June 14 (UPI) — Former FBI Director James Comey broke from usual procedures in his handling of an investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails, but his actions weren’t politically motivated, the Justice Department’s Inspector General said in a long-awaited report Thursday.
The 500-page report details ways in which Comey broke with protocol in the Clinton investigation and messages from FBI personnel opposed to President Donald Trump. IG Michael Horowitz expanded his probe to include non-Clinton-related moves within the Justice Department in the lead-up to the 2016 election, including decisions made by Comey and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
Horowitz said Comey should have sought approval from senior Justice Department officials before announcing in July 2016 that while Clinton’s decision to keep a private email server at her home was “extremely careless,” he did not recommend charges against her. The former FBI head also went against Justice Department recommendations when he announced in late October 2016 the FBI was reviewing the possibility of new Clinton emails.
“While we did not find that these decisions were the result of political bias on Comey’s part, we nevertheless concluded that by departing so clearly and dramatically from FBI and department norms, the decisions negatively impacted the perception of the FBI and the department as fair administrators of justice,” Horowitz wrote in his report.
“We found it extraordinary that, in advance of two such consequential decisions, the FBI director decided that the best course of conduct was to not speak directly and substantively with the attorney general about how best to navigate those decisions,” the report said.
Comey wrote an op-ed in The New York Times on Thursday saying he doesn’t agree with all of the inspector general’s findings, but that he respects the investigation. He acknowledged that before 2016 he never could have imagined making an announcement about an investigation — that such a task is usually left up to Justice Department leaders.
“But even in hindsight I think we chose the course most consistent with institutional values,” Comey wrote. “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.”
The report also took issue with text messages between two FBI officials working on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections. The messages were exchanged prior to the formation of Mueller’s team and the election.
“[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” FBI lawyer Lisa Page texted investigator Peter Strzok in August 2016.
Strzok also worked on the Clinton probe.
“No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it,” Strzok replied.
The exchange likely will pique the interest of Trump, who has slammed the Clinton probe for being rigged in her favor. Trump cited a recommendation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein criticizing Comey’s handling of the Clinton probe when he fired the FBI director in May 2017.
“That is deeply troubling,” Rosenstein wrote in his recommendation to Trump. “I cannot defend the director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken. Almost everyone agrees that the director made serious mistakes.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday made clear the errors were made during the Obama administration, not under Trump.
“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.
The inspector general’s report was based on interviews with 100 people, including Comey, Lynch, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, and other FBI and Justice Department workers. The inspector general also reviewed more than 1.2 million documents.