The Justice Department on Thursday moved closer to prosecuting former top FBI official Andrew McCabe, rejecting a request from his legal team to drop the charges that he lied to internal investigators.

The decision means Justice could soon bring criminal charges against the FBI’s former No. 2 official, a frequent target of attacks from President Trump over his role in the investigation into Russian election meddling and accusations of collusion with the Trump 2016 campaign that were ultimately determined to be unfounded..

McCabe’s attorneys have argued that he should not face charges on accusations that he lied about whether he had authorized a news media leak in the fall of 2016. McCabe has denied intentionally misleading anyone.

They were told on Thursday that the department had rejected their appeal.

The Justice Department and the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, which would prosecute the case, declined to comment.

A lifelong Republican who worked at the FBI for 20 years, McCabe played a crucial role in the bureau’s investigations of then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the Russian interference, which ultimately found no collusion with Trump’s campaign.

In campaign speeches, interviews and tweets, Trump has accused McCabe of conflicts of interest because his wife, Jill McCabe, a Democrat, received donations for an unsuccessful 2015 Virginia state Senate campaign from a Clinton ally, ex-Virginia Gov. Terry McCauliffe.

McCabe has charged that those and other attacks from Trump are part of an effort to undermine law enforcement and intelligence professionals, and has sued the Justice Department, arguing that he was canned for political reasons shortly before his planned retirement.

He was fired in March 2018, just hours before he was due to retire, after the department issued a report saying he misled investigators with the Inspector General’s office who were trying to determine whether he improperly shared information with a Wall Street Journal reporter for an October 2016 story that described internal debates roiling the FBI and the Justice Department about how aggressively the Clinton Foundation should be investigated weeks before the presidential election.

The article recounted a particularly tense phone call between McCabe and a senior Justice Department official about the investigation. The inspector general’s report said McCabe told internal investigators that he had not authorized anyone at the FBI to speak with the reporter, and he did not know who did.

The report said McCabe ultimately corrected that account, and confirmed that he had encouraged the conversation with the reporter to counter a narrative that he thought was false — namely, that he had been trying to stymie investigations into Clinton and the foundation.

McCabe has said he tried to answer questions about the incident truthfully and tried to clarify his responses when he though he had been misunderstood.

McCabe briefly served as the acting head of the FBI after Trump fired his boss, James Comey, in May 2017.

He told CBS News that he strengthened an investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia during that time out of fears that Trump or other administration officials would try to quash it. The Justice Department appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller to head the investigation shortly thereafter.

Trump has repeatedly urged the Justice Department to investigate McCabe, Comey, Mueller and other law enforcement officials involved in the investigation, accusing them of political bias and conflicts of interest.

While Attorney General William Barr has authorized several investigations into the origins of the Russia probe, McCabe would be the first senior official to face criminal charges.

The Justice Department declined to prosecute Comey after the IG’s office found that he had improperly handled memos he wrote about his one-on-one meetings with Trump before he was fired.

With Post wires

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