Former FBI deputy McCabe launches legal defense fund in wake of firing

WASHINGTON, March 29 (Reuters) - Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who was fired by the Trump administration but says he was terminated because he is a crucial witness in the Russia investigation, is raising funds to help cover costs defending against other ongoing government probes, according to a copy of a draft website seen by Reuters.

The GoFundMe Web page unveiled on Thursday, which seeks to raise $150,000 from members of the public, represents an escalation of the battle between McCabe and the administration over his firing amid heavy criticism by President Donald Trump. It also raises the prospect that McCabe could legally challenge his termination in the future.

"Andrew McCabe’s FBI career was long, distinguished, and unblemished," says the Web page. "His reward for that has been a termination that was completely unjustified, amidst repeated ad hominem attacks by the President of the United States,"

The page features a photo of McCabe alongside his wife, two children and the family dog, Jeremiah.

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On March 16, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he was terminating McCabe after the Justice Department's inspector general concluded that the Federal Bureau of Investigation veteran leaked information to the press and misled investigators about his actions.

The report used as the basis for the firing has still not been made public. Following McCabe's termination, Trump took to Twitter, where he declared it was a "great day for Democracy."

McCabe’s dismissal came less than two days before his 50th birthday, when he would have been eligible to retire from the Federal Bureau of Investigation with his full pension.

McCabe disputes the findings by the inspector general's office. He said he believes he is facing administration retaliation because he is a crucial witness into whether Trump may have tried to obstruct a criminal probe now being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

While he was the FBI's No. 2 official, McCabe was deeply involved in overseeing investigations related to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server, and whether Russia colluded with Trump's campaign. Trump has denied any collusion occurred. Russia has denied meddling.

Reuters has reported that McCabe kept contemporaneous notes following his conversations with Trump, as well as notes related to former FBI Director James Comey's conversations with Trump.

Trump fired Comey in 2017, prompting Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appoint Mueller as special counsel. Trump later acknowledged in a televised interview he fired Comey over "this Russia thing."

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch)