That recommendation went to DOJ and the office of inspector general. Now, these are supposed to be nonpartisan entities. But ultimately, Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, who's trying to

hang on to his job, and he was also been targeted by the president for not doing more on McCabe, was the one that made this decision. So, certainly an interesting scenario when you look at that and the amount of pressure, the amount of public pressure that the president has been putting on him to fire Andrew McCabe, Don.

LEMON: All right. Pamela, I want you to stand by. Josh Campbell joins us, formerly of the FBI, and he's our law enforcement analyst here on CNN.

Josh, what's your take on this?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Don, what a profile in courage. Here we are, you know, late in the wee hours here, evening of Friday night, racing the clock until, you know, true public servant has the opportunity to retire. Now we see that he's been fired.

Let me distinguish between two quick points if I can. First of all, I've been on record. A lot of my former colleagues who have said that anyone who lies in the FBI should be held accountable. No question about that whatsoever.

There's an ethos in the FBI that your candor is your currency. And once that's gone, you're no longer of use to the organization. So if McCabe lied, he has to face the consequences.

What makes this so hard to really grapple with is the political angle. Again, here we are, the end of the day, what took so long, first of all? So many unanswered questions here. And the thing that I think the American people deserve surely Andrew McCabe deserves is to hear from the attorney general right now, not next week, not two months from now when he's at some congressional hearing but to hear right now what exactly happened. The facts that were underlying this dismissal, and let the American people make the decision for themselves.

What I fear and what we've already seen is a lot of those detractors, whether they're, you know, it's 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or on Capitol Hill or you know, partisans throughout the country, they're going to look at this and say, see, the Department of Justice look into this case and found that this man was a political animal and they held him accountable.

To be clear, this is not that. There were those allegations throughout, you know, especially after the text messages were exchanged with these two employees exercising incredibly bad judgment which did provide this cloud over the bureau as far as where their political decisions made. That's something the inspector general is going to determine. It's going to come to some conclusion on.

[22:15:09] This is not that. The focus here is was Andrew McCabe untruthful in answering questions to the inspector general. At least the FBI's looked at that and said yes, there are some issues here.

The last thing, Don, is what, you know, I'm not happy about any of this, but the one thing I do look forward to is finally being able to hear from Andy himself. I had the pleasure of working, you know, briefly as Andy's special assistant after Director McCabe -- Director Comey was fired. He is a great man. He is a true public servant. He should be held accountable. But this issue should not define his service.

LEMON: Josh Campbell, thank you very much. I want all of our correspondents to stand by. Again, the deputy FBI director fired by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Here we are, just before 10 o'clock on a Friday evening, of course, what's been interesting, not just that people have been fired. Many people from this White House. But the way in which they find out they were fired.

Remember Rex Tillerson learning from Twitter and then the president calling him hours later, well, how did Andrew McCabe find out? Right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Here's our breaking news tonight here on CNN. Attorney General Jeff Sessions firing Andrew McCabe. The former FBI deputy director, days short of his retirement on his 50th birthday.

Back with me now, Pamela Brown and Kaitlan Collins, both joining me from Washington, as you see Kaitlan at the White House late on a Friday evening.

[22:19:59] Pamela, something interesting here that has to do with Andrew McCabe, you spoke with him exclusively about this, Andrew McCabe believes his firing has something to do obviously with the firing or his relationship with James Comey. Talk to me about that.

BROWN: Yes, that's right. In fact, he released a statement in response to the news from the Department of Justice he has been terminated just shy of his 50th birthday. And he says, "Here's the reality. 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."

He went out and singled out the president in his statement, Don. Saying, "The OIG's focus, the Office of Inspector General's focus on me in this report became a 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."

And he also told me in this interview that he feels like these attacks from the president, this pattern of attack was an effort to undermine him, undermine his credibility and his reputation. Not only for the role he had in the Russia investigation but, in his view, because he would be a witness to the firing of James Comey and the Robert Mueller investigation. And he said that he has personal interactions with the president and it was clear that the president really had ire directed at him because of his wife. His wife ran for the senate seat in 2015. And he said the president would bring that up repeatedly.

