Tuesday, August 21, 2018
Politics

Former FBI agent Fred Humphries calls McCabe firing justified

Fred Humphries woke up Saturday morning and for the first time ever raised a blue and white Federal Bureau of Investigation flag on the pole in his front yard.

"I was encouraged and hopeful," said Humphries, 53, in an exclusive interview with the Tampa Bay Times, reacting to the news that former FBI director Andrew McCabe had been fired.

A day earlier, both men left the FBI after 21-year careers.

Humphries retired, a short while after serving a 60-day unpaid suspension for previously speaking to the Times without permission.

McCabe, fired after the Justice Department rejected an appeal that would have let him retire this weekend, is accused in a yet-to-be-released internal report of failing to be forthcoming about a conversation he authorized between FBI officials and a journalist.

Humphries said McCabe’s firing was good for the organization because it is important for top officials to be held accountable for the same transgressions agents like him are. The McCabe firing is fitting, Humphries says, for a man accused of lack of candor about media contacts whose office launched an investigation into him talking to a newspaper.

"Every employee of the FBI voluntarily swears to observe the bureau’s strict standards of conduct, especially in terms of candor and ethics," said Humphries. "When we fall short of that, we can expect appropriate sanctions. Yesterday’s firing of the former deputy director demonstrates that those sanctions are meted out uniformly, regardless of rank or position."

•••

Humphries joined the FBI in 1997. His work on some of the bureau’s biggest jihadi cases is credited with saving lives. His investigations helped convict James Ujaama and Abu Hama al-Masri, who tried to set up jihadi training camps, and Ahmed Mohamed, one of two University of South Florida students arrested near a South Carolina military installation with explosives in their car.

He helped authorities defuse the infamous shoe bomb smuggled onto a commercial jet. And in 1999, he cultivated an asset named Ahmed Ressam, who had planned on blowing up the Los Angeles airport on New Year’s Eve, but instead became a valuable witness for the government.

Humphries also spent time searching for remains of 2-year-old Caylee Anthony. And in 2010 he had to shoot and kill an erratic Vietnam veteran who was wielding a knife at a MacDill Air Force Base security gate.

But Humphries became internationally known after family friend Jill Kelley reached out to him about a troubling e-mail received by then-Marine Gen. John Allen, one of her military friends. It "disparaged Kelley and made reference to an upcoming dinner they were having with several senior foreign intelligence, defense and diplomatic officials," according to court documents later filed.

Allen, who had taken over for the Army Gen. David Petraeus in Afghanistan, "was troubled by the email, in particular that somebody knew about the dinner, which had not been publicly announced, thereby presenting a potential security concern," the documents state.

So Kelley asked her friend the FBI agent to look into it.

Finally, in June 2012, after several emails, Humphries took the case to the office’s cyber crimes investigator.

As the investigation continued, Humphries grew concerned that it was taking so long — into a general election campaign and through the deadly Sept. 11 attack of the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

Humphries contacted Charlie Mandigo, his old supervisor in Seattle.

Humphries told him the investigation was being delayed, Mandigo said in a 2016 interview with the Times. "The suggestion being that hey, nobody wants to stir anything up before the election."

Mandigo, worried that CIA director Petraeus had an affair, tried to hide it and could be subject to blackmail, reached out to a Congressman he knew. That Congressman connected Humphries with House Majority Whip Eric Cantor, a Republican, who listened to the agent’s concerns.

On Nov. 1, Cantor called FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce, wanting to know why the bureau was trying to cover up such an important matter. That same day, Humphries’ supervisors took him to task for discussing the investigation outside the FBI without permission.

Cantor, who has not responded to requests for comment, told Fred Humphries that he should get a lawyer.

For the next four years, the agent would be under the cloud of investigation.

•••

McCabe, a frequent target of President Donald Trump’s ire, promptly declared that his firing, and Trump’s persistent needling, were intended to undermine the special counsel’s investigation of Russian meddling into the 2016 election, in which he is a potential witness.

