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Sessions and Wray at Wray's installation as director. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Attorney General Jeff Sessions — at the public urging of President Donald Trump — has been pressuring FBI Director Christopher Wray to fire Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, but Wray threatened to resign if McCabe was removed, according to three sources with direct knowledge.

  • Wray's resignation under those circumstances would have created a media firestorm. The White House — understandably gun-shy after the Comey debacle — didn’t want that scene, so McCabe remains.
  • Sessions told White House Counsel Don McGahn about how upset Wray was about the pressure on him to fire McCabe, and McGahn told Sessions this issue wasn’t worth losing the FBI Director over, according to a source familiar with the situation.
  • Why it matters: Trump started his presidency by pressuring one FBI Director (before canning him), and then began pressuring another (this time wanting his deputy canned). This much meddling with the FBI for this long is not normal.

McGahn has been informed about these ongoing conversations, though he has not spoken with Wray about FBI personnel, according to an administration source briefed on the situation. Trump nominated Wray, previously an assistant attorney general under George W. Bush, last June to replace James Comey as director.

Trump has also tweeted negatively about other senior FBI officials who are allies of Comey, including the former top FBI lawyer James A. Baker who was recently “reassigned” after pressure from Sessions.

White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah said of Wray: “As we’ve said, the president has enormous respect for the thousands of rank and file FBI agents who make up the world’s most professional and talented law enforcement agency. He believes politically-motivated senior leaders including former Director Comey and others he empowered have tainted the agency’s reputation for unbiased pursuit of justice. The president appointed Chris Wray because he is a man of true character and integrity and the right choice to clean up the misconduct at the highest levels of the FBI and give the rank and file confidence in their leadership.”

As I reported last night, Sessions has adamantly urged Wray to make a "fresh start" with his core team.

Trump and other Republicans have been hammering McCabe — who was selected by the White House as acting director after the Comey firing — for months on Twitter.

  • On July 26, Trump tweeted: "Why didn't A.G. Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation but got...big dollars ($700,000) for his wife's political run from Hillary Clinton and her representatives. Drain the Swamp!"

The latest: The New York Times — and others — reported in December that McCabe "is expected to retire after he becomes eligible for his pension [in] early [2018]." But senior Justice officials are still not sure what McCabe plans to do.

The FBI declined to comment for this story. Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores also declined to comment. 

Get more stories like this by signing up for our weekly political lookahead newsletter, Axios Sneak Peek. 

Go deeper

Off the Rails

Episode 2: Barbarians at the Oval

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 2: Trump stops buying what his professional staff are telling him, and increasingly turns to radical voices telling him what he wants to hear.

President Trump plunked down in an armchair in the White House residence, still dressed from his golf game — navy fleece, black pants, white MAGA cap. It was Saturday, Nov. 7. The networks had just called the election for Joe Biden.

Fringe right plots new attacks out of sight

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Domestic extremists are using obscure and private corners of the internet to plot new attacks ahead of Inauguration Day. Their plans are also hidden in plain sight, buried in podcasts and online video platforms.

Why it matters: Because law enforcement was caught flat-footed during last week's Capitol siege, researchers and intelligence agencies are paying more attention to online threats that could turn into real-world violence.

Kids’ screen time up 50% during pandemic

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

When the coronavirus lockdowns started in March, kidstech firm SuperAwesome found that screen time was up 50%. Nearly a year later, that percentage hasn't budged, according to new figures from the firm.

Why it matters: For most parents, pre-pandemic expectations around screen time are no longer realistic. The concern now has shifted from the number of hours in front of screens to the quality of screen time.