Fractures which began during the tenure of former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. deepened in the later years, and particularly in the run-up to the 2016 president election.
The depths of the antagonism were exposed in an inspector general’s report last week looking into former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who was fired from the FBI earlier this year for misleading multiple investigations. While saying Mr. McCabe lacked candor in questioning, some of it under oath, the report went much deeper, describing the rift between the bureau and its political masters at the department.
Investigators details one instance in August when Mr. McCabe got a call from a senior Justice Department official who complained about the FBI’s “overt” actions probing the Clinton Foundation in the middle of the campaign.
Mr. McCabe said he got the sense the Obama-era Justice Department was telling him “to shut down” the probe. Later he called the exchange as “very dramatic” and said he’d never had a confrontation like that with the Justice Department.
The report describes the relationship between the two agencies as “being under great stress,” and said Mr. McCabe was caught in “an increasingly acrimonious fight for control between the Justice Department and FBI pursuing the Clinton foundation case.”
Former agents said the acrimony started before the election.
One said the relationship fractured under Mr. Holder as agents in field offices across the country did not trust Justice Department lawyers, whom they saw as Washington bureaucrats trying use investigations for political advantage.
The Justice Department, meanwhile, had become frustrated at the rank-and-file agents not always following orders and, at times, strongly disagreeing with superiors.
“I know from talking to some agents in the FBI at that time that there conflicts between the Holder DOJ and its priorities and how the FBI wanted to work cases,” said Danny Defenbaugh, a 33-year FBI agent who retired in 2002.
“The FBI had always taken pride in following the evidence to where it would lead and never allowing politics into their investigation decisions,” Mr. Defenbaugh continued. “But then the DOJ at times would say, ‘we don’t want you to do this.’”
One source of disagreement was…