A Department of Justice report found that former FBI Director James Comey and other top officials did not follow standard procedures in their handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server, but did not find any evidence of political bias.
The report, which was released Thursday afternoon, concludes that Comey hurt the agency’s reputation for impartiality, though it says he did not do so out of political bias.
The report finds fault with multiple decisions by Comey and individual agents, determining that former Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s decision to meet with former President Bill Clinton on an Arizona airport tarmac in 2016 was an error in judgement.
The report by the Justice Department’s inspector general is the latest bombshell in the seemingly never-ending fight over the 2016 election. President Donald Trump previously tweeted he was eagerly awaiting it, and both Democrats and Republicans are watching to see how it will affect public opinion.
FBI Director Christopher Wray told reporters Thursday evening that the FBI was already taking steps to address the “errors of judgement” identified in the report, which included the implementation training processes to emphasize objectivity.
“We need to hold ourselves accountable for the choices we make and the work we do,” Wray said. “We’re going to adhere to the appropriate disciplinary process, and once that process is complete we won’t hesitate to hold people accountable for their actions.”
Here’s what you need to know.
What does the inspector general do?
The Office of Inspectors General is responsible for examining allegations of wrongdoing, fraud or misconduct within various federal agencies. The Inspector General of the Department of Justice, Michael Horowitz, currently leads a nationwide team of more than 450 agents, attorneys, auditors and other such employees who all work together to conduct these investigations. Often called the “watchdog” of the federal government, inspectors general work to hold government officials accountable to an honorable standard of behavior, promoting efficiency and integrity.
Who is Inspector General Michael Horowitz?
Michael Horowitz is a Harvard Law School graduate and former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Prior to practicing law for a private firm from 2002-2012, Horowitz worked in the Department of Justice Criminal Division between 1999 and 2002, where he was the Deputy Assistant Attorney General and then the Chief of Staff.
Former President Barack Obama nominated Horowitz as inspector general of the Department of Justice in July of 2011. In 2012, he was confirmed by the Senate without objection and sworn into office that spring.
What is the Inspector General’s report about?
Horowitz announced in January 2017 that the Department of Justice would examine how the FBI handled the probe into Hillary Clinton’s private email server under Comey.
It will review a number of Comey’s controversial acts, including his choice not to prosecute Clinton for sending classified information over her private email server and his decision to publicly resume the Clinton investigation in October of 2017.
The report was welcomed both by Democrats, who thought Comey’s reopening of Clinton’s email server investigation just days before the election cost her the race, and by Republicans, who felt Clinton deserved criminal charges for using a private server to send emails related to her work as Secretary of State.
The report has nothing to do with Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, but since Trump fired Comey in May of 2017, it has taken on added relevance. Trump’s official reason for firing Comey was his mistreatment of Clinton, although he argued at other times that the FBI director was actually too nice to her.
What happened during the Clinton email investigation?
In March of 2015, the New York Times published a front-page article indicating Clinton exclusively used a private email server and personal email address to send work-related emails and that the use of the account “may have violated federal requirements” that she retain all officials’ correspondence.
Breaking the tradition of not discussing FBI investigations with the public, Comey held a press conference in July of 2016 saying that though the FBI did not find evidence Clinton and her colleagues intended to violate laws regarding careful email practice, they were “extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”
On Oct. 28, 2016, Comey sent a letter to Congress suggesting more emails had been discovered that appeared to be pertinent to the investigation of Clinton’s email server.
Finally, on Nov. 6, 2016, just two days before the 2016 election, Comey told Congress the additional emails the bureau analyzed would not change the FBI’s conclusion Clinton would not be prosecuted.
What does the report say about James Comey?
The report states Comey departed “clearly and dramatically from FBI and department norms,” though not on account of political bias on Comey’s part.
“The decisions negatively impacted the perception of the FBI and the department as fair administrators of justice,” Inspector General Michael Horowitz said in the report’s conclusions.
Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch also faces under scrutiny in the report. During the initial email probe, Lynch privately met with former President Bill Clinton on an airplane tarmac in Arizona. Though it is not clear what Bill Clinton and Lynch discussed on the plane in the midst of the email investigation, she expressed regret: “I certainly wouldn’t do it again.”
What about his emails?
The report reveals that Clinton was not the only person at fault for using a private email account — on “numerous instances,” Comey also used his personal Gmail account to “conduct FBI business.” These occasions are listed and described in the report; in all of them, Comey is forwarding attachments or email drafts to or from his FBI account. The report then states that, in an interview, Comey said “I did not have an unclass[ified] FBI connection at home that worked… for unclassified work, I would use my personal laptop for word processing and then send it to the FBI.” When asked if he thought this adhered to FBI regulations, Comey stated “I don’t know. … I had the sense that it was okay.”
Clinton took in this news with a cheeky tweet.
How did Comey react?
In a New York Times op-ed published this afternoon, Comey expressed his respect for the inspector general’s report and upheld the validity of the investigation, even though he disagreed with some of its findings. “I do not agree with all of the inspector general’s conclusions, but I respect the work of his office and salute its professionalism,” he wrote.
He commends the report for concluding that the FBI was not affected by bias and that there was no legal case against Clinton. However, he also writes about the difficulty of two decisions he made in 2016: to make an announcement without Attorney General Lynch’s input and to publicly reopen the investigation. In hindsight, he stands by the choices he made, believing that they were the “most consistent with institutional values.” Although the inspector general’s office disagreed, “that’s O.K.,” he said.
He hopes that the report will preserve the facts of 2016 and guide future FBI leaders. He wrote, the “detailed report should serve to both protect and build the reservoir of trust and credibility necessary for the Department of Justice and the FBI to remain strong and independent and to continue their good work for our country.”