Also worth noting here, Don, is how Andrew McCabe found out this evening how he was fired. There seems to be a pattern here. As you recall James Comey found out from the news that he was fired by the president. And this evening, I'm told by a representative that he found out from news reports, in fact, they found out when I reached out to them to see if they had a response to the news, that is how Andrew McCabe found out, once again, from the media, Don.

LEMON: Yes. Again, Andrew McCabe saying tonight to Pamela Brown, "I absolutely never misled the inspector general in anyway," he said during the hour-long interview with CNN, calling his "highly public downfall the result of a series of attacks designed to undermine my credibility and my reputation including by President Trump." And that is a quote from him.

Pamela, stand by. Kaitlan, I want to get to you because I want you to talk about how the president -- is it that the general consensus that the people believe the president used his attacks on McCabe as a proxy against the FBI?

COLLINS: Well, he certainly singled out McCabe more than anyone else we've seen. Because the last year that the president has been in office these 14 months he's obviously attacked the FBI, the Department of Justice, several times, even going after his own Attorney General Jeff Sessions who he handpicked to run the Justice Department.

But McCabe has really drawn the president's ire in a way that not many others have. He's repeatedly gone after him as Pamela just brought up for his wife running for that state Senate seat because she did receive donations from Terry McAuliffe, someone who is a longtime ally of Bill and Hillary Clinton's.

And that was something that the president believed show -- he used that as a way to show that there was political bias in the senior ranks of the FBI. Even though he obviously was not a political appointee, he was a career official at the Justice Department, so -- or at the FBI, excuse me.

So it just called into question why did the president single him out? And if he used that just to justify his larger attacks on the FBI in general? And we should of course point out that Andrew McCabe has said he is a lifelong Republican here.

So the president believes that this is an attack on him. That it's an attack on his presidency. But he's attacked him. Even though he describes himself as a republican here, Don.

LEMON: Yes. Jim Comey and Robert Mueller, same thing. Thank you, Kaitlan, Pamela. Both of you stand by, please. If we get some more breaking news, we'll get back to you.

I want to bring in now Chris Cilliza, Ryan Lizza and Josh Campbell. I just want to -- I just want to read this for you, Ryan. He says, "Here's the reality. I'm being -- and this is from Andrew McCabe. Here's the reality. I'm 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 firing of James Comey." What do you say to that? RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, something doesn't smell

right in this entire case. Look, maybe he did something egregious and we'll hear from some FBI experts about why lying in a case like this is so important and isn't -- it calls for immediate dismissal. I understand that.

But we have the attorney general being pressured by the president of the United States to get rid of this person. Coming out, accusing him of lying and being -- of conduct that we don't actually know about because the report has not been released publicly. And it just smells very fishy, Don. It smells very fishy.

[22:24:53] This guy might be a witness in the -- in the Mueller investigation. He was one of the first people that raised questions and started -- and did some investigative work on Trump's ties to Russia, and at the very least, why is the attorney general making this decision? Why wasn't he -- why didn't he recuse himself from this decision, knowing that the president wanted this guy pushed out?

So I think there are a lot of unanswered questions here, starting with the release of this report about this guy needs to be made public, because he is being trashed without -- without the public seeing what is behind these allegations. And that is not fair.

LEMON: Yes. I just -- I want to bring someone else in on the panel. And that's CNN political commentator David Swerdlick also joins us now as well. Before I get to you, David, let's get to the other -- to the FBI the former supervisory FBI agent on our panel now, and that's Josh Campbell.

Josh, McCabe is saying, "The release of this report was accelerated only after my testimony to the House intelligence committee revealed that I would corroborate former director FBI, former Director Comey's accounts of his discussions with the president." What do you say to that?

CAMPBELL: Well, I would actually go a step further than Andy's gone in his statement and say that it doesn't just have to do with the aftermath of the firing of James Comey. But can we be honest with each other, this goes back to the investigation into Hillary Clinton and the aftermath of that. And the truth is there are still people in this country who cannot get over the fact that the FBI did not recommend charging Hillary Clinton.

