Tonight you will hear for the first time from the man who ordered the FBI investigations of the president. Former Acting Director Andrew McCabe is about to describe behind-the-scenes chaos in 2017, after President Trump. In the days that followed, McCabe says that law enforcement officials discussed whether to secretly record a conversation with the president and whether Mr. Trump could be removed from office through invoking the 25th Amendment. McCabe is the first person present in those meetings to describe them publicly.
McCabe is a lifelong Republican who had a sterling 21-year career at the FBI; serving as head of counter-terrorism and number two under Comey. But he was fired last year for allegedly lying to his own agents about a story he leaked to a newspaper. Not since Watergate has the FBI been drawn so deeply into presidential politics. Andrew McCabe was pulled into the center of the tempest on May 9, 2017 when he was summoned by the president hours after Comey was fired.
"I was speaking to the man who had just... won the election for the presidency and who might have done so with the aid of the government of Russia, our most formidable adversary on the world stage."
Andrew McCabe: I'd never been to a meeting in the Oval Office before. I'm a career FBI agent-government worker.
Scott Pelley: Oval Office was above your pay grade.
Andrew McCabe: It certainly was. And the president immediately went off on a almost a gleeful description of what had happened with the firing of Jim Comey. And then he went on to state that people in the FBI were — were thrilled about this, that people really disliked Jim Comey and that they were very happy about this and that it was, it was a great thing.
Scott Pelley: He was telling you what the reaction inside the FBI was?
Andrew McCabe: He was. It was very different than the reaction I had seen immediately before I came to the White House.
Scott Pelley: Which was what?
Andrew McCabe: People were shocked. We had lost our leader, a leader who was respected and liked by the vast majority of FBI employees. People were very sad. But anyway, that night in the Oval Office what I was hearing from the president was, not reality. It was the version of the events that I quickly realized he wished me to adopt. As he went on talking about how happy people in the FBI were, he said to me, "I heard that you were part of the resistance."
Scott Pelley: What did he mean by that?
Andrew McCabe: Well I didn't know. And so I asked him. And he said, "I heard that you were one of the people that did not support Jim Comey. You didn't agree with him and the decisions that he'd made in the Clinton case. And is that true?" And I said, "No sir. That's not true. I worked very closely with Jim Comey. I was a part of that team and a part of those decisions."
Scott Pelley: You had the sense you'd given him the wrong answer.
Andrew McCabe: I knew I'd given him the wrong answer.
Scott Pelley: You weren't trying to hang onto this job.
Andrew McCabe: I wasn't willing to lie to keep it. I didn't know when I'd be out of the job. I thought it would probably be pretty soon. And so I just put my head down and got to work trying to stabilize the people around me and do the things that I felt we needed to do with the Russia investigation, getting cases opened and getting a special counsel appointed.
After Comey was fired, McCabe says he ordered two investigations of the president himself. They asked two questions. One, did Mr. Trump fire Comey to impede the investigation into whether Russia interfered with the election. And two, if so, was Mr. Trump acting on behalf of the Russian government.
Andrew McCabe: I was speaking to the man who had just run for the presidency and won the election for the presidency and who might have done so with the aid of the government of Russia, our most formidable adversary on the world stage. And that was something that troubled me greatly.
Scott Pelley: How long was it after that that you decided to start the obstruction of justice and counterintelligence investigations involving the president?
Andrew McCabe: I think the next day, I met with the team investigating the Russia cases. And I asked the team to go back and conduct an assessment to determine where are we with these efforts and what steps do we need to take going forward. I was very concerned that I was able to put the Russia case on absolutely solid ground in an indelible fashion that were I removed quickly or reassigned or fired that the case could not be closed or vanish in the night without a trace.
Scott Pelley: You wanted a documentary record—
Andrew McCabe: That's right—
Scott Pelley: —That those investigations had begun because you feared that they would be made to go away.
Andrew McCabe: That's exactly right.
