Everyone seems to agree that Andrew McCabe, the FBI’s second-in-command and target of President Donald Trump’s ire, stepped down sooner than expected from his post on Monday. NBC News reported that, starting immediately, he’ll use up his remaining leave before his planned retirement from the bureau in two months.
But there seems to be some dispute about whether he stepped aside or was removed. The New York Times described the move as “widely expected,” if ahead of schedule. But other news outlets, including CBS News and CNN, quoted unnamed sources to report that McCabe’s departure wasn’t quite voluntary.
McCabe has faced months of dubious attacks from congressional Republicans and the White House. Conservatives have accused McCabe of bias against Trump, because his wife received campaign donations from Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a close political ally of the Clintons, when she ran for a Virginia state Senate seat as a Democrat. (McCabe reportedly voted in the 2016 Republican presidential primary, and his wife received no donations from the Clintons, for what it’s worth.) Those attacks fit into a broader—and equally shady—campaign by Republicans to undermine both the FBI and the Russia investigation.
If McCabe was pushed out, it would raise new questions about FBI Director Chris Wray’s promise to stay independent from the Trump administration. Wray’s vow to protect the bureau’s political neutrality last summer played a major role in securing his Senate confirmation. In fact, earlier this month, Axios reported that Wray pushed back against pressure from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the White House by threatening to resign if McCabe was ousted.
Outside the FBI, toppling McCabe could embolden Trump-aligned critics as they take aim at their next target. Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee are expected to vote as early as today to release a memo that describes purported abuses in the FISA warrant process under Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The memo’s heavily disputed findings could give Trump a pretext to fire Rosenstein, who appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel and who oversees his investigation.
Correction: A previous version of this post stated that McCabe is a registered Republican. In Virginia, where he lives, voters do no register by party.