The Justice Department Inspector General report released Thursday knocked down the Republican talking point that former FBI official Andrew McCabe mishandled a significant conflict of interest during his oversight of the various investigations into Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election.
According to the report, McCabe was “not at any time required to recuse” from Clinton-related investigations.
Republicans, including President Trump, have called McCabe’s impartiality into question because his wife, during her failed 2015 state senate run, accepted funds from a political group linked to then-Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, a Clinton ally.
McCabe was fired as FBI deputy director in March. A separate DOJ IG report criticized McCabe for misleading investigators about his role in leaks to the press concerning one of the Clinton investigations.
The IG report released Thursday did say McCabe could have chosen to recuse himself, and that doing so would’ve helped ease any perception that he was biased towards Clinton. The report also noted that once McCabe did officially step back from all Clinton-related probes on Nov. 1, 2016, he “did not fully comply with his recusal in a few instances.”
“We believe McCabe did what he was supposed to do by notifying those responsible in the FBI for ethics issues and seeking their guidance,” the report notes, adding that “voluntary recusal is always permissible.”
“We also found that the FBI ethics officials and attorneys did not fully appreciate the potential significant implications to McCabe and the FBI from campaign contributions to Dr. McCabe’s campaign and did not implement any review of those campaign donations,” it continues.
Trump and the GOP have used the donation to paint McCabe as a Clinton ally.
“How can FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, the man in charge, along with leakin’ James Comey, of the Phony Hillary Clinton investigation (including her 33,000 illegally deleted emails) be given $700,000 for wife’s campaign by Clinton Puppets during investigation?” Trump tweeted last December.
Dr. Jill McCabe’s campaign received $675,288 from McAuliffe’s campaign committee and the Virginia Democratic Party, and the McCabes met with McAuliffe once before she initiated her campaign.
McCabe told the IG that he did not learn about the donations until the publication of an Oct. 23, 2016 Wall Street Journal identifying them. That article prompted then-FBI Director James Comey to urge McCabe to voluntarily recuse himself, which he did days later.
The report concludes that McCabe assuming oversight of the Clinton email probe in February 2016, three months after his wife lost the race, did not represent an inappropriate conflict of interest. Chief FBI ethics official Pat Kelley told the IG that no reasonable person could question McCabe’s impartiality as a result of the donation—an assessment the report agreed with.
“The fact that McAuliffe supported Dr. McCabe’s campaign, and was a known associate of Hillary Clinton, did not create any connection between the Clinton email investigation and Dr. McCabe’s financial interests,” the report reads.
The authors do take McCabe to task for requesting to be kept up to speed on media leaks about the investigation into the Clinton Foundation.
“We found no evidence that McCabe continued to supervise investigative decisions in the Clinton-related matters after” his recusal, the report reads. “We did find that McCabe, prompted by a follow-up WSJ article of November 3, 2016, made inquiries about the steps the FBI was taking to address media leaks relating to the Clinton Foundation and exhorting managers to stop the leaking.”
The report recommends that FBI ethics officials consider implementing a review of campaign donations made to any Department employees or their spouses during runs for public office to avoid this messy set of circumstances from occurring again.