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McCabe Fought All Of The FBI Brass To Avoid Recusal From Clinton Probe, Was ‘Very Unhappy About It’

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Luke Rosiak Investigative Reporter
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Former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe resisted recusing himself from the investigation into the Clinton Foundation over massive cash payments to his wife, going up against the FBI director, general counsel and ethics official in “very intense” conversations in which he was “not happy,” a new official report found.

He finally succumbed to demands to recuse himself just days before the election — but then fought to prevent anyone from learning that he had recused, including by apparently shaping a misleadingly-worded statement that hid that fact from Congress.

And he took several actions related to the Clinton probe after the recusal, the report found.

Then-FBI director Jim Comey on October 27, 2016 “held a meeting with the Clinton email investigation team to discuss obtaining a search warrant for a set of Clinton-related emails the FBI had discovered on a laptop belonging to Anthony Weiner, and taking additional steps in the Clinton email investigation,” a Department of Justice Inspector General review said. “After the meeting began, [General Counsel James] Baker suggested, and Comey agreed, that McCabe should leave the call. Comey told us that he asked McCabe to drop off the call, and McCabe was ‘very unhappy about it.'”

A political vehicle connected to Terry McAuliffe, who is often described as one of Bill Clinton’s best friends and who ran Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign for president, gave nearly $700,000 to the political campaign of McCabe’s wife — an inordinate sum for a run for state Senate.

“In addition, on June 26, 2015, Hillary Clinton was the featured speaker at a fundraiser in Virginia hosted by the Virginia Democratic Party and attended by Governor McAuliffe,” the IG report said.

“At the time his wife sought to run for state senate, McCabe was the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office (WFO)… We found that FBI ethics officials and attorneys did not fully appreciate the potential significant implications to
McCabe and the FBI from campaign donations to Dr. McCabe’s campaign.”

“After McCabe became FBI Deputy Director in February 2016, McCabe had an active role in the supervision of the Midyear investigation, and oversight of the Clinton Foundation investigation, until he recused himself from these investigations on November 1, 2016. McCabe voluntarily recused himself on November 1, at Comey’s urging, as the result of an October 23 article in the Wall Street Journal identifying the substantial donations from McAuliffe’s PAC,” the report said. Midyear was the codename for the investigation into Clinton’s handling of sensitive information on her private email server.

Comey said he didn’t initially know of the possible conflict, but if he had, “he would not have permitted McCabe to participate,” not because of an “actual conflict” but because of the appearance of one could “undercut the credibility of the institution.”

FBI ethics official Patrick Kelley also said McCabe’s recusal was desirable.

Baker “had a series of conversations with McCabe culminating in a ‘very intense’ conversation in which Baker told McCabe that he believed he needed to recuse himself and that it was better that he do it ‘than have the boss order him to do it.’ He said McCabe ‘was not happy about it’ and ‘had lots of questions’ and they had a ‘good argument back and forth.'”

McCabe argued “that he should not recuse out of abundance of caution as it ‘would unfairly create a negative inference over the
work that the [Clinton email investigation] team had done with [his] participation over the previous’ months.”

On Nov. 1, soon after his meeting with Comey, McCabe relented, writing: “As of today I am voluntarily recusing myself for the ongoing [Clinton email investigation / Clinton Foundation investigation]. I will continue to respond to congressional requests for historical information as necessary.”

Yet, the report notes, “The FBI did not publicize McCabe’s recusals from these Clinton investigations despite the rationale that the recusals were at least in part intended to address the public perception of a potential conflict. In fact, even within the FBI, McCabe’s recusal decision was only shared with a limited audience.”

Even then, “McCabe did not fully comply with [his] recusal in a few instances” related to the Clinton Foundation investigation, the report says.

  • Two days after the recusal, after another Wall Street Journal story that included information on the Clinton investigation, McCabe called the New York office “angry” and said there “will be consequences” and “need leaks to stop.”
  • That same day, he expressed “frustration” to the FBI’s media relations head Mike Kortan that he had not sent him the article. “However, McCabe said that Kortan may not have brought the November 3 WSJ article to his attention in the first place because McCabe had recused himself…. When we asked McCabe whether in retrospect he should have asked Kortan to be briefed or kept up to speed on matters he was recused from, he said, ‘no,’ no.'”
  • In December, Sen. Chuck Grassley asked how the FBI had mitigated McCabe’s potential conflict, and the FBI sent a misleading response that omitted the most relevant fact: that McCabe had recused. Instead, the FBI simply told Grassley “it did not appear that there was a conflict of interest — actual or apparent — that required recusal or waiver.”

There are indications that it was McCabe who sought to prevent Congress and the public from learning that he had recused. After someone first advised a more forthright response, “Lisa Page responded in an email that stated ‘No way on [that] sentence. During our conversation with Jim [Baker] last week, both of us express[ed] our overwhelming interest in protecting that fact as long as possible.’ Page told us she believed the ‘both of us’ reference was to herself and McCabe.”

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