Justice watchdog faults Comey on Clinton email probe, but says not politically motivated

Posted at 1:14 PM, Jun 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-14 13:51:57-04

The Justice Department’s internal watchdog found that former FBI Director James Comey’s actions in the Hillary Clinton email investigation deviated from the department’s norms but that Comey was not motivated by political bias, according to two sources familiar with the report.

The inspector general is releasing a sweeping report Thursday detailing a series of failures by the top federal officials in charge of the investigation ahead of the election, including how Clinton handled classified information while secretary of state.

A key finding: Comey erred in his decision not to coordinate with his superiors at the Justice Department at key moments in the Clinton email investigation, according to the sources. But the inspector general found that Comey was not motivated by political bias, as President Donald Trump and his conservative allies have charged.

The roughly 500-page report provides a detailed accounting of the series of events leading up to Comey’s decision in July 2016 to announce publicly — without Justice Department approval — that while he found Clinton’s actions “extremely careless,” he would not recommend charges against her.

He was also advised by the Justice Department that his intent to tell Congress in October 2016 that FBI agents had recovered additional emails possibly relevant to the Clinton probe would run counter to department policy, and yet he did it anyway.

Bloomberg News first reported the details of the inspector general report.

Congressional staff and lawmakers were getting briefed on the report behind closed doors on Thursday ahead of its release, and Trump will be briefed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

The long-awaited report from Inspector General Michael Horowitz is likely to reopen wounds left festering since the 2016 election and breathe new life into the debate about the extent to which Comey’s actions affected the outcome of the presidential race.

Many of these flashpoints from the Obama administration, which served as catnip for Trump on the campaign trail, have largely faded into the rearview of the general public’s consciousness.

But the President’s continuing confrontation with the former FBI director remains front and center, as he defends against a narrative — much of his own making — that he fired Comey not because of missteps on the Clinton email probe, but rather to thwart the FBI’s Russia investigation.

“When will people start saying, ‘thank you, Mr. President, for firing James Comey?'” Trump tweeted last week.

But Democrats argued that the report shows that Comey actually helped elect Trump.

“The stark conclusion we draw after reviewing this report is that the FBI’s actions helped Donald Trump become President,” said Reps. Jerry Nadler of New York and Elijah Cummings of Maryland. “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.”

The practical effect of its conclusions on Comey’s legacy and credibility could prove especially potent in the coming weeks and months ahead.

Congressional Republicans briefed on the report argued it condemned Comey.

“It is a damning indictment of former FBI Director Comey and the Department of Justice’s mishandling of the investigation,” said Rep Darrell Issa, a California Republican.

The report assesses the actions of a number of key players and events, including then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s tarmac meeting with former President Bill Clinton, the anti-Trump text messages of FBI agent Peter Strzok and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, and then-Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe’s response to the discovery of new emails found on Anthony Weiner’s laptop.

Beyond Comey, one source briefed on the report said it found there was no evidence that the conclusions reached by prosecutors were affected by political bias in the Clinton email investigation.

The report faults Lynch for her meeting with Clinton on a Phoenix airport tarmac, the source said. But it says there was no evidence that Lynch and Clinton discussed the investigation into Hillary Clinton or any other inappropriate discussions.

Instead, the report finds that Lynch expressed poor judgment in taking the meeting itself, as well as letting it drag on rather than cutting it short.