McCabe says that the basis for both investigations was in Mr. Trump's own statements. First, Mr. Trump had asked FBI Director Comey to drop the investigation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts. Then, to justify firing Comey, Mr. Trump asked his deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, to write a memo listing the reasons Comey had to go. And according to McCabe, Mr. Trump made a request for that memo that came as a surprise.
Andrew McCabe: Rod was concerned by his interactions with the president, who seemed to be very focused on firing the director and saying things like, "Make sure you put Russia in your memo." That concerned Rod in the same way that it concerned me and the FBI investigators on the Russia case.
If Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein listed the Russia investigation in his memo to the White House, it could look like he was obstructing the Russia probe by suggesting Comey's firing. And by implication, it would give the president cover.
Scott Pelley: He didn't wanna put Russia in his memo.
Andrew McCabe: He did not. He explained to the president that he did not need Russia in his memo. And the president responded, "I understand that, I am asking you to put Russia in the memo anyway."
When the memo justifying Comey's firing was made public, Russia was not in it. But, Mr. Trump made the connection anyway, telling NBC, then, Russian diplomats that the Russian investigation was among the reasons he fired Comey.
Andrew McCabe: There were a number of things that caused us to believe that we had adequate predication or adequate reason and facts, to open the investigation. The president had been speaking in a derogatory way about our investigative efforts for weeks, describing it as a witch hunt…
President Trump on Feb. 16, 2017: Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. Haven't made a phone call to Russia in years.
Andrew McCabe: ...publicly undermining the effort of the investigation. The president had gone to Jim Comey and specifically asked him to discontinue the investigation of Mike Flynn which was a part of our Russia case. The president, then, fired the director. In the firing of the director, the president specifically asked Rod Rosenstein to write the memo justifying the firing and told Rod to include Russia in the memo. Rod, of course, did not do that. That was on the president's mind. Then, the president made those public comments that you've referenced both on NBC and to the Russians which was captured in the Oval Office. Put together, these circumstances were articulable facts that indicated that a crime may have been committed. The president may have been engaged in obstruction of justice in the firing of Jim Comey.
Scott Pelley: What was it specifically that caused you to launch the counterintelligence investigation?
Andrew McCabe: It's many of those same concerns that cause us to be concerned about a national security threat. And the idea is, if the president committed obstruction of justice, fired the director of the of the FBI to negatively impact or to shut down our investigation of Russia's malign activity and possibly in support of his campaign, as a counterintelligence investigator you have to ask yourself, "Why would a president of the United States do that?" So all those same sorts of facts cause us to wonder is there an inappropriate relationship, a connection between this president and our most fearsome enemy, the government of Russia?
Scott Pelley: Are you saying that the president is in league with the Russians?
Andrew McCabe: I'm saying that the FBI had reason to investigate that. Right, to investigate the existence of an investigation doesn't mean someone is guilty. I would say, Scott, if we failed to open an investigation under those circumstances, we wouldn't be doing our jobs.
Scott Pelley: When you decided to launch these two investigations, was the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, onboard with that.
Andrew McCabe: Absolutely.
Rod Rosenstein has spent 28 years at the Department of Justice. A Republican, he was appointed by President Trump as deputy attorney general, number two at the department. Mr. Trump's firing of James Comey on May 9, 2017 set off a week of crisis meetings between Rosenstein, who was in charge of the Russia investigation and acting FBI director Andrew McCabe.
Andrew McCabe: I can't describe to you accurately enough the pressure and the chaos that Rod and I were trying to operate under at that time. It was incredibly turbulent, incredibly stressful. And it was clear to me that that stress was— was impacting the deputy attorney general. We talked about why the president had insisted on firing the director and whether or not he was thinking about the Russia investigation and did that impact his decision. And in the context of that conversation, the deputy attorney general offered to wear a wire into the White House. He said, "I never get searched when I go into the White House. I could easily wear a recording device. They wouldn't know it was there." Now, he was not joking. He was absolutely serious. And in fact, he brought it up in the next meeting we had. I never actually considered taking him up on the offer. I did discuss it with my general counsel and my leadership team back at the FBI after he brought it up the first time.
