SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Attorney General Sessions just fired a top FBI official last night just hours before he planned to retire with full benefits. Andrew McCabe is the former deputy director of the FBI. He's been a frequent target of President Trump. We're now joined by NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thanks so much for being with us.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.
SIMON: Andrew McCabe put in more than 20 years of service at the FBI. What went off the rails here?
JOHNSON: Well, McCabe came under scrutiny for a lack of candor to Justice Department investigators last year. He got asked questions about his role in a Wall Street Journal story about the Clinton Foundation in 2016 during the presidential campaign. The issue is whether he was forthcoming with investigators. The Justice Department says McCabe lied under oath multiple times. But McCabe and his allies say he didn't mean to mislead anyone. He corrected the record when he could. Any mistakes he made were because of the chaos around him and the FBI.
SIMON: And about that chaos, I mean, President Trump certainly has shared his feelings about Andrew McCabe before and after the firing. What can you tell about what role the president's feelings played?
JOHNSON: Indeed, just hours after the firing, President Trump called it a great day for the FBI. Earlier this week, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said any decision about McCabe's employment was in the hands of the Justice Department - Attorney General Jeff Sessions, to be specific. But she also called McCabe a bad actor and alleged he had a troubling record. Trump has been going after McCabe for months now over his wife's unsuccessful run for office in Virginia. But Trump couldn't get over the fact that even though McCabe said he got the all clear from ethics lawyers about his wife's run - that McCabe had some connection to politics in Trump's mind. And even though this final decision about McCabe's fate was in the hands of the Attorney General Jeff Sessions, remember, Scott, Sessions himself has been kind of on the endangered species list in the Trump cabinet for months now. He's not off the chopping block either, really.
SIMON: Andrew McCabe has been speaking out since midnight, hasn't he?
JOHNSON: He has. He's issued a written statement saying he's been the target of an unrelenting assault on his reputation - essentially calling himself a scapegoat, part of President Trump's broad attack on the FBI and the special counsel's Russia probe. McCabe says law enforcement has become politicized thanks to the Trump administration. And he's collateral damage in this attack the president is making on the FBI and the special counsel. McCabe's lawyer, Scott, says the Justice Department actually speeded up and distorted the discipline process in basically a mean-spirited move to strip McCabe of his pension only hours before he was supposed to retire.
SIMON: And what does it mean for his law enforcement pension? I mean, he served more than 20 years in the FBI.
JOHNSON: He did. And McCabe's birthday - his 50th birthday is tomorrow. That's why he was scheduled to retire and get his full pension with health care and other benefits. Now at least some of that is in jeopardy. McCabe may get money but less. And he may have to wait several years to collect it. Even if he does decide to sue, it's going to be a long process - bitter and really bad for morale at the FBI, which has already been under siege.
SIMON: NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Thanks so much for being with us, Carrie.
JOHNSON: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.