FBI gave Clinton email investigation ‘special’ status, deputy director’s email shows

Shortly before last year’s election, FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe wrote an email on his official government account stating that the Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGrassley blasts Democrats over unwillingness to probe Clinton GOP lawmakers cite new allegations of political bias in FBI Top intel Dem: Trump Jr. refused to answer questions about Trump Tower discussions with father MORE email probe had been given “special” status, according to documents released Wednesday.

McCabe’s Oct. 23, 2016, email to press officials in the FBI said the probe was under the control of a small group of high-ranking people at the FBI’s headquarters in Washington.

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“As I now know the decision was made to investigate it at HQ with a small team,” McCabe wrote in the email. He said he had no input when the Clinton email investigation started in summer 2015, while he was serving as assistant director in charge of the FBI's Washington office.

“[The Washington office] provided some personnel for the effort but it was referred to as a ‘special’ and I was not given any details about it,” he wrote.

FBI officials on Wednesday night refused to answer what McCabe meant by calling the Clinton email probe a “special” or why it was restricted to a small team at headquarters when it began.

“We don’t have anything to add to the documents that were released,” bureau spokeswoman Carol Cratty wrote The Hill.

The note was contained in more than 70 pages of emails the FBI released on its public records site known as The Vault.

The emails chronicled McCabe’s efforts to address a separate controversy involving his wife’s 2015 campaign for political office.

McCabe’s references to a “special” status for the Clinton probe are likely to be used as ammunition by Republican lawmakers critical of former FBI Director James Comey’s handling of the Clinton investigation.

Republicans have slammed his decision not to criminally charge the former secretary of State for transmitting classified information through an unsecure private email server.

Comey, who was fired by President Trump earlier this year, has said that while the FBI found evidence of criminal violations it did not have enough evidence to prove Clinton intended to violate the law.

He also has repeatedly insisted the investigation was handled through normal channels and in an “entirely apolitical and professional way.”

Several Republican lawmakers are now pressing for Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat House passes concealed carry gun bill Rosenstein to testify before House Judiciary Committee next week MORE to appoint a special prosecutor to look into the way the email case was handled.

They have raised questions about edits to Comey’s statement clearing Clinton of criminal wrongdoing.

Comey originally drafted a statement declaring that Clinton had been “grossly negligent” in handling classified materials, a term that would support a felony charge. FBI officials edited the statement before its release in July 2016 to simply say she was “extremely careless” and should not be criminally charged.

Comey also disclosed this spring he was originally ordered by then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch not to call the Clinton email case an “investigation” but rather to use the more politically demur term “matter.”

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and House Judiciary Committee have also launched an investigation.

Clinton has long denied she engaged in any criminal activity, though she acknowledged she had been sloppy in the use of personal email for classified matters.

Sessions said this week that he is reviewing the Republicans’ concerns but won’t be pressured into naming a special prosecutor unless certain legal requirements are met.

McCabe wrote the email to help FBI press officials try to address questions from a Wall Street Journal reporter who in October 2016 reported that McCabe’s wife, Jill McCabe, received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Clinton ally and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) when she ran for Virginia state Senate in 2015.

At the time, the FBI had ongoing criminal investigations into both Clinton’s email server and McAuliffe’s fundraising. Charges were never filed in either case.

McCabe’s email to his press shop was designed to show he did not have a conflict of interest when his wife took the McAuliffe money. He wrote a chronology showing he had recused himself from any Virginia corruption cases and was not directly involved in the Clinton case during the time his wife ran and lost the 2015 race.

McCabe wrote that he finally took charge of the Clinton email case in February 2016, when he was promoted to deputy director. By that time, the FBI was eight months into the investigation and his wife had lost the election three months earlier.

The McCabe emails released Wednesday have relevance to another controversy as well. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, the government’s official whistleblower agency, and the Justice Department inspector general are both investigating whether McCabe’s conduct during his wife’s campaign violated the Hatch Act’s prohibition on FBI agents engaging in partisan activities.

A former FBI agent produced evidence to investigators showing McCabe wore campaign shirts at some of his wife’s events, and made a social media post encouraging voters to support his wife.

Separately, documents released by McAuliffe’s office show McCabe joined his wife for a meeting in March 2015 during which the then-Virginia governor was asked to support her bid for office. McCabe’s official FBI bio was submitted to the governor’s office in advance of the meeting.

The emails released Wednesday redact the part of McCabe’s timeline that addresses the period surrounding his meeting with McAuliffe.

They also show McCabe fielded several emails on his official FBI account about his wife’s political campaign, including from people praising her performance on the campaign trail and a draft press release announcing his wife’s campaign from the Virginia Democratic Party.

His wife emailed him on his official government account to alert him when she got the offer to run for the seat as a Democrat. “Wow, what did you say?” McCabe wrote back.

In another email, McCabe forwarded information about his wife’s campaign Facebook page to a person whose name was redacted. “Check her out on Facebook as Dr. Jill McCabe for Senate,” the FBI executive wrote.

He also emailed his wife one day with praise for her campaign performance. “You hit it out the park as always,” McCabe wrote his spouse. “Well done, lovely wife.”

A source familiar with the ongoing investigations of McCabe told The Hill that investigators are now in possession of the new emails and will weigh whether they show any activities that violate the Hatch Act’s prohibition on agents’ partisan activity.

The source added that investigators are particularly interested in details surrounding the McCabe-McAuliffe meeting involving his wife’s campaign in March 2015.