Justice Department internal watchdog expected to fault former FBI deputy in press dealings
Pete Marovich/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The Justice Department’s internal watchdog is expected to fault former FBI Deputy Director Andy McCabe for authorizing agency officials to speak with media about an ongoing investigation tied to then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, a source familiar with the matter told ABC News.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s office has completed a draft report on McCabe, after spending more than a year looking into whether he should have done more to shield certain investigations from potential conflicts of interest.
In the draft report, internal investigators conclude that McCabe went too far in trying to push back against media reports questioning whether family ties to Democrats could impact his work, and the draft report takes issue with McCabe’s subsequent statements to Justice Department officials asking questions to McCabe about that role, the source said.
It’s unclear if McCabe may face criticism by the inspector general for other matters.
The inspector general’s office declined to comment for this article.
At the end of a 22-year career with the FBI, McCabe has become a frequent target of criticism from President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers, who allege that McCabe’s time at the top of the FBI was emblematic of political bias in the FBI’s law enforcement work.
In particular, McCabe came under fire for what Republicans claimed were conflicts of interest because his wife ran for a Virginia state Senate seat as a Democrat in 2015 while the FBI was investigating Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state.
At the time his wife was running for election, McCabe was the head of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.
Emails and correspondence released by the FBI show McCabe recused himself from any public corruption cases tied to Virginia. And, according to the FBI documents, McCabe had no oversight of the Clinton matter until he became deputy director in February 2016, three months after his wife lost her election bid.
Nevertheless, in October 2016, the Wall Street Journal published at least one article that called into question McCabe’s ability to fairly oversee the federal probe of the Clinton Foundation. Ahead of the story’s publication, McCabe authorized an FBI spokesman to speak with the Wall Street Journal about efforts to keep the Clinton Foundation investigation moving forward, the source familiar with the inspector general’s findings told ABC News.
Justice Department guidelines generally prohibit FBI agents and officials from discussing any aspect of an ongoing investigation with reporters; however, at times, such discussions can be permitted.
“Our practice is not to confirm the existence of ongoing investigations, especially those investigations that involve classified matters, but in unusual circumstances where it is in the public interest, it may be appropriate to do so as Justice Department policies recognize,” then-FBI Director James Comey told lawmakers last year, when confirming that federal authorities had launched an investigation into Russia meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible ties to Trump associates.
Soon after the Wall Street Journal published its first story on McCabe, senior FBI officials launched an effort to provide “a factual basis by which to inform discussions with employees or interested parties in the community,” as one memorandum since released by the FBI put it.
Just days after the Wall Street Journal story, McCabe recused himself from the Clinton matter.
In January 2017, as congressional calls for independent probes mounted, the Justice Department’s inspector general announced it was investigating a series of Justice Department and FBI moves ahead of the 2016 presidential election, including “allegations that the FBI deputy director should have been recused from participating in certain investigative matters” and “allegations that department and FBI employees improperly disclosed non-public information.”
Two months ago, the FBI announced that McCabe would be vacating his post as deputy director, even as he remains a government employee until his official retirement in the coming weeks.
After the announcement, a source familiar with McCabe’s thinking told ABC News that he had come to learn he was going to get “slammed” in the upcoming report from the inspector general.
The source said the report would be “rough on him.”
Upon hearing that McCabe would be leaving his post, former FBI Director James Comey, known to be an ally of McCabe, posted a message on Twitter, saying, “Special Agent Andrew McCabe stood tall over the last 8 months, when small people were trying to tear down an institution we all depend on. He served with distinction for two decades.”
The Justice Department’s inspector general, meanwhile, is still working on a report about Comey and his handling of the Clinton email probe, including his July 2016 decision to publicly announce the FBI’s findings in front of national and international news outlets.
McCabe first joined the FBI in 1996, investigating organized crime cases in New York. Over the next several years, he shifted his focus to rooting out international terrorists. In 2012, he became the head of the FBI’s counterterrorism division in Washington.
In October 2013, McCabe took over the FBI’s entire national security branch. The next year, he moved to become the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.
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