D.O.J. Inspector General Finds No Political Bias In F.B.I.’s Clinton Email Investigation
The Department of Justice's Inspector General found that former F.B.I. Director James Comey was 'insubordinate' in regard to the Clinton email investigation, but found no evidence of political bias at the Bureau.
The Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General released its final report after its investigation of the Federal Bureau Of Investigation’s inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and her handling of classified information, and while the report does find that former F.B.I. Director acted inappropriately in the extent to which he was involved in the investigation, the report found no evidence of political bias in the investigation or in the F.B.I. generally:
WASHINGTON — The former F.B.I. director James B. Comey was “insubordinate” in his handling of the investigation of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election, a critical Justice Department report concluded on Thursday.
But the report, by the department’s inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, does not challenge the decision not to prosecute Mrs. Clinton. Nor does it conclude that political bias at the F.B.I. influenced that decision, the officials said.
“We found no evidence that the conclusions by department prosecutors were affected by bias or other improper considerations,” the report said. “Rather, we concluded that they were based on the prosecutor’s assessment of facts, the law, and past department practice.”
The report has been highly anticipated in Washington, not least by President Trump, who has argued that a secret coterie of F.B.I. agents rigged the investigation to help Mrs. Clinton win the presidency. The findings cite no evidence to support that theory.
Nevertheless, the report paints an unflattering picture of one of the most tumultuous periods in the 110-year history of the F.B.I., when agents investigated Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server to store classified information and the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia.
The report criticizes the conduct of F.B.I. officials who exchanged texts disparaging Mr. Trump during the campaign. The officials, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, were involved in both the Clinton and Russia investigations, leading Mr. Trump’s supporters to suspect a conspiracy against him. Many of those text messages have been released, but the inspector general cites a previously undisclosed message in which Mr. Strzok says the F.B.I. “will stop” Mr. Trump, according to two of the officials.
The inspector general said that, because of his views, Mr. Strzok may have improperly prioritized the Russia investigation over the Clinton investigation during the final weeks of the campaign. The F.B.I. officials “brought discredit” to themselves and sowed public doubt about the investigation. But the report did not cite evidence that Mr. Strzok had acted improperly or influenced the outcome of the investigation, the officials said.
“Our review did not find documentary or testimonial evidence directly connecting the political views these employees expressed in their text messages and instant messages to the specific investigative decisions we reviewed,” the report said.
The findings sharply criticize the judgment of Mr. Comey, who injected the F.B.I. into presidential politics in ways not seen since at least the Watergate era.
More from The Washington Post:
The Justice Department inspector general on Thursday castigated former FBI Director James B. Comey for his actions during the Hillary Clinton email investigation and found that other senior bureau officials showed a “willingness to take official action” to prevent Donald Trump from becoming president.
The 500-page report, documenting major missteps in one of the most politically charged cases in the FBI’s history, provides the most exhaustive account to date of bureau and Justice Department decision-making throughout the investigation of Clinton’s use of a private email server, particularly in the months just before she would lose the presidency to Trump.
Though the inspector general condemned individual FBI officials, the report fell significantly short in supporting the assertion by the president and his allies that the investigation was rigged in favor of Clinton. The inspector general found “no evidence that the conclusions by department prosecutors were affected by bias or other improper considerations.” The report acknowledged that certain emails appeared to contain classified information, but investigators determined the FBI’s conclusion that Clinton did not intend to expose classified information was legitimate.
The report is a blistering public rebuke of Comey, who has spent recent months on a book tour promoting his brand of ethical leadership. Inspector general Michael Horowitz accused Comey of insubordination, saying he flouted Justice Department practices when he decided only he had the authority and credibility to make key decisions and speak for the Justice Department.
In a statement, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the “significant errors” cited in the report had taken place during the Obama administration.
“Accordingly, this report must be seen as an opportunity for the FBI — long considered the world’s premier investigative agency — and all of us at the Department to learn from past mistakes,” Sessions said.
Sessions said that a new leadership team brought in by Comey’s replacement, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, was “one in which the American people can have confidence.”
“Mistakes were made,” the FBI said in a lengthy statement issued in response to the report. The bureau admitted to “errors of judgment, violations of or disregard for policy, or, when viewed with the benefit of hindsight, simply not the best courses of action. They were not, in any respect, the result of bias or improper considerations.”
The report aimed to define once and for all what the FBI and Justice Department did right and what was wrong in the Clinton probe, but partisans are likely to seize on different findings to buttress their long-held views about that investigation.
For Trump, the report provides chapter upon chapter of fresh ammunition for his attacks on the FBI, which he has accused of political bias in investigating whether any of his campaign associates may have conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 election.
To Clinton and her supporters, who have long argued that Comey’s decisions robbed her of an election victory, the report will likely be received as bitter vindication of her claims the FBI Director veered far beyond official policy in speaking publicly about her case, and reopening it in the final days before the election.
Partisans on both sides sought to cast the report to their advantage even before it was formally released.
“The stark conclusion we draw after reviewing this report is that the FBI’s actions helped Donald Trump become President,” Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) said in a joint statement. “As we warned before the election, Director Comey had a double-standard: he spoke publicly about the Clinton investigation while keeping secret from the American people the investigation of Donald Trump and Russia.”
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) offered a very different take, calling the report “a damning indictment of former FBI director Comey and the Department of Justice’s mishandling of the investigation.”
Trump offered no immediate reaction after being briefed on the report before its formal release, but fired off a pair of tweets renewing his attack on the Russia investigation, which he called “pile of garbage.”
