It looks like Jeff Sessions is taking Trump’s cues to clean house at the FBI

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies before a Senate Judiciary oversight hearing on the Justice Department on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 18, 2017

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U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies before a Senate Judiciary oversight hearing on the Justice Department on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 18, 2017
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REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions is pushing FBI director Christopher Wray to replace deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe and former FBI general counsel James Baker.
  • President Donald Trump has accused McCabe of putting his thumb on the scale of the FBI’s investigation into Trump’s 2016 rival, former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
  • Meanwhile, congressional Republicans are targeting Baker as they investigate his contacts with the reporter who first broke the story about the explosive Trump-Russia dossier.
  • Former FBI director James Comey apprised both McCabe and Baker of his private conversations with Trump. Those conversations make up the basis of special counsel Robert Mueller’s obstruction-of-justice investigation.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been pushing FBI director Christopher Wray to oust two key officials who have been targeted by President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans.

Urging Wray to make a “fresh start” at the FBI, Axios reported that Sessions recommended he replace deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe and former general counsel James Baker, who was reassigned within the bureau in December.

The White House tapped McCabe to be acting FBI director when Trump fired James Comey last May. But McCabe appeared to become a sore spot for Trump as the bureau’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow during the election began picking up steam last year.

“Problem is that the acting head of the FBI & the person in charge of the Hillary investigation, Andrew McCabe, got $700,000 from H for wife!” Trump tweeted last July, referring to the FBI’s investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server to conduct government business.

The next day, he added in a pair of tweets: “Why didn’t A.G. Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation but got … big dollars ($700,000) for his wife’s political run from Hillary Clinton and her representatives. Drain the Swamp!”

Trump ramped up his tirade in December. “How can FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, the man in charge, along with leakin’ James Comey, of the Phony Hillary Clinton investigation (including her 33,000 illegally deleted emails) be given $700,000 for wife’s campaign by Clinton Puppets during investigation?” Trump tweeted on December 23.

McCabe’s wife, Dr. Jill McCabe, mounted an unsuccessful run for a Virginia state Senate seat in 2015. Her campaign received $675,000 in donations from the Virginia Democratic Party and from Common Good VA, the super PAC run by Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a longtime Clinton supporter. None of the donations came from Clinton or her family.

McCabe was also not in charge at the time of the bureau’s investigation of Clinton’s use of a private email server. He took on an “oversight role” in the investigation in February 2016 – long after his wife lost her election bid. Comey, who was FBI director at the time, was tasked with making the final decisions in the Clinton email probe. He ultimately characterized Clinton’s actions as “extremely careless” but did not recommend that the Department of Justice bring charges against her.

The FBI released a trove of internal emails and documents earlier this month which confirmed that McCabe was not warned against becoming involved in the Clinton investigation but recused himself anyway following a Wall Street Journal report about political donations made to his wife’s campaign in 2015.

Deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe.

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Deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe.
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Alex Wong/Getty

McCabe and Baker are privy to critical events in the Russia probe

Meanwhile, Baker, the former FBI general counsel, is being targeted by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee who are said to be investigating his contacts with Mother Jones reporter David Corn leading up to the 2016 election, Politico reported in December. Corn was the first to report on the existence of the explosive dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, which alleges improper ties between Trump and Russia, in late October 2016.

Corn denied Baker was his source, and several prominent figures in the national security community slammed Politico for what they characterized as a “smear” against Baker without offering sufficient context.

It is normal practice for a new FBI director to bring in his own general counsel, as Comey did when he first brought Baker on to serve as the bureau’s top lawyer.

But the timing of his reassignment was questioned by some who wondered whether the move was Wray’s response to Republican pressure to rid the bureau’s ranks of officials perceived as partisan or biased against Trump.

Comey informed both Baker and McCabe, as well as his chief of staff and senior counselor James Rybicki, of his conversations with Trump last year, during which he said Trump asked him for his loyalty and to let go of the bureau’s ongoing investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Flynn pleaded guilty in early December to one count of making false statements to federal agents about his contacts with Sergei Kislyak, Russia’s former ambassador to the US. Trump’s conversations with Comey about Flynn – and his subsequent decision to dismiss the FBI director – are at the center of the obstruction-of-justice investigation that special counsel Robert Mueller is overseeing as part of the Russia investigation.