Scott Pelley: The point of Rosenstein wearing the wire into a meeting with the president was what? What did he hope to obtain?
Andrew McCabe: I can't characterize what Rod was thinking or what he was hoping at that moment. But the reason you would have someone wear a concealed recording device would be to collect evidence and in this case, what was the true nature of the president's motivation in calling for the firing of Jim Comey?
Scott Pelley: The general counsel of the FBI and the leadership team you spoke with said what about this idea?
Andrew McCabe: I think the general counsel had a heart attack. And when he got up off the floor, he said, "I, I, that's a bridge too far. We're not there yet."
Scott Pelley: That it wasn't necessary at that point in the investigation to escalate it to that level.
Andrew McCabe: That's correct.
But McCabe says Rosenstein raised another idea. The 25th Amendment to the constitution allows the vice president and a majority of the cabinet to remove the president.
Andrew McCabe: Discussion of the 25th Amendment was simply, Rod raised the issue and discussed it with me in the context of thinking about how many other cabinet officials might support such an effort. I didn't have much to contribute, to be perfectly honest, in that— conversation. So I listened to what he had to say. But, to be fair, it was an unbelievably stressful time. I can't even describe for you how many things must have been coursing through the deputy attorney general's mind at that point. So it was really something that he kinda threw out in a very frenzied chaotic conversation about where we were and what we needed to do next.
Scott Pelley: What seemed to be coursing through the mind of the deputy attorney general was getting rid of the president of the United States
Andrew McCabe: Well—
Pelley: One way or another.
Andrew McCabe: I can't confirm that. But what I can say is the deputy attorney general was definitely very concerned about the president, about his capacity, and about his intent at that point in time.
Scott Pelley: How did he bring up the idea of the 25th amendment to you?
Andrew McCabe: Honestly, I don't remember. He, it was just another kinda topic that he jumped to in the midst of a wide-ranging conversation.
Scott Pelley: Seriously? (LAUGH) Just—
Andrew McCabe: Yeah—
Scott Pelley: —another topic
Andrew McCabe: Yeah.
Scott Pelley: Did you counsel him on that?
Andrew McCabe: I didn't. I mean, he was discussing other cabinet members and whether or not people would support such an idea, whether or not other cabinet members would, shared, his belief that the president was — was really concerning, was concerning Rod at that time.
Scott Pelley: Rosenstein was actually openly talking about whether there was a majority of the cabinet who would vote to remove the president.
Andrew McCabe: That's correct. Counting votes or possible votes.
Scott Pelley: Did he assign specific votes to specific people?
Andrew McCabe: No, not that I recall.
Scott Pelley: As you're sitting in this meeting in the Justice Department, talking about removing the president of the United States, you were thinking what?
Andrew McCabe: How did I get here? Confronting these confounding legal issues of such immense importance, not just to the FBI but to the entire country, it was— it was disorienting.
"Intelligence officials in the briefing responded that that was not consistent with any of the intelligence our government possesses, to which the president replied, 'I don't care. I believe Putin.'"
In response to our interview, the Justice Department gave us a carefully worded statement. It says McCabe's story is "inaccurate and factually incorrect." "The deputy attorney general never authorized any recording" [of the president.] "Nor was the deputy attorney general in a position to consider invoking the 25th Amendment."
McCabe told us, as the weeks wore on, the president continued to express what McCabe thought was a strange affinity for russia. He remembers a day when an FBI official returned from the White House to brief McCabe on the results of a meeting with the president.
Andrew McCabe: The president— launched into— several unrelated diatribes. One of those was commenting on the recent missile launches by the government of North Korea. And, essentially, the president said he did not believe that the North Koreans had the capability to hit us here with ballistic missiles in the United States. And he did not believe that because President Putin had told him they did not. President Putin had told him that the North Koreans don't actually have those missiles.
Scott Pelley: And U.S. intelligence was telling the president what?
Andrew McCabe: Intelligence officials in the briefing responded that that was not consistent with any of the intelligence our government possesses, to which the president replied, "I don't care. I believe Putin."