Now before I kind of explain that, let me just say that two things can be true here. As I mentioned being honest, candor in the FBI is very important. So I'm not giving him a pass there. I hope he gets an appeal, the appeal process and we hear his side of the story.

So, what I'm about to say I don't want anyone to confuse that with, well, you're just trying to, you know, pivot to something else. I also think he needs to be held accountable. But I also think we can hold two thoughts in our head. The other which being I don't think that our officials are being honest brokers here especially in the Department of Justice. Because if you look back to the aftermath of the Hillary Clinton case

and Andy McCabe's role in that, he received so much ire from, as we mention, our elected leaders from politicians from partisans regarding his role. If you look at the role of his wife and her campaign, if you're a woman out there, just think about this concept, what Andy McCabe and his wife went through.

There is this view, which I would explain, you know, I would call very chauvinistic, that a woman who decides to run for public office cannot run on her own merit and has to be so closely tied to her husband that she can't make her own decision. So how chauvinistic is it that there were people out there saying that she received this large donation this large sum of money because her husband is some high-ranking official and then therefore, she's going to, you know, do whatever he says and he's going to do whatever she says. It makes no sense. These are two separate human beings.

And the reason why I'm so fired up about this is because this is something that we lived over the last year and a half, listening to some of these complaints, thinking, how crazy can people be to be so political. The FBI should not be that target.

So then you fast forward to after the firing of Director Comey. At that point, anyone who said anything nice about him was going to have a target on their back. I think that was the case here with Mr. McCabe.

LEMON: And just so people know exactly what we're talking about here. This is back in 2015. McCabe's wife, Jill McCabe, ran unsuccessfully for a seat in Virginia's state Senate and a PAC affiliated with then Governor Terry McAuliffe moved almost $500,000 to her campaign.

The president is saying of course this was an affiliate of Hillary Clinton. And so initial -- so the president seems to be upset by that. That is what Josh was talking about.

Chris Cilliza, let's bring you in now and talk about the political ramifications or the possible political fallout from this.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: I mean, what a week, you know, the political ramifications are that I think if you are still a supporter of Donald Trump, you will say good, Andy McCabe broke the rules, that's what an internal investigation found he should have been fired.

If you are anyone else and if you judge by polls, that's between 60 and between 55 and 60 percent of the public you will have questions about this. And I think a lot of those questions have to do with something that Kaitlan was mentioning earlier, Don, which is, the President of the United States has made this something that we can't just take at face value or we shouldn't just take at face value. Why?

Because for many months Donald Trump has tweeted out and been convinced of the fact that what Josh just said isn't connected is connected. That of course, Terry McAuliffe, who by the way, was the governor of Virginia and gave to lots of state senate candidates. But regardless, that he funneled this money to McCabe's wife to influence McCabe in a way that would make him more pro-Hillary Clinton. It just seems unlikely to me. But Donald Trump had convinced himself of that fact.

[22:29:59] So that is a -- we know Donald Trump believes that. Now you have Jeff Sessions. What does Jeff Sessions know? He knows the President of the United States is not happy with him and has not been for a long time. And as the President has told several media outlets, I would not have hired him if I knew he was going to recuse himself on Russia. You also know from this past week that the President of the United States has fired his Secretary of State on Twitter, and basically hinted at not all that suddenly that there's more change coming.

And now this deadline for Andrew McCabe as it relates to the pension. It's difficult for me to say none of those things are related, or have any impact on how Jeff Sessions would make his mind up about something like this.

And do so in a way that, you know is -- you're talking about 48 hours for a guy who spent two decades of his life serving the FBI, is now going to lose a considerable sum of money as it relates to his pension.

I am with Ryan. We need to see -- I reserve a little bit of judgment until we see -- we get briefed on what that report related to McCabe said, because if he did something --

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA: -- if he did something that was truly wrong and egregious, OK. But short of that, all these other factors, Donald Trump, Jeff Sessions...

LEMON: All right, I need to bring --

(CROSSATALK)

CILLIZZA: -- it's hard to just take this all forward, oh, this makes perfect sense, got you.

