WASHINGTON — The Justice Department inspector general referred his finding that former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe repeatedly misled investigators to the top federal prosecutor in Washington to determine whether McCabe should be charged with a crime, according to people familiar with the matter.

The referral to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia occurred some time ago, after the inspector general concluded McCabe had lied to investigators or his boss, then-FBI Director James Comey, on four occasions, three of them under oath.

The U.S. attorney’s office met with McCabe’s legal team in recent weeks, although it was not immediately clear whether prosecutors there were conducting their own investigation or believed criminal charges are appropriate.

The referral raises the possibility that McCabe could be charged and jailed for his alleged misconduct – perhaps with Comey testifying as a witness against him. A referral to federal prosecutors, though, does not necessarily mean McCabe will be charged.

TARGET OF TRUMP ATTACKS

Michael Bromwich, McCabe’s lawyer, said in a statement: “We were advised of the referral within the past few weeks. Although we believe the referral is unjustified, the standard for an (inspector general) referral is very low. We have already met with staff members from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. We are confident that, unless there is inappropriate pressure from high levels of the administration, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will conclude that it should decline to prosecute.”

President Trump, apparently referring to comments Comey made on CNN saying he could be called as a witness against McCabe, wrote on Twitter: “James Comey just threw Andrew McCabe ‘under the bus.’ Inspector General’s Report on McCabe is a disaster for both of them! Getting a little (lot) of their own medicine?”

Last week, Inspector General Michael Horowitz sent to Congress a report blasting McCabe. It says he inappropriately authorized the disclosure of sensitive information to the media, then lied repeatedly to investigators examining the matter. The report laid out in stunning detail allegations that McCabe had deceived investigators about his role in approving the disclosure, even as he lashed out at others in the FBI for leaks.

McCabe disputes many of the report’s findings and has said he never meant to mislead anyone.

Lying to federal investigators is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison, and some legal analysts speculated in the wake of the report that the inspector general seemed to be laying out a case for accusing McCabe of such conduct. The report alleged that one of McCabe’s lies “was done knowingly and intentionally” – a key aspect of the federal crime.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired McCabe from the FBI last month, just 26 hours before McCabe could retire, denying him some of his retirement benefits and reigniting the political firestorm that has long surrounded McCabe. Trump had repeatedly and publicly attacked McCabe, and McCabe alleged that his termination was politically motivated.

McCABE RETURNS FIRE

“This attack on my credibility is one part of a larger effort not just to slander me personally, but to taint the FBI, law enforcement, and intelligence professionals more generally,” McCabe said on the night he was removed from the FBI. “It is part of this administration’s ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the special counsel investigation, which continue to this day. Their persistence in this campaign only highlights the importance of the special counsel’s work.”

McCabe would raise over $500,000 for a legal-defense fund through a GoFundMe page. His firing was recommended by the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility, based on the inspector general’s findings.

Separately this week, 11 House Republicans asked Sessions, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and Utah U.S. Attorney John Huber to explore whether McCabe – along with a host of other Justice Department officials – committed crimes in their handling of the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server, the probe into Russia interference in the 2016 election and other matters. Sessions has tasked Huber with looking into a range of Republican concerns.

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