The chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee is demanding that the Justice Department explain why acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe has not removed himself from the Russia election meddling case because of perceived conflicts of interests.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, cited two recent stories by Circa, saying McCabe was the focus of three separate inquiries into his own conduct and appeared to have a conflict of interest against a key figure under investigation in the Russia case, former National Security adviser Michael Flynn.
Circa reported Monday that Flynn emerged as a potentially hostile witness against McCabe and the FBI in a separate sex discrimination case filed by a former agent, two years before the bureau put Flynn under investigation.
"That evidence and the failure to recuse calls into question whether Mr. McCabe handled the Flynn investigation fairly and objectively, or whether he had any retaliatory motive against Flynn for being an adverse witness to him in a pending proceeding," Grassley wrote in a letter dated Tuesday to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
The senator said he wants the Rosenstein to answer "what steps you have taken to address the appearance of political bias at the FBI."
Rosenstein appointed special counsel and former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III to lead the Russia investigation into election tampering, but Rosenstein still addresses matters related to the probe, since Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation.
Circa reported this week that McCabe is facing three federal administrative inquiries into his behavior. One involves a compaint from former supervisory special agent Robyn Gritz, a decorated counterterrorism agent, who filed a sexual discrimination and retaliation complaint that names McCabe and other top FBI officials. This is being reviewed by an administrative law judge in the Office of Federal Operations.
The Office of Special Counsel is also investigating charges McCabe violated the Hatch Act after Gritz reported that McCabe was seen in social media photos campaigning for his wife’s Virginia state senate race.
In a third probe, the Justice Department Inspector General is investigating allegations from Grassley that McCabe may not have properly disclosed campaign payments to his wife on his ethics report and should have rescued himself from Hillary Clinton's email case.
Read Senator Grassley's letter here.
The inquiries remain open but so far there have not been any adverse findings against the senior FBI executive.
FBI officials and McCabe have declined comment, except to say the bureau boss sought advice from ethics officials to ensure he did nothing wrong in supporting his wife's 2015 campaign in Virginia.
Holding the FBI accountable
The Senate Judiciary Committee also wants answers from the FBI. The letter noted the bureau's lack of candor in responding to questions raised last year by the committee regarding McCabe’s apparent conflicts of interest in the Clinton email case.
“The FBI provided the ethical and recusal protocol applied to Mr. McCabe regarding his potential conflicts of interest,” the letter stated, but pointed out the majority of the documents had been redacted.
“Oddly, Mr. McCabe was the approval authority for his own recusal memo,” Grassley’s letter states. “That document contains a number of redactions. The Committee requires unredacted copies of the document for its inquiry. Accordingly, please provide an unredacted copy of the attached document no later than July 12, 2017. In addition, please provide a written explanation of the steps you intend to take as Mr. McCabe’s supervisor to address the appearance of political and other conflicts of interest outlined above.”
The committee sent the letter to both the FBI and DOJ. Neither agency has responded to date to the committee’s inquiries regarding McCabe.
McCabe's role in the Russia investigation
McCabe, who as acting FBI chief is leading the bureau's probe into Russia's role in the presidential election, plays a critical role in the probe into former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who was fired after classified information leaked to the press regarding his phone conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak.
How McCabe handled the administrative probe into Gritz has prompted questions about McCabe's handling of Flynn.
Flynn, who as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, had worked with Gritz on a number of intelligence matters and came to her defense in her sexual discrimination case, as first reported by Circa.
“In addition, a recent press report states that three FBI employees, ‘personally witnessed McCabe make disparaging remarks about Flynn before and during the time the retired Army general emerged as a figure in the Russia case,” Grassley’s letter states, which refers to a story published by Circa Monday.
“That evidence and the failure to recuse calls into question whether Mr. McCabe handled the Flynn investigation fairly and objectively, or whether he had any retaliatory motive against Flynn for being an adverse witness to him in a pending proceeding,” the letter reads.
McCabe's role in the Hillary Clinton email case
The Justice Department Inspector General is investigating allegations from Grassley that McCabe, whose wife Jill McCabe received roughly $700,000 during her Virginia state election campaign, may not have properly disclosed campaign payments to on his ethics report and should have recused himself from Hillary Clinton's email case.
A political campaign PAC, connected directly with Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, gave McCabe’s wife the bulk of the donations totaling nearly $500,000 while the FBI’s investigation of Secretary Clinton was ongoing. McAuliffe was also under investigation for a short period regarding questionable campaign contributions in 2015. Jill McCabe lost the election, but the committee raises concerns about the couple’s relationship with Clinton allies.
The Judiciary Committee is asking Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein to quickly deliver the unclassified and classified documents it has requested through the appropriate channels.