FBI and Jus­tice face in­quiry into han­dling of email probe

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - NEWS - By Del Quentin Wil­ber

WASH­ING­TON >> The Jus­tice De­part­ment’s in­ter­nal watch­dog launched a sweep­ing in­quiry Thurs­day into how the FBI han­dled its Hil­lary Clin­ton email probe, in­clud­ing Di­rec­tor James B. Comey’s con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion to pub­licly dis­cuss the case in ways the for­mer Demo­cratic nom­i­nee has com­plained contributed to her loss.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s in­spec­tor general, likely to keep open the wounds of the bit­ter 2016 pres­i­den­tial race, will fo­cus on whether “poli­cies or pro­ce­dures were not fol­lowed” by the FBI and Jus­tice De­part­ment. Of par­tic­u­lar fo­cus will be the let­ter sent by Comey to Congress just 11 days be­fore the Nov. 8 elec­tion that dis­closed that his agents were re­view­ing newly dis­cov­ered emails pos­si­bly per­ti­nent to the then-closed in­quiry in Clin­ton’s han­dling of clas­si­fied ma­te­rial while serv­ing as sec­re­tary of state.

The dis­clo­sure im­me­di­ately re­fo­cused neg­a­tive pub­lic at­ten­tion on Clin­ton’s ac­tions. Then Comey made a se­cond sur­prise an­nounce­ment a few days later, re­veal­ing that the new emails had no im­pact on the status of the case, which had con­cluded with no crim­i­nal charges.

The FBI di­rec­tor’s state­ments and a July press con­fer­ence at which he dis­cussed the de­tails of the case were crit­i­cized at var­i­ous times by mem­bers of both po­lit­i­cal par­ties as be­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ate and vi­o­lat­ing long-stand­ing guide­lines that pro­hibit the pub­lic re­lease of in­for­ma­tion about in­ves­ti­ga­tions, es­pe­cially if such disclosures might af­fect the out­come of an elec­tion.

Comey sup­port­ers say he was merely try­ing to main­tain trans­parency and keep Congress in­formed un­der ex­tra­or­di­nary cir­cum­stances.

But dozens of for­mer fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors blasted the de­ci­sion to send a vague let­ter to Congress be­fore his in­ves­ti­ga­tors had ad­e­quately re­viewed the new in­for­ma­tion.

Clin­ton’s cam­paign blamed Comey’s let­ters for halt­ing her mo­men­tum in the polls and help­ing in Don­ald Trump’s vic­tory. “This is highly en­cour­ag­ing and to be ex­pected given Di­rec­tor Comey’s dras­tic de­vi­a­tion from Jus­tice De­part­ment pro­to­col,” said Brian Fal­lon, who served as press sec­re­tary on the Clin­ton cam­paign. “A probe of this sort, how­ever long it takes to con­duct, is ut­terly nec­es­sary in or­der to take the first step to re­store the FBI’s rep­u­ta­tion as a non­par­ti­san in­sti­tu­tion.”

Re­newed crit­i­cism

In­spec­tor General Michael E. Horowitz said Thurs­day that the probe was spurred by “nu­mer­ous” re­quests for his of­fice to ex­am­ine the mat­ter.

Such in­spec­tor general in­ves­ti­ga­tions most of­ten re­sult in re­ports de­tail­ing find­ings and rec­om­men­da­tions, and oc­ca­sion­ally a sting­ing pub­lic re­buke. If in­ves­ti­ga­tors un­cover crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity, they may re­fer matters to the Jus­tice De­part­ment for pros­e­cu­tion. Horowitz, a pres­i­den­tial ap­pointee, does not serve a fixed term, and his of­fice op­er­ates largely in­de­pen­dent of the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s lead­er­ship, though he re­ports to the at­tor­ney general and can be fired by the pres­i­dent, who must ex­plain such a de­ci­sion to Congress. The FBI’s han­dling of the Clin­ton probe came un­der re­newed crit­i­cism this week as na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cials tes­ti­fied at a hear­ing re­gard­ing Rus­sia’s ef­forts to hack into Demo­cratic Party files into or­der to em­bar­rass Clin­ton and help Trump. Asked about al­leged con­tacts be­tween Rus­sia and Trump al­lies, Comey said he could not con­firm or deny the ex­is­tence of any FBI probe into the mat­ter, es­pe­cially in a pub­lic fo­rum. That brought a sharp re­buke from Sen. An­gus King, I-Maine, not­ing the “irony” of the state­ment. Clin­ton sup­port­ers sim­i­larly com­plained of an FBI dou­ble stan­dard that they said kept any pos­si­ble Trump-re­lated probe a se­cret but dis­closed the de­tails of Clin­ton’s case.