Scott Pelley: What did you think when you heard that?
Andrew McCabe: It's just an astounding thing to say. To spend the time and effort and energy that we all do in the intelligence community to produce products that will help decision makers and the ultimate decision maker, the President of the United States— make policy decisions, and to be confronted with an absolute disbelief in those efforts and a unwillingness to learn the true state of affairs that he has to deal with every day was just shocking.
McCabe wouldn't have much time to be shocked. His FBI career soon spiraled to its destruction.
The FBI's perilous proximity to presidential politics began with the investigation into whether former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used an unsecured server for classified emails. Later, the FBI launched its investigation into Russian interference in the election. For Andrew McCabe, the former acting director of the FBI, an investigation involving politics would destroy his career and damage his credibility after he allegedly lied about an FBI leak to a newspaper.
It was a turn of events that began when candidate Donald Trump unexpectedly took aim at McCabe's wife.
Dr. Jill McCabe, an emergency room pediatrician, dabbled briefly in politics back in 2015 when she ran for state office in Virginia. Like other Democratic candidates that year, she was funded by a political action committee controlled by Virginia's governor, a friend of the Clintons.
Scott Pelley: During the time that Jill was running for office, what responsibilities did you have at the FBI over the Clinton investigations?
Andrew McCabe: None. I was not at headquarters where the case was initiated and run. I was in the field office.
Jill McCabe: There was no connection in any way between my campaign and Bill and Hillary Clinton. I've never met them. I don't know them.
But in the closing days of the 2016 presidential campaign, The Wall Street Journal ran an article headlined "Clinton Ally Aided FBI Wife." It was about Jill McCabe's funding the year before. The article noted, accurately, that her husband's role in the Clinton email investigation began months after she lost. But candidate Donald Trump seemed to conflate the two.
President Trump at Rally: It was just learned that one of the closest people to Hillary Clinton with long-standing ties to her husband and herself… gave more than $675,000 to the campaign of the spouse, the wife, of the top FBI official who helped oversee the investigation into Mrs. Clinton's illegal email server.
Scott Pelley: How do you feel when you see that?
Jill McCabe: Sick. Sick to my stomach.
Andrew McCabe: I think sickening is the right word. It's disgusting. To see the candidate for the presidency taking those lies and manipulating them for his own advantage, and then to hear you know, the chants and the boos of thousands of people who are just accepting those lies at face value, it's chilling.
Three months after Jill McCabe lost the election, Andrew McCabe was promoted to deputy director, number two under James Comey. Nine months after that, because of his wife's campaign, he recused himself from the Clinton Investigations. Then President Trump fired Comey and McCabe became acting director. In one of their first conversations, McCabe says, Mr. Trump asked about his wife.
Andrew McCabe: "What was it like when your wife lost her race for state senate? It must have been really tough to lose." And I said, "Well, it's tough to lose anything. But my wife has refocused her efforts on her career. And he then said, "Ask her what it was like to lose. It must be tough to be a loser."
Scott Pelley: What did you think?
Andrew McCabe: No man wants to hear anyone call his wife a loser, most of all me. My wife is a wonderful, brilliant, dedicated physician who tried to help her community. So she is no loser. It was just bullying. So rather than get into an argument with the president of the United States, we, I said, "Okay, sir." And we hung up and ended the call.
That was the crisis week, after Comey was fired, when McCabe argued for an independent counsel to take over the investigations of the president.
Andrew McCabe: I knew from past experience with the Clinton case how dangerous, how perilous it was for the FBI to be investigating now not just a candidate for the presidency but the president, himself. This was a situation that clearly called for the appointment of a special counsel who would bring a level of independence. And that's the argument I made to the deputy attorney general.
The deputy attorney general is Rod Rosenstein, a career federal prosecutor who Mr. Trump appointed to the number two job at the Justice Department. McCabe says it was Rosenstein who offered to wear a wire into the White House and Rosenstein who initially resisted appointing a special counsel.
