Oh my: IG to accuse McCabe of misleading investigators, approving leak

Misleading investigators? Isn’t that what Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos are getting prosecuted for doing? According to a Washington Post report last night, the Department of Justice Inspector General will accuse former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe of approving an improper leak to the Wall Street Journal just before the election, and then misleading investigators who attempted to look into it:

The Justice Department inspector general is preparing a damaging report on former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, alleging he was responsible for approving an improper media disclosure, two people familiar with the matter said. One of the people said McCabe will also be accused of misleading investigators about his actions.

The report is a part of Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s broad review of the FBI and Justice Department’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.

During that work, inspector general’s investigators found that McCabe had authorized the disclosure of information to the Wall Street Journal for an October 2016 story that examined feuding inside the FBI and Justice Department around the handling of a separate investigation into Clinton’s family foundation, two people familiar with the case said.

Those probing the matter believe that McCabe, who stepped down in January, misled them when they initially inquired about the subject, though one person familiar with the forthcoming report said McCabe disputes that he intentionally misled investigators.

The New York Times also reported on the IG’s findings and offers a reminder of the leak itself. Not surprisingly, it cast McCabe in a very favorable light — at the expense of the DoJ:

In October 2016, The Wall Street Journal revealed a dispute between F.B.I. and Justice Department officials over how to proceed in an investigation into the financial dealings of the Clinton family’s foundation. The article revealed a closed-door meeting during which senior Justice Department officials were dismissive of the evidence and declined to authorize subpoenas or grand jury activity. Some F.B.I. agents, the article said, believed that Mr. McCabe had put the brakes on the investigation.

Others rejected that notion. The Journal, citing sources including “one person close to Mr. McCabe,” revealed a tense conversation with a senior Justice Department official in which Mr. McCabe insisted that the F.B.I. had the authority to press ahead with the investigation into the Clinton Foundation.

The inspector general has concluded that Mr. McCabe authorized F.B.I. officials to provide information for that article, according to the four people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the report before it is published. The public affairs office had arranged a phone call to discuss the case, the people said. Mr. McCabe, as deputy director, had the authority to engage the news media.

This is a pretty crucial point. McCabe could have just given the WSJ an interview in October and told them directly what had happened, at least from his perspective. Instead, he got four lower-ranking agents to act as his mouthpieces. Had he said all that in an open interview, McCabe’s career would have been over, of course, but it wouldn’t have been unethical or potentially illegal. 

McCabe had obvious reasons to leak through others, but there’s another twist to this that shouldn’t get overlooked.  In October 2016, most people assumed that Hillary Clinton would win the election and that all of the Clinton investigations would come to a close. McCabe’s wife was running for office in Virginia during the e-mail investigation with the help of Clinton pal Terry McAuliffe (she lost the race in November 2015). So why would McCabe want to leak that he demanded to keep the Clinton Foundation probe open, and that the DoJ forced him to shut it down? That makes the need to sanitize the leak even more obvious, but why leak it at all as a presumed Hillary presidency approached? Curiouser and curiouser…

Less curious now, of course, is why McCabe abruptly stepped down in January. FBI director Christopher Wray met with McCabe after getting briefed by the IG and then immediately met with McCabe, who decided to make himself scarce around the office at that moment. The leak would be bad enough, but having him mislead investigators from the IG’s office at this particular point in time made his continued presence unsustainable, especially as Robert Mueller prepares to prosecute more than one person for allegedly doing the very same thing.

Both the NYT and WaPo predict that Donald Trump will use this to attack both the FBI and the Russia probe conducted by Mueller. So far we haven’t seen any presidential tweets on the subject, but undoubtedly we’ll eventually get the reaction both papers predict. In this case, Trump might be right to point out the politicization surrounding both investigations at the top of the bureau as the election came to a close, even though he might have been the beneficiary in this particular episode. After all, let’s not lose sight of the information from the leak, as self-serving as it was for McCabe, which was that the DoJ shut down a properly predicated investigation into the Clinton Foundation. That also requires some answers. Will the IG provide them?

Update: I’ve gotten a couple of notes that McCabe’s wife Jill lost the election in 2015, while my description of it was unclear. I’ve edited the passage to make that clear.