Former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, who was symbolically and summarily fired by Attorney General Jeff Sessions hours before his official retirement last week, authorized a criminal investigation into Sessions in the aftermath of his misleading testimony during his confirmation hearing in January 2017, ABC News reported Wednesday. The investigation of Sessions for perjury was previously unknown to the public, although according to ABC’s reporting, several top Republican and Democratic lawmakers were briefed on the investigation last year by McCabe and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Details on the exact timing and extent of the investigation remain sketchy, but NBC News reports the inquiry was ultimately subsumed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe after Rosenstein named him May 17, 2017. From ABC News’ report it sounds as if the investigation remained active until as recently as two months ago when Sessions was interviewed by Mueller’s investigators. Two months ago, Sessions was interviewed by Mueller’s team, and the federal inquiry related to his candor during his confirmation process has since been shuttered, according to a lawyer representing Sessions.
“The Special Counsel’s office has informed me that after interviewing the attorney general and conducting additional investigation, the attorney general is not under investigation for false statements or perjury in his confirmation hearing testimony and related written submissions to Congress,” Sessions attorney Chuck Cooper said in a statement Wednesday. That remains to be confirmed. “It’s unclear how actively federal authorities pursued the matter in the months before Sessions’ interview with Mueller’s investigators,” according to ABC News. “It’s also unclear whether the special counsel may still be pursuing other matters related to Sessions and statements he has made to Congress—or others—since his confirmation.”
One other point of interest with potential legal ramifications is whether Sessions was aware he was under investigation for his confirmation testimony where he said he had not met with any Russians during the Trump campaign despite meeting with then-Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak multiple times. If Sessions was aware he was the target of an investigation initiated by McCabe that would change the context of McCabe’s last-minute dismissal, robbing McCabe of his pension benefits, for vague claims of wrongdoing. McCabe has said he believes he is the subject of smear campaign by the Trump administration—that has been spearheaded by the president himself—as part of an effort to brand him as partisan and untrustworthy in order to discredit his potential testimony against Trump. McCabe would likely be a key witness in any investigation into Trump obstructing justice given his high profile role at the FBI during James Comey’s tenure and dismissal. In that context, McCabe’s departure, minimally, could be seen as a parting reprisal by a jilted boss. ABC News cited one source saying that Sessions was unaware of the investigation when he sacked McCabe, but Sessions’ attorney declined to confirm to the network that the attorney general was unaware of the investigation.
Support work like this for just $1
Slate is covering the stories that matter to you. Become a Slate Plus member to support our work. Your first month is only $1.