LEMON: I want to bring David in. David, you have been sitting there patiently to have you put a bow on all of this. I mean, I could read more from the statement, I can talk about the whole Comey thing, we can talk about Terry McAuliffe's wife running for Senate.

But I wanted -- let's talk about this week, the president saying, well, this is just normal, you're going to have staff turnover, there is nothing to see here, move along.

It is a Friday night at 10:00. The Deputy FBI Director is fired by the Attorney General who is -- seems to be in trouble with the President. Does Jeff Sessions think this is going to keep him from groveling to the president?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm not sure, Don. Quick McCabe specific point on this, simply that -- look, to me, this reminds of the Comey firing. It seems like even though as, Josh, said this should be a situation where if someone in the FBI, including McCabe, has not been fully truthful, then they do have to face the consequences.

Even though he, of course, denies that as Pamela just reported. But this looks like a punishment in search of a transgression, rather than a transgression that's followed by a punishment. You remember when Comey was fired last May, there were two reasons given.

There was the Rosenstein memo which said it had to do with the Clinton investigation. But the President's letter to Comey referenced the President asking Comey, I asked you three times if I was under investigation.

Then there was the Lester Holt interview, there's the disconnect. What is the President really thinking when these people are being let go. In terms of the bigger picture you're asking about, Don, I would say this.

It's a profile in cowardice that the President or the Attorney General don't come out in front of cameras during, you know, regular business hours, and say what's going on with McCabe, Ryan made the point, why is Jeff Sessions even the one making this decision when he's supposed to be recused from anything, touching the Russia investigation, the Special Counsel investigation.

And why ultimately are they making decisions that appear to be political, even if there may be a thread of actual due process involved in this, especially when you're talking about a career FBI official.

LEMON: Misleading statement -- right after the break, Josh, if you can wait. I have been extending. But I have to get to the break, and I wanted to make sure I get everyone in here. We'll talk about those alleged misleading statements, and more on why the Deputy Director of the FBI is fired late on a Friday night. Don't go anywhere. We'll be right back with our breaking news.

[22:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: We're back with our breaking news on a Friday night. Attorney General Jeff Sessions firing former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe less than two days shy of his retirement. Back with me now, Pamela Brown, Chris Cillizza, Ryan Lizza, Josh Campbell, and David Swerdlick. So gang is all here.

Let's continue to discuss this breaking news.

Ryan, I wan to remind our viewers of the President's tweet. This is from December 23rd of last year, and if we can just put that up on the screen. FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits, 90 days to go. Is this a foregone conclusion?

LIZZA: How can a senior Department of Justice official get and expect a fair process when he has the President of the United States who launched a public campaign against him. It's just completely political.

This guy has so many strikes against him when it comes to the White House, and the President, and this psycho drama between the President and Jeff Sessions, McCabe's boss. It just seems very, very hard to believe that this guy got a fair hearing at the Department of Justice.

At the very least, the idea that Sessions made this decision without recusing himself just seems very, very fishy. And, you know, we need to see the I.G.'s report to understand what was behind this.

Because I cannot imagine that -- you know, it just smells political, Don. It smells very political. And this guy was the subject of unrelenting attacks led by the President of the United States, and that -- I don't see the evidence of due process here. And that's important.

LEMON: Let's talk more about the Inspector General report, Pamela Brown, because one of the reasons he's being terminated is because he misled investigators. What does -- let me just read this. I want to read this.

This is the statement from Jeff Sessions. And then you can weigh in, Pamela. It says the FBI's OPR then reviewed the report. It talks about the underlying documents issued, disciplinary proposal recommending the dismissal of Mr. McCabe.

Both the OIG and FBI OPR reports conclude that Mr. McCabe had made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media, and lacked candor, including under oath, on multiple occasions.

[22:40:07] The FBI expects every employee to adhere to the highest standards of honesty, and integrity, and accountability. Go on. So what do you say to that?

BROWN: So I asked Andrew McCabe about the allegations that he misled the Inspector General Investigators, and he chalked up any claims that he misled them as simply a misunderstanding.

He said that there were a few occasions where he walked away after he was interviewed where he realized what they asked and what he said, there may have been some divide, or some miscommunication, or misunderstanding.

