McCabe apologized for misleading investigators on leak, transcripts show

Former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe apologized for lying to federal investigators concerning an October 2016 leak to The Wall Street Journal about the Hillary Clinton email probe, newly released transcripts indicate -- underscoring McCabe's legal jeopardy as U.S. Attorney John Durham continues the Justice Department's criminal probe into bureau misconduct.

The transcripts specifically raised the possibility that McCabe, now a paid CNN commentator, could face a false statements charge similar to the one leveled against former national security adviser Michael Flynn. The account of McCabe's remarks was released by the Department of Justice (DOJ) inspector general (IG) because of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, D.C.

The IG concluded in 2018 that McCabe "lacked candor" when speaking to then-FBI Director James Comey and DOJ Oversight and Review (O&R) internal investigators about the leak to the Journal on May 9, 2017. In the transcripts, released Thursday, an unidentified O&R investigator asserted that McCabe had claimed "he did not grant anyone permission to divulge the information to the media" and that he "personally hadn't shared the information" or "granted anyone else permission to."

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But on Aug. 18, 2017, McCabe's story changed when he was confronted with other evidence, including emails and witness accounts, that conflicted with his prior statements. Asked again whether he was aware of the leak to the Journal and had personally authorized it, McCabe was unequivocal.

"And as nice as could be, he said, 'Yep. Yep I did,'" the FBI agent said, according to the transcripts.

The Journal story -- written just days before the presidential election – focused on the FBI announcing the reopening of the Clinton investigation after finding thousands of her emails on a laptop belonging to former Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner, who at the time was married to Clinton aide Huma Abedin.

The Journal's account of the call said a senior Justice Department official expressed displeasure to McCabe that FBI agents were still looking into the Clinton Foundation, and that McCabe had defended the agent's authority to pursue the issue.

That leak confirmed the existence of the probe, the report said, which Comey had up to that point refused to do.

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Unlike the Flynn case -- in which FBI agents already had access to information about conversations with Russians that they sought from Flynn -- the transcript makes plain that the FBI's probe was derailed by McCabe's fib.

“I remember saying to him, ‘Sir, you understand that we’ve put a lot of work into this based on what you told us,’” the investigating agent told McCabe, according to the documents. “I mean, and I even said, long nights and weekends working on this trying to find out who amongst your ranks of trusted people would, would do something like that. And [McCabe] kind of just looked down, kind of nodded and said, ‘Yeah, I’m sorry.’”

"[McCabe] kind of just looked down, kind of nodded and said, ‘Yeah, I’m sorry.’”

— FBI investigator's account of August 2017 interview with McCabe

The agent said McCabe's lie had caused weeks of investigative "sidetracking," and indicated that criminal liability popped into his mind: “In our business, we stop and say, look, now we’re getting into an area for due process,” the agent said, per the transcript.

The Daily Beast has reported that McCabe's legal team has said he did not quickly correct his misinformation because Comey would be fired shortly after his interview, distracting him.

U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu recommended moving forward with charges against McCabe last year.

But McCabe has denied any wrongdoing and said the inspector general's conclusions relied on mischaracterizations and omissions, including of information favorable to McCabe.

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Last year, McCabe sued the FBI and the Justice Department over his March 2018 firing, arguing it was part of Trump's plan to rid the bureau of leaders he perceived as disloyal to him. McCabe argued in his complaint that the two officials responsible for demoting and then firing him -- FBI Director Christopher Wray and then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions -- created a pretext to force him out in accordance with President Trump's wishes.

Fired anti-Trump counterintelligence head Peter Strzok, as well as ex-FBI lawyer Lisa Page, have also sued over their terminations. Page has even sought to have the government pay for her therapy bills because of Trump's harsh comments about her.

Fox News' Brooke Singman contributed to this report.