Andrew McCabe: He was concerned of what would happen to him if he appointed the special counsel, that if he did it might mean that he would lose his job. And, then, we would no longer have a Senate-confirmed official at the Justice Department to oversee all these efforts.
Eight days after Comey was fired, Rosenstein appointed special counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller had been a career prosecutor who was appointed FBI director by George W. Bush. So far, Mueller has obtained public indictments, convictions, or guilty pleas involving six Trump campaign associates, including the campaign chairman, plus 25 Russian intelligence agents.
Andrew McCabe: We survived those crazy days in the wake of Jim Comey's firing. You know, we got to the point of having a new director appointed and confirmed, we got the cases opened that we needed opened, we got the special counsel and probably the best special counsel we possibly could have hoped for in charge of an investigation that I think everyone would admit is one of the most important efforts underway right now.
But if McCabe had navigated the crisis around President Trump, he would not survive a controversy involving Hillary Clinton. About a week before election day, McCabe authorized the leak of a story to The Wall Street Journal. At this time, he was still deputy director under Comey. The resulting story said that McCabe had defended the FBI investigating the Clinton Charitable Foundation after a Justice Department official had cast doubt on that investigation.
Scott Pelley: You are accused of providing information to a Wall Street Journal reporter because you thought the story the Journal was writing was going to be wrong. Do I have that right?
Andrew McCabe: That's correct.
Scott Pelley: You are authorized by the FBI to release information to the media.
Andrew McCabe: That's correct.
Scott Pelley: You did so through the public affairs office at the FBI.
Andrew McCabe: I did.
The Journal attributed the story to an unnamed source. And it seemed like a garden-variety leak of the kind that happens every day. But, according to a detailed investigation by the Justice Department inspector general, McCabe lied under oath three times when investigators asked if he was the source the inspector general concluded that mccabe leaked the story only to make himself look good, which would violate FBI regulations. McCabe says correcting a story that he believed would be in error was in the public interest. As for lying, McCabe told us he was confused by the investigators' questions and distracted by the Comey crisis.
Andrew McCabe: There's absolutely no reason for anyone and certainly not for me to misrepresent what happened. So no. Did I ever intentionally mislead the people I spoke to? I did not. I had no reason to. And I did not.
If the inspector general is right, about McCabe lying, this would be another Washington story of an embarrassing matter made lethal by a coverup. President Trump weighed in, tweeting, "FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits. 90 Days to go?!!!"
Scott Pelley: Did you expect to be fired 26 hours before you were able to collect your pension?
Andrew McCabe: I guess I should have because the president spoke about it publicly. He made it quite clear that he wanted me gone before I could retire. I believe I was fired because I opened a case against the president of the United States.
Scott Pelley: The president tweeted, "Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for… the FBI — A great day for Democracy."
Andrew McCabe: The idea that this president would know what a great day for the FBI or a great day for democracy was is preposterous.
McCabe is considering whether to sue the government to get his full pension. Prosecutors are considering whether to charge him with lying to the FBI, a crime which, worst case, could bring five years in prison on each count.
McCabe has written a new book about the campaign crisis and his 21-year career. Entitled, "The Threat — How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump."
We asked the White House for comment on McCabe's specific claims, but we received a general reply, "Andrew McCabe was fired in disgrace from the FBI for lying, and he opened a completely baseless investigation into the president — everyone knows he has no credibility."
Scott Pelley: You seem to have a very clear memory of your conversations with the president. Why so?
Andrew McCabe: I made memorandums to myself to make sure that I preserved my contemporaneous recollections of those interactions.
Scott Pelley: That's what FBI agents are trained to do, write memos to the file after they speak to witnesses.
Andrew McCabe: That's what we're trained to do.
Scott Pelley: And where are those memos today?
Andrew McCabe: Those memos are in the custody of the special counsel's team.
Scott Pelley: Robert Mueller's team—
Andrew McCabe: That's correct.
Scott Pelley: —has your memos.
Andrew McCabe: He does.
Produced by Pat Milton, Robert G. Anderson and Aaron Weisz