I was fired, but an FBI career is worth it

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Andrew McCabe, former acting director of the FBI, has drawn executive ire for his politics. McCabe, above, testifies at a hearing in May 2017.

On March 16, I spent the day with my family waiting to hear whether I would be fired, after 21 years in the FBI and one day before I qualified for my long-planned, earned retirement.

As day turned to night, I had a lot of time to reflect on how it would feel to be separated from the organization I loved – and led – and the mission that has been the central focus of my professional life. Despite all the preparation for the worst-case scenario, I still felt disoriented and sick to my stomach. Around 10 p.m., a friend called to tell me that CNN was reporting that I had been fired. She read me the attorney general’s statement.

So, after two decades of public service, I found out that I had been fired in the most disembodied, impersonal way – third-hand, based on a news account. Shortly after getting word, I noticed an email from a Justice Department official in my work account, telling me that I had been “removed from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the civil service.”

I have been accused of “lack of candor.” That is not true. I did not knowingly mislead or lie to investigators. When asked about contacts with a reporter that were fully within my power to authorize as deputy director, and amid the chaos that surrounded me, I answered questions as completely and accurately as I could. And when I realized that some of my answers were not fully accurate or may have been misunderstood, I took the initiative to correct them. At worst, I was not clear in my responses, and because of what was going on around me may well have been confused and distracted – and for that I take full responsibility. But that is not a lack of candor. And under no circumstances could it ever serve as the basis for the very public and extended humiliation of my family and me that the administration, and the president personally, have engaged in over the past year.

Not in my worst nightmares did I ever dream my FBI career would end this way.

The next day I woke to find the president of the United States celebrating my punishment: “Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI – A great day for Democracy.” I was sad, but not surprised, to see that such unhinged public attacks on me would continue into my life after my service to the FBI. President Trump’s cruelty reminded me of the days immediately following the firing of James Comey, as the White House desperately tried to push the falsehood that people in the FBI were celebrating the loss of our director. The president’s comments about me were equally hurtful and false, which shows that he has no idea how FBI people feel about their leaders.

I was drawn to the FBI by nothing more complicated than a desire to do good. In 1994, I submitted a special-agent application, dreaming about what life as a criminal investigator would be like. I devoured every book I could find, and binged on news coverage of FBI investigations. When the day came for me to report to the FBI training academy at Quantico, Virginia, I embarked on the greatest professional adventure I could ever imagine.

Each year, more than 2,000 men and women of all races, colors and creeds are drawn to the FBI by the same professional and personal desire to do good. It is the DNA that we all share. As acting director, I frequently talked to FBI people about that shared DNA as the glue that bound us together and enabled us to stay mission-focused during the chaos that followed Comey’s firing in May 2017. True to form, our agents, analysts and professional staff reacted as FBI people always do. They continued to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution despite the political winds – and the unprecedented attacks on us by the president and other partisans – that buffeted us.

The nation continues to need them. And not just the current employees of the FBI, but all smart, talented, dedicated people considering careers in the law enforcement and intelligence communities. These are hard jobs that demand sacrifice, often involve danger, and take a toll on families and personal lives. But they also offer the rare opportunity to enter into a sacred trust with the American people: to protect and defend them, honestly, justly and fairly. There is no greater responsibility, but there is no greater reward. We cannot afford for young people to be dissuaded from lives of public service by the divisive politics and partisan attacks that now so characterize our national discourse and that, I believe, played a major role in the end of my FBI career.

To those men and women, I say: Fear not. Set the headlines aside and give in to what draws you to this work. The country needs you.

There is nothing like having the opportunity to be a part of the greatest law-enforcement organization in the world, working every day for goals that you respect and cherish. It is the best job you will ever have. Even if a president decides to attack you and your family. Even if you get fired on a Friday night, one day from your retirement.

McCabe served in the FBI from 1996 until March 16. He was the bureau’s deputy director from 2016 to January, including time as acting director from May to August 2017.