Despite his weighty responsibilities as the FBI’s deputy director — which include daily briefings with the FBI’s director and overseeing the work of 36,500 agents and associates worldwide — Andrew McCabe, JD ’93, still gets excited about the field of criminal law that he first discovered while at Washington University School of Law.
“Criminal law and investigations expose the drama and passion in life. It’s about the pursuit of power and money; it’s where lives collide. For me, it’s is still fascinating,” says McCabe, who assumed his post as the Bureau’s no. 2 man in February 2016, after starting as a rookie FBI agent 20 years earlier, working his first cases in New York.
“I was on a squad where we investigated organized crime matters in the Russian and Eurasian communities, and they were wild times,” McCabe says. The Russians were trying to muscle into activities that “Italian organized crime groups had been doing for many years,” including kidnapping, drug trafficking and extortion.
Eager and early into the office one morning, McCabe took a call from a Brooklyn furniture store owner who said he was being “racketeered.” With none of the more seasoned agents volunteering to follow the “low probability” lead, McCabe and an equally inexperienced colleague caught the case, managed to find the store owner, and interviewed “this very courageous local businessman who was willing to come forward,” McCabe says.
As a result of hard work over a series of months, McCabe and his team developed the first RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) case against the Russian organized crime group, recruiting cooperators and surreptitiously recording conversations.
“It was dangerous and exciting work, and I really got to learn every aspect of how we build complex cases,” McCabe says. “We ended up putting this crew of six guys away for a long, long time for a host of racketeering activity — kidnapping, medical insurance fraud and extortion. It was a formative experience, but just the very beginning of my adventure in this organization. I’ve been to many places and worked some of our biggest national security issues. It started with that case and really hasn’t let up.”
Now, McCabe directs all FBI domestic and international investigative and intelligence activities. In the decade prior to his current appointment, his work focused largely on counterterrorism matters. In 2009, McCabe became the first director of the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, formed to elicit information from terrorism suspects without the use of force. National security issues remain “the FBI’s no. 1 priority,” says McCabe, as the bureau works “to prevent any act of terrorism here in the United States or against U.S. persons wherever they are.”
McCabe decided to become an FBI agent thanks to his experiences while at the School of Law. Keen on prosecution, he enjoyed moot court competitions and criminal procedure courses. Then an unpaid summer internship at the Department of Justice criminal fraud section, working on cases the DOJ was trying nationwide, exposed him to internal FBI reports of investigative activity. “I read a ton of them and became hooked on the idea of becoming an FBI agent,” he says.
McCabe’s WashU legal background and his three years as a lawyer in private practice before joining the FBI were “instrumental in my development as an agent and leader in this organization, giving me a perspective to see issues and understand them. Some people ask me whether I walked away from my law degree when I came into law enforcement, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s been an essential piece of my ability to do this job at every level, and I treasure the experience and the insights it provides me.”
McCabe encourages other law school grads “to consider nontraditional legal careers like mine, outside the norm of working in a firm. It’s enormously satisfying because of the meaningful work that we do for our communities and the country that we serve. It’s an honor and a privilege to be a part of the FBI.”