WASHINGTON — The Justice Department's inspector general is expected to criticize former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe as part of its investigation into the bureau's handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe, a person familiar with the matter said Thursday night.
McCabe, a frequent target of President Donald Trump's ire, left his position in January as the FBI's No. 2 official and is scheduled to retire later this month after more than 20 years with the bureau. He served for several months as acting director following Trump's firing last May of FBI Director James Comey.
The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a forthcoming inspector general report, said the criticism of McCabe was expected to be in connection with a media disclosure and a question of whether proper procedures were followed in the release of information.
Spokespeople for the Justice Department, the FBI and the inspector general declined to comment Thursday evening. McCabe did not return a phone message seeking comment.
The report, initiated more than a year ago and due out within weeks, has been eagerly anticipated in Washington and will unquestionably add new details to the debate on how law enforcement officials handled election-year investigations into both Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, and Trump's successful Republican campaign.
It will be released as the FBI finds itself under steady attack from Trump and other Republicans who criticize the organization as politically slanted and antagonistic toward the administration. Trump repeatedly railed against Comey after firing him, an action now under investigation. And the White House has more recently found itself at odds with the new director, Christopher Wray, over the release of a Republican memo — derived from classified information — on the investigation into possible ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.
The New York Times, which first reported the finding, said the inspector general report would conclude that McCabe had authorized FBI officials to provide information for a Wall Street Journal article in October 2016.
That article, published days after Comey notified Congress that the FBI was revisiting the Clinton investigation following the discovery of a new batch of emails, described tensions between the FBI and the Justice Department — led at the time by Attorney General Loretta Lynch — over how aggressively Clinton and the Clinton Foundation should be investigated. The story characterized Justice Department officials as skeptical of the FBI's evidence and discouraging of an aggressive pursuit of potential financial crimes involving the Clinton Foundation.
The inspector general in January 2017 announced a wide-ranging investigation into the FBI's actions during the Clinton email investigation, which concluded months earlier without charges.
Included in the review are apparent leaks to the news media during the investigation, and Comey's decision to publicly announce the FBI's recommendation that Clinton not face charges over her handling of classified email in a private server. Comey subsequently notified Congress just over a week before the election that newly discovered emails would have to be reviewed, then days later told lawmakers that nothing had been found to change his original assessment.
Though strenuously defended for months by Comey, the FBI's actions in the Clinton investigation elicited bipartisan anger and provided the White House's stated rationale for Trump's dismissal of Comey. Trump has since said he was thinking of "this Russia thing" when he fired Comey, a move special counsel Robert Mueller has closely examined for possible obstruction of justice.
Trump verbally attacked McCabe during the campaign and again as president because McCabe's wife, during a failed state Senate run, had accepted campaign contributions from the political action committee of then-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a close Clinton ally.
The FBI has said McCabe received the necessary ethics approval and was not supervising the Clinton email case at the time of the contributions, but the inspector general is nonetheless investigating whether he should have recused. When news broke in late December that McCabe planned to retire in the spring, Trump mocked him on Twitter as "racing the clock to retire with full benefits."
The inspector general's office made headlines this week when Trump, in an angry tweet directed at Attorney General Jeff Sessions, erroneously suggested that the FBI report was late. Inspector General Michael Horowitz has said the report was expected around March or April, a timeline that has not changed.
Trump also criticized Sessions for asking the inspector general to investigate potential surveillance abuses by the FBI in the early stages of the Russia investigation, saying that such a probe should be handled instead by "Justice Department lawyers." Sessions later defended himself in an unusual statement.