Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe was afraid he would be fired and his replacement might attempt a cover-up to protect President Trump, he said in an interview recorded with CBS.
After then-FBI Director James Comey was fired, McCabe feared he would be next, he said in a clip released on Thursday.
He was asked if that was why the FBI began using counterintelligence resources to determine whether Trump might have been acting on behalf of Russia and whether the president might have broken the law by obstructing justice.
"I was very concerned that I was able to put the Russia case on absolutely solid ground in an indelible fashion so that were I removed quickly or reassigned or fired, the case could not be closed or vanish in the night without a trace," McCabe says in the excerpt.
He suggested that what he feared specifically was that Trump would appoint sympathetic officials to run the FBI in place of him and Comey — so those potential replacements would have to, in effect, act deliberately to end the open investigations and in so doing, explain why.
"I wanted to make sure that our case was on solid ground and that if somebody came in behind me and closed it and tried to walk away from it they would not be able to do that without creating a record of why they made that decision," he said.
CBS's broader coverage of its interview with McCabe also suggested that he has confirmed The New York Times report about discussions with top Justice Department leaders, including Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, about potentially secretly recording Trump or using the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.
60 Minutes' Scott Pelley alluded to those comments by McCabe in an appearance of his own, but CBS had not yet released the portions of its interview in which McCabe addresses them himself.
Trump and DOJ reject McCabe's account
Trump blasted McCabe on Twitter on Thursday.
Disgraced FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe pretends to be a “poor little Angel” when in fact he was a big part of the Crooked Hillary Scandal & the Russia Hoax - a puppet for Leakin’ James Comey. I.G. report on McCabe was devastating. Part of “insurance policy” in case I won....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 14, 2019
The Justice Department also criticized McCabe in a statement that repeated Rosenstein's clarification that although he might have discussed recording Trump, he never actually went ahead with it.
A spokeswoman also said that no matter what conversations may have taken place in the spring of 2017, "there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment, nor was [Rosenstein] in a position to consider invoking the 25th Amendment."
The Justice Department's statement pointed out that McCabe was fired for what authorities called a lack of candor, calling into question the statements he is making now.
"Subsequent to this removal, DOJ's Inspector General found that Mr. McCabe did not tell the truth to federal authorities on multiple occasions, leading to his termination from the FBI," the statement said.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders went even further in her statement. "Andrew McCabe has no credibility and is an embarrassment to the men and women of the FBI and our great country," she said.
Targets of the feds?
Rosenstein ultimately appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to serve as a special counsel and take over the Russia investigation, which was long understood to focus on whether Trump's campaign conspired with the Russians who attacked the 2016 investigation.
Comey by his own account had assured Trump more than once that the president specifically was not being investigated by the FBI, but the implicit possibility always existed that Trump, as head of the campaign, might also be the subject of work by investigators.
The Times reported last month that in fact, Trump had personally been the subject of a counterintelligence investigation by the FBI into whether he had acted on behalf of Russia in firing Comey, possibly to try to prevent further discovery about what had taken place in 2016.
It's not clear whether Mueller's current work includes that specific focus on Trump. The president has reportedly said that Rosenstein has told his attorneys that Trump is not a target of the special counsel's office.
Trump goes back and forth about what he accepts about Russia's interference in the 2016 election but has been adamant that neither he nor anyone on his campaign conspired with Russia to interfere in the election.
Longtime target of Trump's
The president had been taking aim at McCabe for months before Comey's firing temporarily elevated McCabe to the role of acting FBI director.
Trump and other Republicans faulted McCabe because his wife had run unsuccessfully for the state Legislature in Virginia as a Democrat; she accepted donations via then-Gov. Terry McAullife, a top deputy of Bill and Hillary Clinton.
McCabe, a lifelong Republican, told investigators he felt he was isolated appropriately from his wife's political activity but the criticisms endured in the campaign and the press.
At one point, he authorized an aide to tell The Wall Street Journal that he had stuck up for the FBI's independence in its investigation of the Clintons to try to quash the impression that it was going easy on them.
Investigators looking into the conduct of the FBI's big 2016 investigations asked McCabe about how that information found its way into the newspaper and concluded that he "lacked candor" in his answers. He was fired last March.
McCabe says he gave investigators a full account of what happened and that he hasn't done anything wrong.