WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions late Friday night fired former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, a little more than 24 hours before McCabe was set to retire.
Sessions announced the decision in a statement just before 10 p.m., noting that both the Justice Department Inspector General and the FBI office that handles discipline had found ‘‘that Mr. McCabe had made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor — including under oath — on multiple occasions.’’
He said based on those findings and the recommendation of the department’s senior career official, ‘‘I have terminated the employment of Andrew McCabe effective immediately.’’
The move will probably cost McCabe a significant portion of his retirement benefits, though it is possible he could bring a legal challenge. McCabe has been fighting vigorously to keep his job, and on Thursday, he spent nearly four hours inside the Justice Department pleading his case.
McCabe has become a lightning rod in the political battles over the FBI’s most high-profile cases, including the Russia investigation and the probe of Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices. He has been a frequent target of criticism from President Trump.
His firing — which was recommended by the FBI office that handles discipline — stems from a Justice Department inspector general investigation that found McCabe authorized the disclosure of sensitive information to the media about a Clinton-related case, then misled investigators about his actions in the matter, people familiar with the matter have said. He stepped down earlier this year from the No. 2 job in the bureau after FBI Director Christopher Wray was briefed on the inspector general’s findings, though he technically was still an employee.
McCabe disputes that he misled anyone.
Some in the bureau might view McCabe’s termination so close to retirement as an unnecessarily harsh and politically influenced punishment for a man who spent more than 20 years at the FBI. The White House had seemed to support such an outcome, though a spokeswoman said the decision was up to Sessions.
‘‘We do think that it is well documented that he has had some very troubling behavior and by most accounts a bad actor,’’ White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday.
Trump and McCabe’s relationship has long been fraught. The president has previously suggested that McCabe was biased in favor of Clinton, his political opponent, pointing out that McCabe’s wife, who ran as a Democrat for a seat in the Virginia Legislature, received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from the political action committee of Terry McAuliffe, then the state’s governor and a noted Clinton ally. During an Oval Office meeting in May, Trump is said to have asked McCabe whom he voted for in the presidential election and vented about the donations.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz put McCabe in his crosshairs during a broad look at alleged improprieties in the handling of the Clinton e-mail case. In the course of that review, Horowitz found that McCabe had authorized two FBI officials to talk to then-Wall Street Journal reporter Devlin Barrett for a story about the case and another investigation into Clinton’s family foundation. Barrett now works for The Washington Post.
Background conversations with reporters are commonplace in Washington, though McCabe’s authorizing such a talk was viewed as inappropriate because the matter being discussed was an ongoing criminal investigation. The story ultimately presented McCabe as a somewhat complicated figure, one who some FBI officials thought was standing in the way of the Clinton Foundation investigation, but who also seemed to be pushing back against Justice Department officials who did not believe there was a case to be made.
McCabe turns 50 on Sunday and would have then been eligible for full retirement benefits.