In a state­ment Thurs­day, Comey said he was “grate­ful” for the in­spec­tor general’s re­view and pledged “the FBI will co­op­er­ate fully with him and his of­fice. I hope very much he is able to share his con­clu­sions and ob­ser­va­tions with the pub­lic be­cause every­one will ben­e­fit from thought­ful eval­u­a­tion and trans­parency re­gard­ing this mat­ter.”

Broad in­ves­ti­ga­tion

Rob Storch, a spokesman for Horowitz, de­clined to com­ment be­yond his of­fice’s state­ment. The in­quiry is ex­pected to take at least sev­eral months to com­plete. Comey’s let­ters were not the only pub­lic disclosures that raised eye­brows among Clin­ton sup­port­ers and will be in­ves­ti­gated by the in­spec­tor general. Horowitz said his of­fice will also seek to de­ter­mine whether “im­proper con­sid­er­a­tions” in­flu­enced the FBI’s pub­li­ca­tion on its web­site just days be­fore the elec­tion of 15-year-old re­ports re­gard­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Bill Clin­ton’s highly con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion to par­don fugi­tive fi­nancier Marc Rich. The Clin­ton cam­paign ques­tioned the tim­ing of the re­lease, though the FBI said at the time it was sim­ply com­ply­ing with a pub­lic in­for­ma­tion re­quest. The Rich files were re­leased as news or­ga­ni­za­tions were pub­lish­ing re­ports on other as­pects of the Clin­ton email in­ves­ti­ga­tion and a nascent one into po­ten­tial prob­lems at the Clin­ton Foun­da­tion, a global char­ity. Horowitz said he would ex­am­ine whether the FBI or Jus­tice De­part­ment im­prop­erly re­leased in­for­ma­tion that should have re­mained pri­vate. Democrats were par­tic­u­larly irked by leaks that they said were or­ches­trated by FBI agents seek­ing to bol­ster Trump’s cam­paign.

“Our cit­i­zens must be able to trust that the FBI, our chief fed­eral law en­force­ment agency, is non­par­ti­san and does not in­sert it­self into the elec­toral process,” said Reps. John Cony­ers Jr. and Eli­jah E. Cum­mings, rank­ing mem­bers of the House Com­mit­tees on Ju­di­ciary and Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form, in a state­ment Thurs­day. “We are pleased that the in­spec­tor general is fol­low­ing up on our re­quest to in­ves­ti­gate and re­view these al­le­ga­tions and look for­ward to re­ceiv­ing a full re­view of these matters.”

Another tar­get of the in­quiry will be Comey’s top deputy, Andrew McCabe, and whether he should have re­cused him­self from over­see­ing the Clin­ton in­ves­ti­ga­tion. McCabe’s wife re­ceived cam­paign do­na­tions in a 2015 run for state of­fice in Vir­ginia from a po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee run by a close Clin­ton ally. Repub­li­cans said that McCabe should have stepped aside But crit­i­cism of the FBI’s han­dling of the case has fo­cused mostly on whether Comey acted prop­erly in dis­cussing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion in pub­lic fo­rums, and it will likely be the most con­se­quen­tial as­pect of Horowitz’s probe.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey tes­ti­fied on Rus­sian hack­ing Tues­day be­fore the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee. He was re­buked by In­de­pen­dent Sen. An­gus King of Maine when he said he could not in a pub­lic fo­rum con­firm or deny the ex­is­tence of any FBI probe into al­leged con­tacts be­tween Rus­sia and al­lies of Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump.

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