WASHINGTON, March 16 (Reuters) - U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday fired Andrew McCabe, the FBI's former No. 2 official who was deeply involved in the agency's investigations of Hillary Clinton and Russia's role in the 2016 U.S. election and was repeatedly criticized by President Donald Trump.
McCabe said in a lengthy statement that he believes he is being politically targeted because he corroborated former FBI Director James Comey's claims that Trump tried to pressure him into killing the Russia probe.
Trump ousted Comey last year and later acknowledged in a televised interview that he fired Comey over "this Russia thing."
"Based on the report of the Inspector General, the findings of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility, and the recommendation of the Department's senior career official, I have terminated the employment of Andrew McCabe effective immediately," Sessions said in a statement.
McCabe's dismissal came two days before his 50th birthday, when he would have been eligible to retire from the Federal Bureau of Investigation with his full pension. The firing - which comes nine months after Trump fired Comey - puts McCabe's pension in jeopardy.
It also is likely to raise questions about whether McCabe received an overly harsh punishment due to political pressure by the Republican president, who has blasted McCabe on Twitter and called for his ouster.
Comey's firing paved the way for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to tap Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is now leading the investigation into possible collusion between Trump's campaign and Russia. Trump has denied there was any collusion.
"I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey," McCabe said in his statement.
"This attack on my credibility is one part of a larger effort ... to taint the FBI, law enforcement, and intelligence professionals more generally."
JUST IN: Statement from Andrew McCabe: "I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey.” https://t.co/t2XUf57p21pic.twitter.com/Y6uv6gZ5pA
— ABC News (@ABC) March 17, 2018
McCabe had stepped down from his position as FBI deputy director in January but remained on leave pending retirement.
His departure was triggered by a critical report from the Justice Department's inspector general that eventually led to a recommendation that he be fired.
The report said McCabe misled investigators about his communications with a former Wall Street Journal reporter who was writing about McCabe's role in probes tied to Clinton, including an investigation of the Clinton family's charitable foundation.
In his statement, McCabe denied ever misleading investigators.
He added that the release of the inspector general's report was "accelerated" after he testified behind closed doors before the U.S. House Intelligence Committee where he revealed he could back up Comey's claims. Comey's firing has become central to questions about whether Trump unlawfully sought to obstruct the Russia investigation.
McCabe could potentially be a crucial witness in Mueller's investigation.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Will Dunham; Additional reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Bill Trott and Nick Macfie)