All of this is rooted, of course, in the Bureau’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and her handling of classified information that was improperly exchanged over that server. That investigation lasted the better part of a year and culminated in an interview that lasted several hours between Clinton and agents conducting the investigation. Several days after that investigation, James Comey held a press conference at which he announced that, while Clinton was ‘extremely careless’ in her handling of classified information, her conduct did not rise to a level that justified pursuing criminal charges against her or anyone close to her. While it was unusual for Comey to be the one making this announcement, it came in the context of Attorney General Lynch having announced she would defer to the Bureau in connection with the investigation. While Comey faced some criticism in his decision to hold the press conference, his announcement that the matter would be closed seemed to be the end of the matter. All of that changed in October 2016 when Comey sent a letter to Congress advising them that the Bureau had reopened the Clinton investigation due to the fact that it appeared that there were additional Clinton emails on a laptop shared by Clinton aide Huma Abedin and her then-husband Anthony Weiner, who was being investigated in connection with a sexually explicit conversation with an underage girl. While this letter was followed up by a subsequent letter advising Congress that no new emails had been found on the laptop, Comey came under heavy criticism for releasing these letters so close to the election, and both Clinton and some other observers continue to beleive that the release of the letters played a role in her election loss.
For his part, James Comey responded to the report on Twitter:
I respect the DOJ IG office, which is why I urged them to do this review. The conclusions are reasonable, even though I disagree with some. People of good faith can see an unprecedented situation differently. I pray no Director faces it again. Thanks to IG’s people for hard work.
— James Comey (@Comey) June 14, 2018
And also in an Op-Ed for The New York Times:
The Department of Justice’s independent watchdog, the inspector general, has released a report that is critical of my decisions as F.B.I. director during the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email account. The report concludes that I was wrong to announce the F.B.I.’s completion of the investigation without coordinating with the attorney general and that I was wrong to inform Congress in late October that we had reopened the investigation.
In both situations, the inspector general’s team concludes, I should have adhered to established norms, which they see as mandating both deference to the attorney general on the public announcement and silence about an investigation so close to an election.
I do not agree with all of the inspector general’s conclusions, but I respect the work of his office and salute its professionalism. All of our leaders need to understand that accountability and transparency are essential to the functioning of our democracy, even when it involves criticism. This is how the process is supposed to work.
As he had before, Comey explained his decision to hold the July 2016 press conference at which he announced the conclusions of the Bureau’s investigation into Clinton’s email server and handling of classified information by referring to the meeting which then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch had with former President Bill Clinton on an Arizona airport tarmac, a meeting which raised questions about her involvement in the investigation:
An announcement at that point by the attorney general, especially one without the transparency our traditions permitted, would have done corrosive damage to public faith in the investigation and the institutions of justice. As painful as the whole experience has been, I still believe that. And nothing in the inspector general’s report makes me think we did the wrong thing.
Similarly, I never imagined the F.B.I. would face a choice in late October 2016 either to tell Congress we had restarted the email investigation in a significant way or to conceal that fact. But to have concealed it would have meant to hide vital information: That what I and others had said publicly and under oath to Congress was no longer true. I chose to speak and tell the truth.
I was not certain I was right about those things at the time. That’s the nature of hard decisions; they don’t allow for certainty. With the added benefit of hindsight, the inspector general sees some things differently. My team believed the damage of concealing the reopening of our investigation would have been catastrophic to the institution. The inspector general weighs it differently, and that’s O.K., even though I respectfully disagree.
I encouraged this intensive review when I was F.B.I. director and continued to support its work after I was fired. The inspector general’s conclusions are important. But the real, historical value of the report is its collection of facts, which, as John Adams said, “are stubborn things.” If a future F.B.I. leadership team ever faces a similar situation — something I pray never happens — it will have the benefit of this important document.
In the end, the report does not appear to recommend either any further investigation or that there were any criminal or other charges that should be filed in this matter. Additionally, the report essentially confirms the conclusion that Comey announced back in July 2016 that, while there may have been negligence involved in Clinton’s use of a private email server and her handling of classified information, there was no evidence of criminal behavior on Clinton’s part. This means that the decision that Comey announced in that press conference that it would not be appropriate to pursue criminal charges in the matter was correct. Additionally, while the report does criticize Comey’s decision to publicly reveal the existence of what may have been additional emails from Clinton’s server so close to the election it does not find any evidence of wrongdoing or political motives in that decision or in the decision to release the second letter roughly a week later announcing that the Bureau had determined that the newly discovered cache of email was not relevant to the investigation.
While all of this does call Comey’s judgment into question in some respects, then, it doesn’t refute or even call into question the central conclusions that he and the Bureau had reached with regard to the investigation. More importantly, there appears to be absolutely nothing in the Inspector General’s report that implicates either the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller or of his investigation into Russian interference in the election, potential collusion between Trump campaign officials and Russian officials and potential obstruction of justice. Additionally, as noted, the report does not recommend any further investigation or any criminal charges be filed in connection with its conclusions.
To say the very least, this report falls far short of what President Trump and his supporters have been hoping for and hyping, and it’s unlikely to have any impact at all on the Mueller investigation or the investigation still being conducted by the Senate Intelligence Committee into the same matters. For weeks now, though, both the President and his supporters on Fox News and elsewhere have been building up anticipation for this report, claiming that it would rip the Mueller investigation wide open and that it would prove the existence of a widespread conspiracy inside the Bureau against the President. While the report does cite the example of the text messages exchanged by two agents who happened to be involved in both the Clinton investigation and, for a time, the Mueller investigation, this is not news since these messages were made public long ago and the agents involved have stepped aside from the Mueller investigation. No doubt this won’t stop the President and his supporters from trying to use the report to their advantage, but based on the reporting from the Times and the Post that I linked above, as well as the report in The Wall Street Journal, it seems clear that there was no wrongdoing either on their part or on the part of former Director Comey or the Bureau as a whole.
Here’s the report itself, as noted it’s over 500 pages long: