WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is considering a recommendation that it fire former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, days ahead of his scheduled retirement, amid an inspector general investigation expected to be sharply critical of him, a person familiar with the matter said Wednesday.
The recommendation from officials with the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility was sent to Justice Department leaders but has not been acted on yet, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an internal disciplinary matter.
McCabe, a frequent target of President Donald Trump's criticism even before the election, stepped down in January from his deputy director position. He is scheduled to retire on Sunday after a 22-year career, and though he had been expected to depart with full pension benefits, a termination could presumably put those benefits in jeopardy.
The inspector general's office, which for more than a year investigated the FBI's handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, has concluded that McCabe authorized FBI officials to speak with a journalist for an October 2016 story in The Wall Street Journal. Though Trump has criticized McCabe as biased in favor of Clinton, the story in question actually undercut that narrative and suggested that FBI officials wanted to more actively probe the Clinton Foundation but were discouraged from taking more aggressive steps by the Obama Justice Department.
The person familiar with the matter said McCabe is suspected of having not been forthcoming with officials from the inspector general's when questioned about the media leak — an allegation he denies. The inspector general's report, which led to the recommendation from the disciplinary office, has not been released but is expected out soon.
McCabe, who played key supervisory roles at the bureau during major events including the Boston Marathon bombing, did not return a phone message seeking comment Wednesday.
Trump has frequently singled out McCabe in arguing that FBI leadership is biased against his administration. He had attacked McCabe on the campaign trail, too, following the revelation that his wife had accepted campaign contributions from the political action committee of then-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a close Clinton ally, during a failed state Senate run.
The FBI has said McCabe received ethics approval and was not overseeing the Clinton investigation at the time.
The New York Times first reported the disciplinary office's recommendation.
The Justice Department declined to comment on the specific recommendation from the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility, which is responsible for employee disciplinary matters.
"The Department follows a prescribed process by which an employee may be terminated," spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said in a statement. "That process includes recommendations from career employees and no termination decision is final until the conclusion of that process. We have no personnel announcements at this time."
Inspector General Michael Horowitz announced in January 2017 a wide-ranging watchdog investigation into the FBI's actions during the Clinton email investigation, including an unusual news conference at which then-Director James Comey announced his recommendation against criminal charges for Clinton and a letter to Congress months later that revealed the FBI was revisiting the probe after the discovery of additional emails.
The FBI's handling of the investigation was the stated reason from the White House for Trump's firing of Comey last May. In a memo justifying the decision, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein criticized Comey for breaking from Justice Department protocol by announcing on his own his recommendation that no charges be brought.