And so he says that he proactively went back to the investigators to clear up any potential confusion of what he was trying to say to make sure that they had that understanding. But we're sort of operating in the dark here.

Because we don't know the specific allegations, Don, of how he misled allegedly according to DOJ investigators, what specific allegations they are.

We know it has to do with the fact that he authorized the disclosure of information to a Wall Street Journal reporter regarding the Clinton foundation investigation that he was overseeing.

But we don't know specifically the interactions. But he is claiming that he never misled investigators, and that he took the initiative himself to go back, and clear up any confusion there was.

We're also learning more, Don, about the interactions that Andrew McCabe had with the FBI Director Wray, when he was asked to leave his position as deputy director.

He was told on a Sunday night, he says in January, by the FBI Director, who 2had called him that he was going to remove him from his post as Deputy Director, and demote him essentially because he had looked at the I.G. report, and was troubled by the allegations.

He says that Wray would not be specific with him about those allegations, what specific allegations they were. And so instead Andrew McCabe told him that he would take a leave of absence.

And he also added, Don, that in December -- this past December, that Director Wray had asked him to speak to the editor of a major newspaper about a story that the FBI thought would be damaging to their operational capabilities.

And so in McCabe's view, he feels like he is being fired for something he was asked to do, the same thing he was asked to do in December by the current FBI Director that he did in October of 2016 when he authorized the disclosure of that information to the media, Don.

LEMON: All right, thank you, Pamela Brown. Rest of our panel, everyone, please standby. Lots to discuss in the coming hours here on CNN. When we come back, much more on our breaking news, Jeff Sessions fires Andrew McCabe on a Friday night.

[22:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Attorney General Jeff Sessions firing former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe tonight. McCabe breaking his silence tonight, charging he was fired because of what he witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey.

I want to bring in now CNN contributor, John Dean, who was White House Counsel to President Nixon, and CNN Legal and National Security Analyst Asha Rangappa, a former FBI Special Agent.

Good evening to both of you. Here we are, late on a Friday evening, and there's breaking news coming from the White House. Asha, Andrew McCabe is telling Pamela Brown he was just correcting a story that was going to print in The Wall Street Journal, and that he absolutely never misled the Inspector General in any way. What is your read on how this has played out?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, McCabe is going to have an opportunity to appeal this decision, and he'll be able to lay out all of those facts.

I think the bigger picture here, Don, is that, you know, to the extent that Trump has been tweeting about McCabe being fired, for a while now, I think the idea is to discredit him because he's a pretty key witness in the obstruction investigation.

I'll tell you why. You know, the President is under investigation for obstruction for firing Comey. And the biggest thing that Mueller needs to find out is his intent in doing that.

And those conversations that Comey had in those weeks before he got fired, the loyalty oath, the asking to let go of the Flynn conversation, am I still under investigation, those are critical to that. And there are few people that Comey told. McCabe is one of them.

So, you know, by having him fired, by having him be characterized as a liar, that's theoretically good for Trump, but I think it could backfire because if there's a trail that Trump was trying to retaliate, or pressure Sessions into firing him for that reason, that itself could add to more evidence of obstruction. So it's very complicated.

LEMON: John, having dealt with issues like this, they have to prove intent. Is that difficult?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It is always difficult. And it has to be done with circumstantial evidence. And Comey is somebody who has good circumstantial understanding. He had a number of interactions. I think, Asha, has outlined it very nicely.

And it raises a lot of suspicion about the way they're handling McCabe, because he is a corroborating -- potentially a corroborating witness.

I'm not -- I really can't believe it's anything other than a political move, given the timing of it. And the fact that he had just days to go to get his retirement, and the circumstances of it. I think we all need to see the I.G. report sooner rather than later.

LEMON: So listen, does this firing become something to investigate in terms of obstruction of justice, given that McCabe is saying this is because of the events he witnessed, and his knowledge about -- and has knowledge about in the wake of firing Comey, John?

DEAN: Well, I think he might be exactly right. That's certainly his suspicion. I hope he prepared for it, and -- because he will get a day to appeal this. And I hope he does that.

