WASHINGTON — The Justice Department's inspector general has found that former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe violated department policy and “lacked candor” when being interviewed about whether he was a source for two news articles pertaining to the FBI in 2016.
The highly anticipated report that Attorney General Jeff Sessions used to fire McCabe last month was initiated to determine the source of leaked information published in The Wall Street Journal shortly before the U.S. presidential election.
“McCabe may have lacked candor when questioned by INSD agents about his role in the disclosure to the WSJ,” the report said, referring to agents in the FBI's inspection division.
The report was given to members of Congress on Friday and provided to NBC News. According to one congressional source, the Senate Intelligence Committee members were able to read the report up to two weeks ago.
The report says McCabe authorized the discussion of the FBI’s investigation into the Clinton Foundation with a reporter from The Wall Street Journal in an effort to “rebut a narrative” about McCabe’s impartiality in the investigation. The reporter had previously written about McCabe’s wife, who took campaign donations from Hillary Clinton’s close political ally Terry McAuliffe for her run in a state election in Virginia.
The IG found that while McCabe was authorized to release such information to news reporters, he did so to “advance his personal interest” and “violated” the FBI’s and the DOJ’s media policy, and therefore his actions “constituted misconduct.”
The report found that McCabe also contradicted his previous statements. During an interview under oath on Nov. 29, 2017, McCabe finally acknowledged that he had authorized the disclosure to the Journal. He then denied having said that he had not authorized the disclosure. The government watchdog found this contradiction to be in violation of the FBI’s offense code.
The inspector general's report said that McCabe would have been in the right had he acknowledged the existence of the Clinton Foundation investigation publicly, if he had found it was in the public interest to do so. But because he confirmed its existence through an anonymous source, it was “clearly not within the public interest exception.”
“McCabe’s disclosure was an attempt to make himself look good by making senior department leadership, specifically the Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General, look bad,” the report said.
McCabe’s lawyer, Michael Bromwich, said the rush to terminate McCabe days before he could have retired with a full pension, was “unprecedented, unseemly and cruel.”
Bromwich also said the inspector general relied too heavily on statements from former FBI Director James Comey, who could only remember his discussions in vague terms.
“Mr. McCabe’s recollection of discussions he had with Director Comey about this issue is extremely clear; Director Comey’s recollection is, by his own acknowledgement, not at all clear.”
The IG report details a meeting Comey held on Oct. 31, 2016 — a day after one of the Wall Street Journal articles ran — about the “need to figure out how to get our folks to understand why leaks hurt our organization.” That same day, Comey and McCabe had a conversation about the leak, but, according to the report, the two men have contradicting accounts of that interaction.
McCabe said he told Comey he authorized the leak. However, Comey said that McCabe “did not tell me that he authorized” the disclosure to the Journal.
Asked why he did not tell Comey before the Oct. 30 article, McCabe said Comey had been too occupied with the relaunching of the investigation into Clinton’s emails, which began Oct. 28.
Asked to respond to the report, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, "I haven’t seen the full report but it sounds like two peas in the pod with McCabe and Comey.” President Donald Trump weighed in along similar lines on Twitter.
In a lengthy statement defending his client, Bromwich maintained that "the core weakness of the OIG report is the lack of any understandable motive for his alleged wrongdoing.”
“The rushed decision to terminate Mr. McCabe was not only unfair to him and to his family; it has sent a profoundly troubling message to the DOJ and FBI workforce about the harshness and lack of proportionality of the disciplinary process," Bromwich added. "That troubling message was reinforced, and made toxic, by the president’s celebratory tweet hours after Mr. McCabe’s termination.”
On Capitol Hill, reaction to the report has been relatively minimal but highly political.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the report justifies McCabe’s firing.
“This 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,” Gowdy said in a statement.
Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, said the report is an effort to attack the judicial system.
“The Republicans have been transparent in their work to discredit and distract from the work of the Russia investigation, so let me be clear: The report issued by the Inspector General today has absolutely nothing to do with special counsel Mueller, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, the conduct of federal investigators so far, or the multiple indictments they have secured against Russian nationals and Trump campaign officials,” Nadler said.