The Justice Department inspector general’s office concluded in a long-awaited report released Thursday that political bias did not play a role in the Justice Department’s decision to clear Hillary Clinton of criminal wrongdoing, even as investigators slammed former FBI director James Comey for being “insubordinate” in his handling of the investigation.
The report did reveal a recently-discovered text from a former FBI agent involved in the investigation that the inspector general’s office said suggested political bias may have played a part in certain decisions made in the fall of 2016 related to the investigation of Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was Secretary of State.
A key text exchange between former FBI agent Peter Strzok and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page from Aug. 8, 2016, part of which the inspector general’s office said they only discovered in May, Page had texted Strzok, “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” Strzok replied, “No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.”
That response from Strzok — the part that the inspector general’s office discovered in May — led the inspector general’s office to conclude that political bias may have played a part in the FBI’s delay in acting on information they learned in September 2016 about additional emails discovered on former congressman Anthony Weiner’s computer that may have been relevant to the investigation; Weiner was married to Clinton’s longtime aide Huma Abedin. That was the only evidence of political bias related to the Clinton emails probe identified in the 500-page report.
The report delves into the actions of the FBI and the Justice Department leading up to the 2016 presidential election, as investigators were looking into Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was in the Obama administration. No charges were filed against Clinton, who denied that she compromised classified information.
Other key revelations in the report include that there were “numerous FBI employees” in frequent contact with reporters and that there is an investigation into whether employees “improperly received benefits from reporters”; and that two other FBI agents and a FBI lawyer involved in the investigation sent text and instant messages expressing hostility towards Trump, and that information has been referred to the FBI for possible internal disciplinary action.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement that the report “reveals a number of significant errors by the senior leadership of the Department of Justice and the FBI during the previous administration.” He called the investigation a “prolonged and painful process,” for the Justice Department and the FBI, but said that it is not over, noting that Utah US Attorney John Huber — who was appointed to determine if there were any matters not currently under investigation that should be, or if another special counsel was needed — was still conducting his review in cooperation with the inspector general’s office.
“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. The Department is not above criticism, and it is accountable to the Chief Executive, Congress, and most importantly, the American people,” Sessions said.
Comey weighed in via an op-ed in the New York Times published after the report was released, saying he did not agree with all of the conclusions but “respect the work of his office and salute its professionalism.” He defended his decision to go solo in announcing the conclusions of the investigation in July 2016, saying that if then-attorney general Loretta Lynch had been involved at the time, it “would have done corrosive damage to public faith in the investigation and the institutions of justice.”
“In 2016, my team faced an extraordinary situation — something I thought of as a 500-year flood — offering no good choices and presenting some of the hardest decisions I ever had to make. We knew that reasonable people might choose to do things differently and that a future independent reviewer might not see things the way we did. Yet I always believed that an inspector general report would be crucial to understanding and evaluating our actions,” Comey wrote.
Shortly before Trump was sworn into office in January 2017, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz announced that his office was launching an investigation into allegations of misconduct by the FBI and the Justice Department leading up to the 2016 election. Comey drew fierce criticism for his decision to make a public announcement in July 2016 that the FBI was not recommending charges against Clinton — a pronouncement that nevertheless included criticism of Clinton for her actions — and then to send letters to Congress with further updates about the investigation shortly before the election.
Trump fired Comey in May 2017, citing recommendations by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Rosenstein had written a memo to Sessions on May 9 that faulted Comey for his handling of the Clinton email probe, writing that “the FBI is unlikely to regain public and congressional trust until it has a Director who understands the gravity of the mistakes and pledges never to repeat them. Having refused to admit his errors, the Director cannot be expected to implement the necessary corrective actions.”
Sessions then wrote a memo to Trump recommending that Comey be fired, citing Rosenstein’s findings and saying that he had “concluded that a fresh start is needed at the leadership of the FBI.”
But Trump appeared to undercut his own stated reasons for firing Comey in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt a few days later, saying he had “this Russia thing” — referring to the Justice Department probe into whether Russia colluded with the Trump campaign to interfere in the 2016 presidential election — in mind when he decided to fire Comey.
“And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won,” Trump said at the time.
Clinton’s supporters accused Comey of damaging her campaign with the election-eve revelations about the status of the investigation. Republicans and the Trump administration have claimed the investigation was biased in favor of Clinton. In public appearances promoting his new book, Comey has defended his actions, although he told ABC News that he regretted some of the critical language he used in his July 2016 announcement.
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