A former Obama-era Justice Department official long suspected of trying to shut down the FBI’s probe of the Clinton Foundation ahead of the 2016 election has been named a key member of Joseph R. Biden’s Justice transition team.
The inclusion of Matthew Axelrod has raised concerns that the presumptive president-elect is filling his Justice Department team with partisans, undercutting his pledge to reach across the aisle.
Also on the team is Barbara McQuade, a former federal prosecutor in Michigan under President Obama, who has been an outspoken critic of Attorney General William P. Barr.
But it is Mr. Axelrod who drew fire from conservatives in the spring of 2018 after a damning inspector general’s revealed details on the FBI’s probe of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s foundation, where huge financial contributions from foreign countries raised questions about influence peddling by the former secretary of state and then-presidential candidate.
According to the report, ex-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe fielded a phone call in August 2016 from a high-ranking, “very pissed” Justice Department official who demanded to know why the bureau was still pursuing the Clinton Foundation when Justice considered the case dormant.
The call came just months before the 2016 presidential election that was expected to elevate Mrs. Clinton to the White House.
Although the inspector general did not identify the official, sources at the time identified him to The Washington Times as Mr. Axelrod.
The inspector general did identify the official as the principal associate deputy attorney general, the title Mr. Axelrod held at the time of the phone call.
Neither Mr. Axelrod nor the Biden campaign responded to requests for comment.
Mr. McCabe thought the call was out of bounds, according to the report.He told the inspector general that during the Aug. 12, 2016, call the principal associate deputy attorney general expressed concerns about FBI agents taking overt steps in the Clinton Foundation investigation during the presidential campaign.
“According to McCabe, he pushed back, asking ‘are you telling me that I need to shut down a validly predicated investigation?’” the report said. “McCabe told us that the conversation was ‘very dramatic’ and he never had a similar confrontation like the PADAG call with a high-level department official in his entire FBI career.”
In a footnote to the report, the inspector general says the Justice official agreed with the description of the call but objected to seeing that “the Bureau was trying to spin this conversation as some evidence of political interference, which was totally unfair.
“The revelation sparked fury on Capitol Hill.
Then-House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, urged former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate the allegations.
“At a minimum, the allegations deserve further scrutiny to determine whether the FBI was hampered in any way by top officials at the Justice Department,” Mr. Goodlatte wrote to Mr. Sessions.
Mr. Goodlatte said there are indications that Mr. Axelrod was the official.
“It appears that the PADAG was at the very least inquiring into why the FBI was pursuing a case against the Clinton Foundation during the election, and at worst, attempting to improperly and illegally influence the status of an ongoing investigation for purely partisan purposes,” he wrote.
It is not clear if the Justice Department ever opened an investigation into the phone or call. Neither Mr. Goodlatte nor the Justice Department responded to requests for comment.