Otherwise we'll never know the answer. So this looks like the pattern that's being followed, more obstruction, more fire them, get rid of them, rough them up, tarnish them. That's been the operating procedure so far.

LEMON: I'll ask for the average person at home, Asha, whether this move, because it could have come at any time, during this week, it could have come over the weekend is this -- some people see this as counter programming to Stormy Daniels, to get her off the headlines, out of the headlines. RANGAPPA: Yes, that's not going to work. Stormy is not going

anywhere. If you watch any of the interviews that her attorney has done, it's clear that she's going to fight this. And I think she's got some good claims.

Now, they are -- Michael Cohen and now President Trump who have joined the lawsuit is trying to move this into federal court. There are complicated legal issues.

But, you know, there are other issues involved too, involving potential campaign finance law. So that is not going to go away. As you know, Don, by tomorrow, they'll be something else and McCabe may not even be the dominating story. So I think if they wanted to get Stormy out, she's not going anywhere.

[22:50:00] LEMON: Yes, thank you both, I appreciate it. Breaking news here on a Friday night, but you guys will stay. We'll get more from you on the other side of the break. Attorney General Jeff Sessions firing the former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, we'll go into this, right after this.

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LEMON: Breaking news on a Friday night. Andrew McCabe fired tonight by the Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The former FBI Deputy Director has been regularly taunted by the President, and besieged by accusations that he had misled internal investigators at the Justice Department.

John Dean and Asha Rangappa are both back with me. I'm wondering, Asha, in all of this, if they have unwillingly created a monster who can now go out and speak freely against this administration, and is now a witness in the Mueller investigation?

RANGAPPA: I think they have. And they may regret that. So, you know, until now McCabe has been a government employee, he's been in the FBI. So he can't comment publicly on anything he has done, or anything that's going on in the FBI.

But I think if he had been allowed to retire, and you know was receiving his pension, I think he would have been more restrained and more cautious on how he responded publicly. I don't think he is going to care now.

I mean, this guy is going to go write a book, and you know, he is going completely blunt in what he sees. We have already seen that in some of his statements. So I think that this may not be what they envisioned when they sought out this kind of ending for him.

LEMON: If they had allowed him to retire -- let's just, you know, sort of quarter back this here. Had they allowed him to retire, John, he may not have wanted to mess with his pension or his retirement. He may have been more restrained as, Asha, said in his comments and criticism about the administration.

[22:55:01] But now he has to make up that money, a half million dollars in money unless he fights this and wins. But, again, this is a tricky situation for the Trump administration, especially with the -- I shouldn't even say in the background of the Russia investigation going on in the foreground.

DEAN: I think he is going to do both. I think he will appeal, and I think he will be signing up a literary agent soon. So he will do -- he will proceed along both tracks.

And, Don, overriding this all is the pettiness, and the consistent pettiness we see out of the President in the way he handles these matters.

It makes you wonder how he would deal eyeball to eyeball with any world leader. He can't even fire one of his own staff in a proper way. He does them late on news dump nights. He doesn't do them personally. He doesn't do them the courtesy of giving them like a personal heads up.

LEMON: I have to correct you Friday nights are no longer news dump nights. It's, you know, white house firing Friday. Go on.

DEAN: You're right, you know.

LEMON: I know.

DEAN: But I think that's -- that's an unfortunate pattern for the leader of the western world.

LEMON: Yes.

DEAN: And we shall all be a little worried about that.

LEMON: I mean you think about you have McCabe now who is fired just two days before his 50th birthday, really just, you know, a day. James Comey who found out I think through reporting. Rex Tillerson who reportedly...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: ... yes, on television -- Rex Tillerson who reportedly found on Twitter. That's not good to do to people who had pretty much been loyal to you.

DEAN: Well, he certainly put in a long career. And he had earned his pension. You just don't do it the way this has been handled. And I think he -- if the I.G. had come out with the report early, and it had been explained, it might give a different feel to this all. But this looks purely political, Don.

LEMON: John, Asha, thank you very much. I appreciate your time. When we come back, much more on our breaking news, Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, out tonight.

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