Two Duke alumni were once top officials in the U.S. intelligence community. Now, one will resign Aug. 15, and the other is suing the Department of Justice and FBI after his firing.
Sue Gordon, Trinity ‘80 and principal deputy director of national intelligence, submitted her resignation letter to President Donald Trump Aug. 8. The nation’s second highest intelligence official, Gordon seemed to be next in line to become director of national intelligence, but she decided to leave her post when she was informed that President Donald Trump would name someone else.
Andrew McCabe, Trinity ‘90, has sued the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Intelligence for what he alleges was his wrongful firing in March 2018. McCabe’s complaint alleges that the firing, which was at the direction of Trump and was ordered by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, came because McCabe was not “politically loyal” to the president.
Gordon served more than 25 years in the CIA, and McCabe spent more than two decades in the FBI.
‘You should have your team’
Trump announced the resignation of Dan Coats as Director of National Intelligence in July and nominated Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, to the role. But in light of media scrutiny, Ratcliffe removed himself from consideration Aug. 2.
According to “rules of succession written into law,” Gordon was to assume the role of acting director of national intelligence upon Coats’s departure, according to the Wall Street Journal. However, the Journal reported that Trump’s allies had “urged [Gordon’s] removal to block her ascension” to the post.
Gordon resigned Aug. 8, after Coats reportedly interrupted an election security meeting that day and advised her to do so. In addition to her letter of resignation, she left a handwritten note for Trump.
“I offer this letter as an act of respect & patriotism, not preference,” she wrote. “You should have your team.”
Trump announced Gordon’s resignation in an Aug. 8 tweet. Gordon will officially step down, as will Coats, Aug. 15.
“Sue Gordon is a great professional with a long and distinguished career,” Trump wrote. “I have gotten to know Sue over the past 2 years and have developed great respect for her.”
Less than an hour later, he tweeted that Joseph Maguire would succeed Coats as director of national intelligence. Maguire currently serves as director of the National Counterterrorism Center.
At Duke, Gordon was a member of the women’s basketball team and the team’s only three-time captain, according to an October 2015 news release. She received her bachelor of science in zoology.
An alleged wrongful termination
Sessions fired McCabe March 16, just days before the Deputy Director would have qualified for full retirement benefits. The timing of his termination means that McCabe had his law enforcement pension and his health insurance withheld, according to the complaint, which was filed Aug. 8.
McCabe had been planning since 2016 to retire in March 2018, according to the complaint. He informed Sessions and former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein of his retirement plans soon after he became Acting Director of the FBI following the firing of James Comey, and he publicly announced his retirement in December 2017. He continued as Deputy Director until Jan. 29, 2018, when he began his shift to non-duty on “terminal leave.”
McCabe would normally have qualified for full benefits on his 50th birthday—Sunday, March 18, 2018—but he was informed by “FBI human resources personnel” that he would be “deemed to reach the age of 50” and become eligible on March 17, according to the complaint. The complaint notes that he told the FBI in mid-February that the “first full day of his retirement would be Saturday, March 17, 2018,” although he had previously said it would be March 19.
Because that date fell on a Saturday, McCabe’s last full day of service was Friday, March 16, 2018, according to the complaint, and he “privately celebrated his retirement” once the workday finished at 5 p.m.
Around 10 p.m. that same day, Sessions announced McCabe’s firing in a press statement, the complaint adds, although McCabe had been on “terminal leave” and had already served his last day.
The complaint sheds doubt on the legitimacy of firing a federal civil service employee via a press announcement. Additionally, the legal basis for the firing cited in the announcement was DOJ Order 1202, which allows the Attorney General to fire certain top positions within the FBI. Since McCabe had been demoted in January and wasn’t in a top position afterward, the complaint asserts that Order 1202 “actually deprived Sessions of any authority to terminate [McCabe].”
“Defendants responded to Plaintiff’s two decades of unblemished and non-partisan public service with a politically motivated and retaliatory demotion in January 2018 and public firing in March 2018—on the very night of Plaintiff’s long-planned retirement from the FBI,” the complaint reads.
In April, McCabe detailed his experience in the Trump administration during a talk at Duke entitled “The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terrorism and Trump.”
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Stefanie Pousoulides is The Chronicle's Investigations Editor. A senior from Akron, Ohio, Stefanie is double majoring in political science and international comparative studies and serves as a Senior Editor of The Muse Magazine, Duke's feminist magazine. She is also a former co-Editor-in-Chief of The Muse Magazine and a former reporting intern at PolitiFact in Washington, D.C.