How did Republicans respond to the report?
Earlier today, three Trump-supporting Republicans drafted a letter expressing concern about the final version of the report. Reps. Andy Biggs, Ron DeSantis, and Matt Gaetz wrote to Horowitz asking him to release the report’s initial drafts along with the final published form due to concerns that the report may have been weakened over time and editing. Although they commend the report for being “thorough and accurate,” they write that “people may have changed the report in a way that obfuscates your findings.” They expressed worries that members of the DOJ and FBI may have changed the draft over the past month.
Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina also reacted negatively to the report on Thursday. “I am alarmed, angry and disappointed by the Attorney General’s findings of numerous failures by DOJ and FBI in investigating potential Espionage Act violations by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,” he said in a statement. “The FBI’s actions and those of former Director Comey severely damaged the credibility of the investigation, the public’s ability to rely on the results of the investigation, and the very institutions he claims to revere.”
Horowitz, in a letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley accepted an invitation to speak before the committee on Monday. “The American people have waited a long time for answers on whether Justice Department and FBI leadership treated Secretary Clinton with kid gloves instead of impartially investigating. I look forward to reviewing the report and hearing directly from the Inspector General on Monday,” Grassley said in response.
How did Democrats respond to the report?
For many Democrats, the report vindicated their view that James Comey mishandled his examination into Hillary Clinton’s private email server by publicly reopening the investigation in the days before the November election. In a statement released earlier this afternoon, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said, “this 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.”
The report also concludes that the FBI investigations were not impacted by political bias, contradicting past statements by President Trump. Durbin addressed that in his statement, stating that the report discredits Trump’s claims of FBI conspiracy against his campaign and administration.
What has Trump said about the inspector general’s report?
Trump eagerly anticipated the release of the Inspector General’s report. He has openly criticized how long it took the report to be published, by tweeting, “Numerous delays. Hope Report is not being changed and made weaker!”
Trump hasn’t spoken publicly about the report since its release, but White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday that it “reaffirmed the president’s suspicions about Comey’s conduct and the political bias among some of the members of the FBI.” Sanders said specifically that the text messages between FBI staffers Peter Strzok and Lisa Page “[cause] a great deal of concern” and “[point] out the political bias” that the Administration has “ found to be a huge problem.”
Earlier, she had said that the president wanted the report to be transparent but also “expedited and completed quickly.”
“I think the President would like to see this process move faster,” she said at a press briefing in early June. “They’ve been obsessed with a number of other issues in which they’ve spent a great deal of time on. I think he’d like to see some of that spread out and some time spent on that.”
He has also expressed desires for the report to validate his decision to fire James Comey by providing evidence of Comey’s incompetence. He recently tweeted “When will people start saying, ‘thank you, Mr. President, for firing James Comey?” and later commented to the press that the June 14 report may turn out to be “a nice birthday president.”
Trump is expected to use any negative findings about Comey to attempt to further undermine his credibility, since Comey has also testified under oath that the president asked him to drop an investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and sought to secure his personal loyalty, claims that the president denies vehemently.
What does the report say about Peter Strzok and Lisa Page?
The report includes discussion of text messages between Peter Strzok, a former FBI counterintelligence official, and Lisa Page, a former lawyer for the FBI on their FBI-issued cell phones. Among the 40,000 plus texts reviewed include: “God trump is a loathsome human,” sent from Page, and “Just went to a southern Virginia Walmart. I could SMELL the Trump support….,” sent from Strzok’s device.
Though Horowitz suggests these texts, among one that says, “We’ll stop [Trump from becoming president],” are indicative of bias and “a willingness to take official action to impact a presidential candidate’s electoral prospects,” his conclusion is that their views did not affect the investigation.
“We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected the specific investigative actions we reviewed,” the report reads.
Strzok’s lawyer released statements regarding the report, calling it “critically flawed” for saying that it could not rule out, with confidence, that Strzok’s potential biases “may have been a cause of the FBI’s failure.”
Strzok and Page have recently been under media scrutiny for their anti-Trump texts, some of which have already been released to the public. Strzok was removed from Mueller’s Russia investigation and demoted to the FBI’s Human Resource Bureau in December, and Page resigned from her position in May.
Trump has previously raised concerns about these two FBI employees, questioning their integrity and credibility in earlier tweets. He has claimed that they exchanged incriminating text messages, and that they were involved in alleged illicit and defamatory spying activity into the Trump campaign. On June 5, 2018, he wrote “Wow, Strzok-Page, the incompetent & corrupt FBI lovers, have texts referring to a counter-intelligence operation into the Trump campaign dating back to December, 2015. SPYGATE is in full force!”
What does the report say about Lynch’s meeting with Bill Clinton?
In the summer of 2016 — one week before Comey’s press conference about Clinton’s email server — former President Bill Clinton met with then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch on an airport tarmac in Arizona.
The meeting had not been planned, and although both parties insisted that nothing was discussed about the investigation, questions still persisted about the timing, given Lynch’s responsibilities in overseeing the FBI. Lynch did not comply with the calls, which were mainly from Republican lawmakers, to recuse herself, and instead accepted Comey’s July 5 recommendation.
In the inspector general’s report, Lynch said she became increasingly concerned as her meeting with Clinton continued, but did not step aside because she did want to give an impression they had discussed something inappropriate. The IG report did not find evidence contradicting Lynch’s initial statements, but concluded it was an error in judgment for her not to cut the meeting short, and she did not appropriately address subsequent concerns about her role in the investigation.
Lynch also said that, overall, she was rarely briefed on the investigation; it was not discussed at her daily morning meetings and she was not involved in the daily decision-making process.
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Write to Abby Vesoulis at email@example.com