WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal prosecutors have declined to charge former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, closing an investigation into whether the longtime target of President Donald Trump's ire lied to federal officials about his involvement in a news media disclosure, McCabe's legal team said Friday.
The decision, coming at the end of a tumultuous week between the Justice Department and the White House, is likely to further agitate a president who has loudly complained that federal prosecutors have pursued cases against his allies but not against his perceived political enemies.
The action resolves a criminal investigation that began nearly two years ago with a referral from the Justice Department's inspector general's office, which concluded that McCabe had repeatedly lied about having authorized a subordinate to share information with a newspaper reporter for a 2016 article about an FBI investigation into the Clinton Foundation.
The case was handled by the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, which was at the center of a public rift with Justice Department leadership this week over the recommended sentence for Trump ally Roger Stone. Senior Justice Department officials overruled a decision on a recommended prison sentence that they felt was too harsh, prompting the trial team to quit the case. Attorney General William Barr also took a rare public swipe at Trump by saying in a television interview that the president's tweets about the Stone case and other matters were making his job “impossible.”
Separately, the Justice Department has begun reviewing the handling of the case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn, a person familiar with the matter said Friday.
On Friday, prosecutors notified McCabe's attorneys in a phone call and a letter that they were closing the case. The letter, signed by the chief of the office's public corruption unit, did not give a precise reason but said the decision was reached after “careful consideration” and “based on the totality of the circumstances and all of the information known to the government at this time.”
McCabe's lawyers, Michael Bromwich and David Schertler, said they were gratified by the decision.
“At long last, justice has been done in this matter," the lawyers said in a statement. “We said at the outset of the criminal investigation, almost two years ago, that if the facts and the law determined the result, no charges would be brought."
Speaking Friday on CNN, where he works as a contributor, McCabe said it was an “absolute disgrace” that the investigation had taken so long and that he was relieved to be done with a process that he described as “so unbelievably tense."
Though federal prosecutors wrote that they consider the matter closed, Justice Department actions in the last few months have proven unpredictable, with a willingness to scrutinize or revisit decisions that had appeared resolved.
McCabe, a frequent target of Trump's attacks, has denied that he intentionally misled anyone. He 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 decision is likely to further exacerbate tensions between Trump and Barr, who before speaking out in the television interview had privately complained to aides and the president himself that Trump’s comments about the Justice Department were undercutting his political agenda and raising questions about the department’s credibility. The White House was not given a heads-up about the decision beforehand, a person familiar with the matter said. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
The moment came against a backdrop of growing anger from Trump at the Justice Department. The president has seethed that more of his political enemies have not been charged, included former FBI Director James Comey and his associates.
The president was particularly incensed no charges were filed over Comey's handling of memos about his interactions with Trump, a matter that was referred to the Justice Department for potential prosecution, according to a White House official and Republican close to the White House who weren't authorized to speak publicly about private discussions and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The president angrily denounced the decision and berated Barr over it, according to the officials. Aides expected that the decision not to charge McCabe could produce a similar eruption of rage. Trump did not address the matter during a media appearance Friday.
Trump has also repeatedly complained about FBI Director Christopher Wray in recent months, saying he has not done enough to rid the bureau of people who are disloyal to Trump.
It was not immediately clear what had prompted a review of the Flynn case, though the person familiar with the matter said U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen of St. Louis was working on it. The New York Times first reported Jensen's involvement.
The decision to spare McCabe criminal charges eliminates the prospect of a sensational trial that would have refocused public attention on the chaotic months of 2016, when the FBI was entangled in presidential politics through investigations touching both main contenders — Democrat Hillary Clinton and Trump, her Republican opponent.
The criminal investigation arose from 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.
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 that 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.
McCabe has denied any wrongdoing and has said he was distracted by the tumult surrounding the FBI and the White House during the times he was questioned. One of the interviews took place the same day that Comey was fired.
“During these inquiries, I answered questions truthfully and as accurately as I could amidst the chaos that surrounded me,” McCabe has said in a statement. “And when I thought my answers were misunderstood, I contacted investigators to correct them.”
McCabe has been a target of Trump's attacks since even before he was elected, after news emerged in the fall of 2016 that McCabe's wife had accepted campaign contributions from a political action committee associated with ex-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe during an unsuccessful run for the state Senate there.
Associated Press writer Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report.