WASHINGTON — Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, a frequent target of President Donald Trump's wrath, faces the prospect of criminal charges after his lawyers failed to persuade senior Justice Department officials that he didn't intentionally lie to internal investigators.
Two people familiar with the matter said Thursday that Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen declined an appeal from McCabe's lawyers aimed at preventing a prosecution. The people weren't authorized to discuss the issue by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Still, it wasn't immediately clear when or even whether the United States Attorney's Office in Washington, leading the investigation , might announce charges.
Any indictment would put the spotlight not only on McCabe's actions, but also those of the Justice Department. McCabe's attorneys are likely to argue that the prosecution of McCabe would be politically motivated, with the Justice Department carrying out a vendetta against a Trump adversary.
They are likely to highlight the personal enmity between the two men , with Trump criticizing McCabe even before he took office and McCabe describing the president as a "deliberate liar."
McCabe's attorneys have argued that he should not face charges on accusations that he lied to internal investigators about whether he had authorized a news media leak related to an investigation of the Clinton Foundation in the fall of 2016. McCabe has denied intentionally misleading anyone.
He and his lawyers have said that any false statements made to investigators were the result of a faulty memory rather than an attempt to deceive.
They also note the interviews took place during a chaotic and tumultuous time as McCabe was preoccupied by his leadership duties at the FBI and its investigation into potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.
McCabe's legal team presented its case during a meeting last month with Rosen and Jessie Liu, the U.S. attorney in Washington, one of the people said.
McCabe became acting director of the FBI after Trump fired former Director James Comey on May 9, 2017.
McCabe has said his 2018 firing — for what the Justice Department called "lack of candor" — was politically motivated. He sued the Justice Department in August, saying officials had used the inspector general's conclusions as a pretext to rid the FBI of leaders Trump perceived as biased against him.
The investigation followed an October 2016 story in The Wall Street Journal that described internal debates roiling the FBI and the Justice Department weeks before the presidential election about how aggressively the Clinton Foundation should be investigated.
The article recounted a particularly tense phone call between McCabe and a senior Justice Department official about the investigation.
The inspector general's report said McCabe told internal investigators that he had not authorized anyone at the FBI to speak with the reporter, and he did not know who did.
The report said McCabe ultimately corrected that account, and confirmed that he had encouraged the conversation with the reporter to counter a narrative that he thought was false — namely, that he had been trying to stymie investigations into Clinton and the foundation.
McCabe has been a target of Trump's attacks since news emerged in the fall of 2016 that McCabe's wife had accepted campaign contributions from a political action committee associated with former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Clinton ally, during an unsuccessful run for the state Senate.