President’s posts in apparent response to reports that Andrew McCabe, the bureau’s deputy director, plans to retire next year
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.—President Donald Trump is poised to enter the new year with the Russia investigation still unfolding, but his legal team reasserted Monday that the parts involving the president would conclude quickly.
Attorneys for the president had at one point maintained the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election would wrap up by year’s end, if not sooner. More recently, as Mr. Mueller’s team secured indictments and guilty pleas, they have said the date could stretch to the end of January.
In an interview Monday, Jay Sekulow, a member of the president’s legal team, stood by the prediction that the part of the inquiry involving Mr. Trump would end soon. Still, he avoided any mention of specific dates.
“I know we, collectively, the lawyers, are looking forward to an expeditious wrapping up of this matter,” Mr. Sekulow said.
A spokesman for Mr. Mueller’s office declined to comment.
An outside legal expert said Monday he was dubious that Mr. Mueller’s inquiry is barreling toward a swift conclusion.
On Dec. 1, the president’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and struck a deal to cooperate with government investigators looking into ties between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russian officials.
“Flynn is cooperating, and that cooperation is likely to lead to further subjects or targets of the investigation . . . . If this wraps up by the end of 2018, I’d be amazed,” said Stephen Gillers, professor of legal ethics at New York University.
Mr. Trump has cast the investigation as a “witch hunt” that can’t end soon enough. While his attorneys have avoided direct criticism of Mr. Mueller, the GOP president has been calling attention to what he sees as bias on the part of FBI officials involved in a politically sensitive investigation.
While spending time at his Mar-a-Lago home in Palm Beach this weekend, Mr. Trump rebuked a top Federal Bureau of Investigation official, renewing his criticism of an agency that some of Mr. Trump’s allies contend is hostile to the president.
Mr. Trump published a pair of posts on his Twitter account on Saturday afternoon in an apparent response to a Washington Post report that the FBI’s deputy director, Andrew McCabe, plans to retire in a few months.
In one post, Mr. Trump highlighted a point in the story that Mr. McCabe would wait about 90 days before he leaves so that he can receive full pension benefits.
“FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits,” Mr. Trump wrote. “90 days to go?!!!”
Those close to Mr. McCabe said they expected him to leave the FBI sometime around March, when he is eligible to receive his full retirement benefits. Many agents in such a position choose to retire and start second—and more lucrative—careers outside of government.
Yet, associates said, Mr. McCabe has stressed that he believes he is still contributing to the bureau and hasn’t made any firms plans to go.
Mike Kortan, a bureau spokesman, declined to comment on the matter.
Other Republicans have also voiced criticisms of Mr. McCabe. Earlier this week, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called for the deputy director’s removal. Democrats have said that attacks on the FBI from Mr. Trump and other Republicans serve to erode public confidence in Mr. Mueller’s investigation.
“He ought to be replaced,“ Mr. Grassley said. “And I’ve said that before and I’ve said it to people who can do it.”
Some worry that the larger aim is to create conditions for eventually firing Mr. Mueller—a charge the White House has denied—or undermining any new criminal cases he might bring.
After Mr. Trump’s posts on Saturday, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, posted on his Twitter account that the “FBI would set a dangerous precedent if it forced out dedicated career public servants in capitulation to Trump and WH pressure.”
“President has already removed one top FBI leader—[Former Director James] Comey—over Russia; McCabe would be another,” Mr. Schiff wrote.
Republican lawmakers have said Mr. McCabe is part of an FBI culture that is biased against the president. Some have pointed to text messages between an FBI agent and a bureau attorney that referred to Mr. Trump as an “idiot.”
Earlier this month, Mr. Grassley wrote the Justice Department: “Some of these texts appear to go beyond merely expressing a private political opinion, and appear to cross the line into taking some official action to create an ‘insurance policy’ against a Trump presidency.”
Lawmakers have also cited reports that the political organization of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, gave nearly $500,000 to Mr. McCabe’s wife in 2015 when she ran for a state Senate seat in Virginia.
Months after Jill McCabe’s campaign ended in a loss, her husband was promoted to a position in which he oversaw the email probe involving 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and became a target of Mr. Trump.
The FBI ultimately exonerated Mrs. Clinton, though it criticized her for being “extremely careless” in her email practices.
Though Mr. McCabe received clearance from the FBI’s ethics office to oversee the Clinton probe, Republicans have argued he should have stepped aside. He served as acting director of the FBI from the time the president fired Mr. Comey in May until the U.S. Senate confirmed a permanent replacement, Christopher Wray, in August.
On Saturday, Mr. Trump made reference to the political donations sent to Mr. McCabe’s wife in another post that also took aim at Mr. Comey.
Associates of Mr. Wray said the director has confidence in Mr. McCabe and admired how he ran the bureau after Mr. Comey’s firing. Mr. Wray doesn’t want to appear to have buckled under pressure from Mr. Trump or Republicans, the associates said.
Such a move would likely irritate the FBI’s 13,000 agents, many of whom are upset about how Mr. Trump has criticized the agency, according to current and former agents. Most recently the president said the FBI was in “tatters.”
Mr. Wray has largely kept intact Mr. Comey’s leadership team but he would like to gradually reshape it in his own mold, they said.
Mr. McCabe joined the FBI in 1996 and quickly climbed the ranks. He ran the Washington field office, one of the bureau’s largest and most important outposts and then briefly as the bureau’s No. 3 official before being tapped to be Mr. Comey’s deputy in January of last year.