By Jerry Dunleavy, Justice Department Reporter
The Justice Department’s internal watchdog stood by his determination that former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe lied repeatedly during a criminal leak investigation after the agency under President Joe Biden reached a settlement last week reversing his firing .
DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz appeared for a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on Thursday and stood by his report in 2018 detailing multiple instances in which McCabe “lacked candor” with FBI Director James Comey, FBI investigators, and inspector general investigators about his authorization to leak sensitive information to the Wall Street Journal that revealed the existence of an FBI investigation into the Clinton Foundation.
After the release of that report, which concluded “the evidence is substantial” that McCabe misled investigators “knowingly and intentionally” and said he violated FBI offense codes as well as policy , then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired McCabe in March 2018 just before he was set to retire. McCabe denied wrongdoing and sued the Justice Department in 2019, claiming his firing was brought on due to pressure from former President Donald Trump.
The Trump-era DOJ decided in early 2020 not to prosecute McCabe over his alleged dishonesty.
During the hearing Thursday, Republican Sen. Rob Portman told Horowitz, “It’s incredibly important that you all have independence, and we rely on you to conduct some of the most sensitive and important investigations in government,” before asking the inspector general to remind the committee of his findings about McCabe.
“The report concerned an investigation that actually the FBI had initially undertaken involving alleged leaks about information that was potentially damaging to Secretary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign. The FBI internal investigators developed information that they believed — led them to believe — that deputy director McCabe may have lied to them,” Horowitz said. “They then referred the matter to us, given the position he held at the FBI. We assumed the investigation and concluded in a public report that remains on our website — and the public can see — that Mr. McCabe lied both under oath and not under oath on several occasions when he denied at various points certain key facts and information, including who was the source of the leak.”
The Ohio Republican asked if there had been any influence on his report from Trump or anyone else in the Trump administration.
“Absolutely none,” Horowitz said.
Portman also asked Horowitz if key career officials at DOJ agreed that McCabe had lied, and he said yes.
“They agreed with us on almost all, but actually not all of our findings. So they made their own independent call that, in fact, he lied on multiple occasions, but they didn’t fully find everything we found,” Horowitz said. “They then sent it to — because of deputy director McCabe’s position, there’s a different process for him — it went to the attorney general for review, then-Attorney General Sessions. And my understanding is, and this I don’t have complete insight into, but my understanding is that the attorney general asked a career official in the Office of the Deputy General to handle the review and that that person recommended removal as well.”
FBI Assistant Director Candice Will and then-Associate Deputy Attorney General Scott Schools both agreed that McCabe lacked candor and should therefore be removed from his position.
Horowitz said it was his “understanding” the role played by the DOJ and the Office of Professional Responsibility in agreeing with him was consistent with how it had handled similar cases in the past.
Portman also asked if DOJ’s settlement with McCabe changed any of his report’s findings.
“It did not,” Horowitz said. “We actually were not sued by Mr. McCabe, so we were not a party to the settlement. Our findings remain on our website. We stand by our findings. The public can read them. They can go to our website. And by the way, the FBI issued a statement stating that they stand by their findings.”
McCabe won back his full pension last week as part of the settlement with the DOJ in his wrongful termination lawsuit filed in 2019. The agreement allows McCabe to officially retire and receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in missed pension payments and attorney’s fees, as well as required DOJ to provide him with a plaque of his FBI badge and Senior Executive Service cufflinks.
“What kind of message does this send to FBI agents that a former Deputy Director was not held accountable for misrepresenting facts under oath?” Portman asked Horowitz.
“I think as an IG that it’s critical that individuals be held accountable for the wrongdoing, no matter what level they’re at in an organization and that it’s particularly incumbent upon us to hold accountable senior officials at the same way we hold accountable less senior officials and newer officials,” the DOJ watchdog replied.
The Republican also asked if Horowitz if he saw this as a double standard.
Horowitz said he believes that “it’s very important for employees to understand that we will hold them at the OIG accountable regardless of their position or standing.”