By John Walcott
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Justice internal watchdog has referred its findings on former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe to the U.S. attorney in Washington for possible criminal prosecution, an attorney for McCabe said on Thursday.
The referral from the Inspector General’s office does not automatically mean charges will be filed, and it would be up to the U.S. attorney’s office to decide whether to prosecute McCabe.
The watchdog office issued a report last week alleging McCabe “lacked candor” when he was questioned about media leaks he authorized to the Wall Street Journal related to his role overseeing probes into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The findings in the report were used as the basis for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to fire McCabe in March, less than two days before his 50th birthday when he could retire with full benefits.
McCabe has said he did not intentionally try to mislead investigators and that he believes he is facing retaliation because of his crucial role as a witness in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether President Donald Trump tried to obstruct the Russia probe.
In a statement, McCabe’s attorney, Michael Bromwich, said he was advised about the referral “within the past few weeks” and was confident it would not lead to any criminal charges.
“Although we believe the referral is unjustified, the standard for an IG referral is very low,” he said.
“We have already met with staff members from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. We are confident that, unless there is inappropriate pressure from high levels of the administration, the US Attorney’s Office will conclude that it should decline to prosecute.”
Spokesmen for the Justice Department, the Inspector General’s office and the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington declined to comment.
In an interview with National Public Radio on Tuesday, former FBI Director James Comey said he had no recollection that McCabe had said he authorized officials to communicate with a Wall Street Journal reporter, as McCabe said he had.
“And I’m quite confident that it didn’t happen, as is the inspector general,” Comey said.
The referral for possible criminal prosecution could have an impact on Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump tried to obstruct justice by urging Comey to abandon an investigation into his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and his contacts with Russians during and after Trump’s 2016 campaign.
In his new book, “A Higher Loyalty,” Comey, who was fired by Trump last May, wrote that the president asked him to drop the probe, saying: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.” Trump has denied doing so.
After all his conversations with the president, Comey briefed McCabe and other aides, and McCabe later took notes about Comey’s interactions with Trump.
With McCabe now under a cloud, the notes taken by other aides, including FBI general counsel Jim Baker and Jim Rybicki, Comey’s chief of staff, may assume greater importance.
On Thursday, the Justice Department agreed to provide Comey’s own notes on his meetings with the president to Congress, according to a source familiar with the decision.
Republicans have questioned whether Comey might have broken department regulations by giving some of his memos to a friend at Columbia University Law School who gave them to reporters.
(Reporting by John Walcott; Additional reporitng by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Peter Cooney)