While former FBI Director James Comey “deviated” from established Justice Department and FBI protocol when he announced just a few days before the 2016 election that the bureau had reopened the Hillary Clinton email probe, his actions did cloud the public’s perception of the FBI as an impartial steward of the law as did those of former FBI Agents Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page, according to a long-awaited report from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz.
“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,” the report said, according to Bloomberg, which obtained a copy of the IG’s assessment that is set to be revealed today.
“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 [Loretta Lynch] about how best to navigate those decisions.”
Former Clinton campaign spokesperson Brian Fallon, said, according to Bloomberg, that the IG’s finding about Comey “could have been reached the day of Comey’s press conference. It was obvious at the time that Comey was completely deviating from department protocols and it had a fateful impact on the 2016 campaign and the long-term reputation of the FBI.”
The conduct of Strzok, briefly a part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team investigating Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election, and Page, – whose texts whipped up allegations of impropriety and the suggestion that a “secret society” at the FBI was intent on derailing the Trump presidency – “cast a cloud over the entire FBI investigation,” the IG concluded.
But the report noted, “We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected the specific investigative actions we reviewed.”
Mueller pulled Stzrok, who had also worked on the investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, from the Russia probe after an investigation by the IG revealed texts between the two that criticized and ridiculed Donald Trump. Supporters of President Trump have claimed the previously disclosed texts show a bias that may have tainted Stzrok’s work on the Russian probe and calls into question the integrity of the Clinton email investigation.
In one text, Page said to Strzok “Are you even going to give out your calendars? Seems kind of depressing. Maybe it should just be the first meeting of the secret society.”
Critics of the Mueller probe pointed to those words as evidence that an anti-Trump group was working behind the scenes at the agency exerting its bias, with even the president calling it “one of the biggest stories in a long time.”
More recently Trump had expressed frustration that the IG report was taking too long and reiterated his anticipation the findings would show widespread bias against his administration.
At the daily White House press conference Thursday, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump “was briefed on the IG report earlier today and it reaffirmed the president’s suspicions of Comey’s conduct.”
After President Obama’s departure from the Oval Office, Trump initially praised Comey and kept him on to run the FBI but then fired him in May 2017 purportedly for the mishandling of the Clinton email investigation. But soon after he indicated that Comey was fired because of the Russian investigation that the former FBI director was leading at the time.
Legislators from both parties were quick to excoriate Comey with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., saying in a statement that the “report makes clear that FBI Director Comey and FBI personnel failed to follow the rules, and in doing so, hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign and helped Donald Trump’s,” a contention also voiced by Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y.
“The stark conclusion we draw after reviewing this report is that the FBI’s actions helped Donald Trump become President,” the two members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said in a joint statement. “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 duo said the bureau “should not have spoken publicly about the case after recommending against criminal charges” or revealed that the investigation had been reopened just days before the election. “These actions violate longstanding guidelines designed to protect citizens from unfair attacks and avoid influencing elections,” they said. “We understand that the Bureau was under great pressure from Republican committee chairmen with subpoena power who spent two years engaged in incessant, cynical, and false attacks about the Clinton investigation itself — but these DOJ and FBI policies exist to help law enforcement officials resist exactly that sort of pressure.”
But across the aisle, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chairman of the House Oversight Committee, who oversaw a multiyear investigation of Clinton’s use of private email server and the circumstances surrounding the Benghazi attack while she was Secretary of State, said “the treatment afforded to former Secretary Clinton and other potential subjects and targets was starkly different from the FBI’s investigation into Trump campaign officials.”
Comey tweeted that he respects for the DOJ IG office, noting that’s “why I urged them to do this review,” but said that while “the conclusions are reasonable” he disagreed with some of them. “People of good faith can see an unprecedented situation differently,” he tweeted. “I pray no Director faces it again. Thanks to IG’s people for hard work.”
“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.”