Deputy FBI Director McCabe, a Trump target, steps down

Chip Somodevilla  Getty Images North America

McCabe has stepped down as the F.B.I.'s deputy director, a move that was widely expected as he has repeatedly come under fire from Republicans in Congress and from President Trump.

As recently as last week, Mr. McCabe had told people he hoped to stay until he was eligible to retire in mid-March.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Monday (Tuesday, NZ time) the White House was not involved in McCabe's decision to leave weeks before his planned retirement.

He took over as acting director following Trump's May 9 firing of Comey and was among the officials interviewed for the position, which ultimately went to former Justice Department official Christopher Wray.

Sanders reiterated the White House's claim that the president had "full confidence" in FBI Director Christopher Wray, who reportedly threatened to resign previous year if Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired McCabe.

In tweets and in private, Trump fumed that McCabe was partial to Hillary Clinton because of campaign donations his wife received from Clinton allies during an unsuccessful Virginia state senate run in 2015.

As news of the surprise resignation broke on Monday, Eric Holder, the United States attorney general under Barack Obama, tweeted his support for McCabe.

But Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group that has sued the government for records related to McCabe, said in a Twitter message, "Something must have happened to trigger his abrupt departure".

Trump was asked on Monday whether he knew McCabe was stepping aside and the president did not answer.

McCabe has for months been the subject of Trump's ire, prompting angry tweets suggesting that the Russian Federation probe is politically motivated by Democrats upset about losing the 2016 election.

Trump has kept nonstop pressure on McCabe ever since he became acting director in May, using the longtime law enforcement official as a punching bag - both publicly and privately - to vent his frustrations about the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Trump asked in a December tweet that how McCabe could lead the Clinton probe when his wife got donations from "Clinton Puppets".

"He was the star of my speeches", Trump said, referring to McCabe.

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