Former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe could face criminal prosecution on the recommendation of the Office of the Inspector General at the US Department of Justice.
The referral comes amid an inspector general report that found Mr McCabe, a vocal critic of President Donald Trump, misled investigators about his role in a news media disclosure.
A lawyer for Mr McCabe, who was fired last month, confirmed the referral but said a criminal investigation was “unjustified.”
Attorney Michael Bromwich released a statement on Friday (Thursday local time) saying he’s already met with representatives from the US Attorney’s office and is 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.”
The referral does not automatically mean charges would be filed, and it would be up to the US Attorney’s office to evaluate the referral and decide whether to prosecute Mr McCabe.
In an interview with National Public Radio on Tuesday, former FBI director James Comey said he had no recollection that Mr McCabe had said he authorised officials to communicate with a Wall Street Journal reporter, as Mr McCabe said he had.
“And I’m quite confident that it didn’t happen, as is the inspector general,” Mr Comey said.
The referral for possible criminal prosecution could have an impact on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether US President Donald Trump tried to obstruct justice by urging Mr 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, Mr Comey wrote that Mr Trump asked him to drop the probe, saying, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.”
After all his conversations with the president, Mr Comey briefed Mr McCabe and other aides. With Mr McCabe now under a cloud, the notes taken by other aides, including FBI general counsel Jim Baker and Jim Rybicki, Mr Comey’s chief of staff, may assume greater importance.
On Thursday, the Justice Department agreed to provide Mr Comey’s own notes on his meetings with the president to congress, according to a source familiar with the decision.
Republicans have questioned whether Mr 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.
The inspector general’s referral for the possible prosecution of Mr McCabe, first reported by CNN and the Washington Post, came nearly a week after the inspector general’s office said it had concluded that he had misled investigators over a decision to break with the FBI’s standard policy and inform a journalist about a probe into the Clinton Foundation in 2016.
Responding on Friday (Thursday local time) to that report, Mr McCabe said he believed repeated calls by Mr Trump to fire him had prompted a rush to judgment and an unfair probe into his conduct.
He said he was authorised to share the information with reporters and had not intentionally misled anyone.