‘SERIOUS ERROR IN JUDGMENT’
Justice Department Watchdog Rips ‘Insubordinate’ Comey Over Hillary Investigation
Former FBI director James Comey took the brunt of the criticism in a new DOJ inspector general report released on Thursday.
A Justice Department inspector general report harshly criticized the conduct of former FBI Director James Comey during the 2016 election, concluding he had violated bureau norms, proved insubordinate, and even engaged in similar conduct to what he criticized then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of doing.
Comey was far from the only official to come under a sharp light in the 500 page document put together by the IG, Michael Horowitz.
The report also reveals that Peter Strzok—an FBI agent who worked on both the Clinton email and Russia investigations—once promised his lover that the two of them would keep Trump from becoming president.
On August 8, 2016, Lisa Page, who was in a romantic relationship with Strzok, texted him in concern about Trump’s candidacy.
“[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” she wrote.
“No,” Page responded. “No he’s not. We’ll stop it.”
The inspector general said this text message and others “brought discredit to themselves,” undermined public confidence in how the Clinton probe was handled, and “impacted the reputation of the FBI.”
Horowitz also wrote that Strzok’s comment “implies a willingness to take official action to impact the presidential candidate’s electoral prospects. This is antithetical to the core values of the FBI and the Department of Justice.”
The report drilled down on a host of specific decisions that FBI agents made over the course of the Clinton investigation. In all the decisions it looked at, the inspector general found no evidence that “improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected the specific investigative decisions we reviewed in Chapter Five, or that the justifications offered for these decisions were pretextual.”
The findings are bound to provide fodder to President Donald Trump, who has long accused the top ranks of the FBI of having a political vendetta against him. But it is Comey, more than others, who comes under scathing criticism for the decisions he made in the course of the 2016 election—decisions that have made him such a lightning rod for supporters of Clinton.
The report found that the former FBI Director violated department policies by using his personal email address to conduct FBI business. The much-anticipated report is the most authoritative documentation of how the Justice Department handled one of its most controversial probes in decades: the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state.
Republicans have anticipated the report as providing vindication for President Donald Trump’s decision to fire then-FBI Director James Comey, who violated department procedure by giving Congress details about the probe in the final days of the presidential campaign. Clinton campaign alums say Comey’s actions swung the election for Trump.
The report found that it was “extraordinary and insubordinate” for Comey to conceal from then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch his plans to make the July 5 announcement that the FBI would not recommend Hillary Clinton be prosecuted over the mishandled emails. The inspector general also faults Lynch for failing to take a tougher line with Comey before he made the July 5 announcement. “[S]he should have instructed Comey to tell her what he intended to say beforehand, and should have discussed it with Comey,” the inspector general wrote.
The report highlights friction between Comey and Lynch before Comey told Congress on Oct. 28, 2016 that the Clinton email investigation had been restarted. Comey told the inspector general that he thought Lynch and then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates suggested he not tell Congress, but didn’t order him not to do so.
“Basically... it’s up to you,” Comey said, summarizing how they discussed the decision. “I honestly thought they were taking kind of a cowardly way out.”
The report excoriates Comey for his decision to violate department policy and notify Congress.
“Much like with his July 5 announcement, we found that in making this decision, Comey engaged in ad hoc decision making based on his personal views even if it meant rejecting longstanding Department policy or practice,” the report reads.
The report adds that notifying Congress was “a serious error in judgment.”
The report did not criticize Comey and the FBI for the substance of their decision to decline to prosecute Clinton.
Regarding the inappropriate agent text messages, the report revealed that five FBI agents shared denigrating text messages about Trump. It did not name the three besides Page and Strzok.
The inspector general did not find evidence that Page and Strzok’s political views affected any of the investigative decisions he reviewed in depth. But the inspector general did not foreclose the possibility that bias played a role in Strzok’s decision to focus on the Russian investigation over the probe into Clinton’s emails.
“Under these circumstances, we did not have confidence that Strzok’s decision to prioritize the Russia investigation over following up on the Midyear [Clinton email]-related investigative lead discovered on the Weiner laptop was free from bias,” the inspector general wrote.
The FBI’s slow response to the discovery of Clinton emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop is also a focus of the report. The inspector general found no “consistent or persuasive explanation” for why the FBI did nothing about the laptop for a month after learning about the emails on it. One explanation FBI officials gave the inspector general was that “key members” of the team investigating the Clinton emails had been reassigned to the Russia probe, “which was a higher priority.” The inspector general wasn’t persuaded by that explanation.
The report also described a culture of rampant leaking in the Bureau. The inspector general found “numerous FBI employees, at all levels of the organization,” were in touch with reporters.
“We have profound concerns about the volume and extent of unauthorized media contacts by FBI personnel that we have uncovered during our review,” the report reads.
In some instances, FBI employees received perks from reporters, “including tickets to sporting events, golfing outings, drinks and meals, and admittance to nonpublic social events.”