Justice Watchdog Finds Fired FBI Leader McCabe 'Lacked Candor'

Then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe attends a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing last May. Then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe attends a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing last May. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

In the latest wrinkle in the ongoing controversies over law enforcement’s handling of probes into both presidential candidates in the 2016 election, the Justice Department inspector general on Friday faulted former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe for a lack of “candor” in four instances during his efforts to work the news media about the status of the bureau’s investigations of the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton’s State Department emails.

“The OIG found that then-Deputy Director Andrew McCabe lacked candor, including under oath, on multiple occasions in connection with describing his role in connection with a disclosure to the [Wall Street Journal], and that this conduct violated FBI Offense Codes 2.5 and 2.6,” IG Michael Horowitz wrote in a report released on Friday afternoon. “McCabe’s disclosure of the existence of an ongoing investigation in the manner described in this report violated the FBI’s and the department’s media policy and constituted misconduct.”

IG interviews with FBI senior executives uncovered suspicion that McCabe’s contact with the newspaper “was an unauthorized leak because it disclosed a high-level conversation that appeared to serve McCabe at the expense of making DOJ look bad,” said the IG, who peeled off the McCabe case from a larger set of issues he is investigating related to both candidates in the 2016 election.

McCabe’s situation had drawn national attention from both political parties after Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month fired the 21-year FBI veteran just days before his scheduled retirement and eligibility for a full pension.

When questioned about the disclosure to reporter Devlin Barrett in May 2017, the report continued, “McCabe issued false denials regarding his involvement in it. Further, after it became apparent that the OIG knew about his role in the disclosure, McCabe sought to legitimize his actions by falsely claiming that he had told [then-FBI Director James] Comey that he authorized the disclosure and that Comey was fine with his decision.”

The investigators acknowledged that McCabe was responding to anonymous leaks about the Clinton Foundation probe that “may have originated from current or former FBI agents. However,” the IG added, “ongoing, non-public FBI investigations are sometimes the subject of media reports, yet the FBI’s official response to such reports is typically to refuse to confirm or deny the existence of the investigation, as then-Director Comey did in his July congressional testimony.”

McCabe said that he did not view the authorization for a press aide’s contact with The Wall Street Journal as confirming the existence of the Clinton Foundation investigation because the purpose was to demonstrate the FBI’s independence, and “there really wasn’t any discussion of the case, of the merits of the case, the targets and subjects of the case,” the report said. “McCabe stated that this was the only time in his career where he had authorized the disclosure to the media of a one-on-one discussion that he had with a member of the department’s leadership.”

McCabe’s attorney, former Justice Department IG Michael Bromwich, blasted the findings, attacking both the process and the conclusions as hasty. “We believe the OIG report utterly failed to support the decision to terminate Mr. McCabe,” he said. “In written submissions to the OIG and DOJ, we demonstrated that the charges were unsupported by the evidence and that the OIG's conclusions and the FBI-OPR proposal to terminate Mr. McCabe were unjustified.”

Bromwich asserted that “the core weakness of the OIG report is the lack of any understandable motive for his alleged wrongdoing. It is undisputed that Mr. McCabe was one of three senior FBI officials authorized to share information with the media, including on sensitive investigative matters. He chose to exercise that authority in October 2016, during one of the most turbulent periods in the history of the bureau, with the knowledge of Director Comey and other senior members of FBI management,” McCabe’s attorney said. “His purpose was to protect the institutional reputation of the FBI against false claims, including that a sensitive investigation was being shut down for political reasons.”

McCabe’s attorney also questioned the report’s reliance on recollections of Comey, which he called “admittedly vague and uncertain.” And he took a swipe at Horowitz, his successor at the IG’s office, saying not even an independent inspector general is “totally immune” from the influence of President Trump’s negative attacks on McCabe via Twitter. McCabe’s firing “was not only unfair to him and to his family,” he added, “it has sent a profoundly troubling message to the DOJ and FBI workforce about the harshness and lack of proportionality of the disciplinary process.”

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The IG’s conclusions drew praise from Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.  "Today's inspector general report confirms FBI Deputy Director McCabe's firing was justified,” Gowdy said in a statement. “The second in command at our nation's premiere law enforcement agency should be the epitome of fidelity, bravery and integrity. The inspector general found not only did McCabe divulge sensitive information, he did it without the permission, authority, or knowledge of his supervisor.”

Gowdy added that the report “continues to call into question decisions made by FBI leadership in 2016 and 2017, which is why the Oversight and Judiciary committees will continue our joint investigation into the matter.

“The American public now knows why former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe was fired,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “Individuals who lie should not be working at the highest levels of the FBI. I commend Inspector General Horowitz for his work and I remain committed to my committee’s oversight of the Justice Department. “

Horowitz’s larger report on the 2016 election is expected in May.

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