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Andrew McCabe
FILE - In this Wednesday, June 7, 2017 file photo, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe appears before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, on Capitol Hill in Washington. On Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017, President Donald Trump reacted to reports about the coming retirement of FBI Deputy Director McCabe, who has been buffeted by attacks from the president and his Republican allies over alleged anti-Trump bias in the agency, by retweeting falsehoods about McCabe's wife. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Justice Dept. watchdog report: Fired FBI deputy director McCabe misled investigators

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BY ERIC TUCKER and MARY CLARE JALONICK , Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Andrew McCabe, the fired FBI deputy director, misled investigators multiple times about his role in a news media disclosure about Hillary Clinton just days before the 2016 presidential election and authorized the release of information to "advance his personal interests," according to a Justice Department watchdog report.

The report alleges that McCabe authorized FBI officials to speak with a Wall Street Journal reporter for a story about an investigation into the Clinton Foundation, in violation of agency rules, and then misled FBI and Justice Department officials when later questioned about it. The report also reveals contradictory accounts between McCabe and his boss at the time, Director James Comey, over whether the conversation with the journalist had received proper approval.

Jeff Sessions, Tom Price, Andrew McCabe
Attorney General Jeff Session, center, flanked by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, left, and Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, speaks during a news conference about opioid addiction, Thursday, July 13, 2017, at the Justice Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

McCabe, who was fired just two days before his scheduled retirement, denied the report's allegations in a detailed rebuttal statement. McCabe says that when he believed his answers to the inspector general were misunderstood, he returned and tried to correct them. The report notes that McCabe, as deputy director, had full authority to authorize sharing information with the media and permitted subordinates to do so in this case to correct had a false narrative that he had tried to stymie an FBI probe into the Clinton Foundation.

The conversation "was done to protect the institutional reputation of the FBI as a non-political and professional investigative agency, and therefore was squarely within the public interest exception to the FBI's prohibition on sharing sensitive material," the document says.

AP_16202594724680.jpg
FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, left, and Attorney General Loretta Lynch, listen during a news conference, Wednesday, July 20, 2016, at the Justice Department in Washington, announcing that the U.S. government is seeking the forfeiture of more than $1 billion in assets that federal officials say were misappropriated from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund. The Justice Department says the funds that were laundered into the U.S. were used for various assets, including real estate and hotel properties, a jet aircraft, fancy artwork and the production of the Oscar-nominated movie, The Wolf of Wall Street. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The conversation "was done to protect the institutional reputation of the FBI as a non-political and professional investigative agency, and therefore was squarely within the public interest exception to the FBI's prohibition on sharing sensitive material," the document says.

The inspector general report does not square with the Republican narrative of the FBI as a politically biased institution since the Oct. 30 story contained derogatory information about Clinton and her foundation. But its conclusion may also be hard for Democrats to embrace given its harshly critical suggestion that McCabe had put his personal reputation above the interests of the FBI.

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Regardless, the report is sure to provide additional fodder for President Donald Trump's public attacks on McCabe. The president has made a concerted and Twitter-driven effort to impugn McCabe as a partisan hack, accusing him of covering up unspecified "lies and corruption" at the FBI and calling his firing a "great day for Democracy." McCabe has fired back, saying his dismissal was part of the Trump administration's "ongoing war" on the FBI and special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

The report was sent to congressional committees and obtained by The Associated Press.

The inspector general's finding led FBI disciplinary officials to recommend that the Justice Department fire McCabe. Attorney General Jeff Sessions dismissed him last month for what he described as a lack of candor.

McCabe also has said he believes he was singled out because of the "role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath" of Comey's firing. To support this, McCabe has noted that the inspector general's investigation into him was accelerated after he told congressional investigators that he could corroborate Comey's accounts of his conversations with Trump.

McCabe could be an important witness for Mueller, who is investigating Trump for possible obstruction of justice, including his motivation for firing Comey in May 2017. The Associated Press has also confirmed that McCabe kept personal memos detailing interactions with the president and they have been provided to the special counsel's office.

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