Humphries also found his career embroiled in politics. He was thrust into the international spotlight for his role in the investigation that ended the career of a CIA director in 2012. The story blew up in Tampa after the identify of Jill and Scott Kelley as the recipient of emails that started the investigation was leaked. It ultimately led to David Petraeus, then head of the CIA, stepping down over an affair he had with his biographer Paula Broadwell. And that led to Petraeus eventually resigning and later pleading guilty to a misdemeanor count of mishandling classified information, which he had given to Broadwell, who was never charged with any crimes.

On May 11, 2017, Humphries talked to the Times about the investigations at the time into former National Security Director Michael Flynn.

Comparing it to how the investigation into Petraeus was handled, he called it "the ultimate hypocrisy and double standard."

Said Humprhies in that article: "You are telling me that acting Attorney General Sally Yates was comfortable going to the White House to inform them of an investigation of general Flynn, but yet the attorney general and FBI director at the time said they never would have discussed such a thing during the Petraeus scandal?"

Both Yates and Flynn were ultimate fired by Trump.

Humphries said that in August of 2017, McCabe’s office asked the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility, its internal affairs branch, to investigate him for unauthorized communications with the media.

In October, Humphries said, the OPR investigation found he was wrong for talking to the Times, and issued him a two-month unpaid suspension, which he served in November and December of 2017. Investigators also criticized Humphries over a November 2016 interview his wife, Sara, gave to the Times in which she spelled out the stresses her family was undergoing as the result of being thrust into the spotlight.

"I could have appealed it, dragged it out further," said Humphries. "But I decided to take the punishment. I did do what they said I did."

Tampa FBI spokeswoman Andrea Aprea said the FBI cannot comment on personnel matters.

•••

The inspector general’s report faults Andrew McCabe for his candor in interviews with internal investigators. The report has not been released, but people briefed on it say the allegations revolve around disclosures to the Wall Street Journal, which revealed in October 2016 a dispute between the FBI and the Justice Department over how to proceed in an investigation into the Clinton family’s foundation.

McCabe, working through the FBI press office, authorized a spokesman and a bureau lawyer to speak with the Journal to rebut allegations that McCabe had put the brakes on the Clinton Foundation investigation. To the contrary, the article ultimately noted, McCabe had insisted that his agents had the authority. In an interview with the New York Times, McCabe was blunt. "The idea that I was dishonest is just wrong," he said, adding, "This is part of an effort to discredit me as a witness."

FBI disciplinary officials recommended his dismissal. McCabe, who stepped down in January and took a leave of absence, denied the accusation and appealed this week to senior career officials in the Justice Department.

Lack of candor is a fireable offense at the FBI, but McCabe’s last-minute dismissal was carried out against a highly politicized backdrop.

McCabe was eligible for a government pension if he retired Sunday. The firing jeopardizes that benefit, although it was not immediately clear how much he might lose.

"It’s incredibly unfair to my reputation after a 21-year career," McCabe said. He said the president’s public attacks were aimed at several targets. "The real damage is being done to the FBI, law enforcement and the special counsel," he said.

•••

Beyond the politics swirling around the firing of McCabe and the ongoing investigation into whether Trump worked with the Russians, Humphries said that ethos about acknowledging wrongdoing makes the firing of McCabe justified.

McCabe "lived by the sword and his career died by the same sword," said Humphries,

The FBI, he said, "is a great organization because historically great people are in it and do great things to make it great. Andrew McCabe’s firing was completely appropriate and will help the FBI start a new chapter in reinforcing the nation’s confidence in this premier law enforcement agency."

The public, Humphries added, "needed to see a senior FBI executive held accountable for a series of missteps during recent years. McCabe is alleged to have committed the same offense that sent Martha Stewart to prison and jammed up General Flynn. No one is above the law, nor is anyone beneath it."

This story contains information from the New York Times. Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman

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