By MARTIN CRUTSINGERWASHINGTON (AP) — Federal Reserve officials earlier this month believed it would be appropriate to raise a key interest rate "relatively soon," with some arguing for a hike at the Fed's next meeting in December in order to preserve the Fed's credibility. Minutes of the Nov. 1-2 meeting released Wednesday show that Fed officials were moving closer to hiking rates for the first time in nearly a year. Some officials argued that if the Fed did not raise rates at its December meeting, it ran the risk of harming the central bank's credibility given the many signals it had sent about an impending hike. Private economists who widely expect the Fed will boost its benchmark rate by a quarter-point at its Dec. 13-14 meeting said there was nothing in the minutes to change their forecast. "The Fed meeting minutes say that the case for a rate hike keeps on getting stronger and stronger," said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank in New York. "A rate hike is coming in December." Rupkey and other analysts said the open question is how many further hikes will occur in 2017. Many analysts said they were still looking for just two hikes next year. But others said the Fed might make three hikes if President-elect Donald Trump succeeds in pushing a big tax cut package and infrastructure bill through Congress. "Fiscal stimulus under the Trump administration could lead to stronger growth in output and prices, prompting the Fed to tighten policy more rapidly going forward," said Sara Johnson, an economist with Global Insight. At the November meeting, the central bank left its benchmark rate unchanged in a range of 0.25 percent to 0.5 percent, where it has been all year. There had been little expectation of a rate hike then. Economists believed that the Fed would not want to risk destabilizing financial markets with a rate hike just before voters went to the polls.