In This Story
Andrew McCabe began his career with the FBI as a special agent and then a SWAT team sniper in New York City in 1996, working his way through the ranks to become deputy director and then acting director in 2016. Since leaving the bureau he has been a contributor to CNN and wrote the book, The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump (2019).
He became a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Schar School in 2020, joining the Master of International Security faculty that includes former Vice Chair of the National Intelligence Council Ellen Laipson, former CIA Acting Director Michael Morell, former White House Situation Room Senior Director Larry Pfeiffer, former CIA officer David Priess, and former Director of the NSA and CIA Michael V. Hayden.
Recently, McCabe was the guest of George Mason University President Gregory Washington during the 50th edition of his podcast, Access to Excellence. The wide-ranging discussion takes in McCabe’s adventures with the FBI, the turmoil of his dismissal, and his subsequent appointment to the Schar School where he finds the students, to his delight, bring their own substantial experiences to the classroom.
Here are selected highlights from the hour-long conversation.
McCabe: You know, it typically takes a class or two before people really warm up to the environment and understand that nothing is out of bounds with me. I am happy to share anything I can from my own experience, and I want to hear that conflict of ideas, that conflict of approaches, because that’s what happens in that room around that table in the West Wing where you literally hash your way towards a result or a decision or a policy.
Those are the sorts of perspectives that you get from George Mason students. They are not consistently leaning in one direction politically or ethically or operationally. They are very diverse. I have students from all sorts of different backgrounds. I have maybe half the class are students who graduated from undergrad within the last two or three years. And the other half of the class are people who are in the middle of successful careers and seeking to increase their opportunities going forward.
We have a class on active measures, and we use the example of what the Russians did in 2016 in their efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election. You know, I was obviously very involved in the FBI’s response to that issue. And they can sit there and ask me, why did you decide to do this? Or why didn’t you do something else?
Washington: There’s a reason why certain events happen the way they happen, and being able to talk to people in who were in the room and have that discussion in a contemporary context, to me, I don’t know of a better education that a student can get. I just don’t.
McCabe: And Mason students are those kind of students. They’re dialed in, they read, they consume the news, they come to the table with a great background and a great curiosity, which is the most important thing.
Washington: What would you say was the lowest and highest points of your FBI career?
McCabe: [My] first big arrest as a new agent in New York. My first big case was an organized crime case. And I remember wrapping those guys up after a long investigation and working with informants and making confidential recordings and things. I remember what that felt like to this day.
I remember going as deputy director and swearing in my first class of new agents my career. I was very lucky. My career was filled with incredible moments that I’ll never forget.
Lowest point, I, it’s pretty obvious—walking out on a cold day in January when I’d essentially been kind of thrown out of my job before I was fired in March. That was incredibly, incredibly sad. And I was very sad and humiliate[ed] on a kind of a sickening level. So I remember that as well. I wish I could forget that one, but [laugh], unfortunately, I can’t.
But you know what, like all things you move on. And I’ve been very fortunate to have recreated now a new life after the FBI. I get to still talk about and analyze law enforcement and intelligence issues that fascinate me. I get to teach these wonderful students at George Mason.
Additional reporting by Buzz McClain, Schar School of Policy and Government.