U.S. to review Comey’s steps as to Clinton
His actions in email probe as Nov. 8 neared are focus
WASHINGTON — The Justice Department inspector general will review broad allegations of misconduct involving FBI Director James Comey and how he handled the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email practices, the inspector general announced Thursday.
The investigation will be wide-ranging — encompassing Comey’s various letters and public statements on the matter and whether FBI or other Justice Department employees leaked nonpublic information, according to a news release from Inspector General Michael Horowitz.
Democrats and Clinton have blamed Comey for the Democratic presidential candidate’s loss, arguing that the inquiry’s renewal and the FBI director’s public missives on the eve of the election blunted her momentum. Comey has faced months of criticism, some of it from former Justice Department officials, for violating the department’s policy of avoiding any action that could affect a candidate close to an election.
Brian Fallon, a former Clinton campaign spokesman, praised the investigation decision Thursday.
“This is highly encouraging and to be expected given Director Comey’s drastic deviation from Justice Department protocol,” Fallon said. “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.”
Lawmakers and others had called previously for the inspector general to investigate the FBI’s pre-election actions when it came to Clinton, alleging that Comey bucked long-standing policies with his communications about the case and that information seemed to have leaked inappropriately.
Horowitz said in a news release that he will explore the circumstances regarding the actions of Comey and others.
“The review will not substitute the OIG’s judgment for the judgments made by the FBI or the Department regarding the substantive merits of investigative or prosecutive decisions,” the news release said, using an acronym for the Office of the Inspector General.
Comey is in his fourth year of a 10-year term and can be removed from the job only if he resigns or is fired by the president. There are no signs that he intends to resign, and only one FBI chief in the bureau’s history — William Sessions in 1993 — has ever been fired.
“I am grateful to the Department of Justice’s IG for taking on this review,” Comey said in a statement. “He is professional and independent, and 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.”
Earlier in the week, the 56-year-old FBI chief told the Senate Intelligence Committee that “I hope I’ve demonstrated by now I’m tone-deaf when it comes to politics, and that’s the way it should be.”
The FBI’s probe into whether Clinton mishandled classified information by using a private email server when she was secretary of state has long been contentious and politically charged.
Perhaps most notably, Comey on Oct. 28 — after previously announcing publicly that he was recommending no charges in the case — sent a letter to congressional leaders telling them that agents had resumed the Clinton probe after finding potentially relevant information in an unrelated case.
The day before, senior Justice Department leaders had warned Comey not to send the letter because it violated two long-standing department policies:
discussing an ongoing investigation and taking any overt action on an investigation so close to an election. At the time, it was less than two weeks before the election, and early voting had already begun.
Comey has declined to talk about any possible investigations of President-elect Donald Trump or his campaign, as recently as this week rebuffing requests from legislators to confirm that agents were looking into any such matters.
“I don’t — especially in a public forum, we never confirm or deny a pending investigation,” Comey said.
Comey sent a second letter to Congress on the Clinton case, just days before the election, declaring that the investigation was complete and he was not changing the decision he had made in July to recommend no charges. But at that point Clinton supporters feared that it was too late to mitigate the damage.
Horowitz wrote that he will explore “allegations that Department or FBI policies
or procedures were not followed” in connection with both letters.
Deputy Inspector General Robert Storch declined to comment for this article. The FBI did not immediately provide a response to the inspector general’s inquiry decision.
Horowitz wrote that his inquiry would extend back to at least July — when Comey announced that he was recommending that the Clinton case be closed without charges. He wrote that he would explore “allegations that Department and FBI employees improperly disclosed non-public information.”
Horowitz also wrote that he would explore whether FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe should have been recused from the case. McCabe’s wife ran for a Virginia Senate seat and took money from the political action committee of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, an outspoken Clinton ally.
The review will also delve into decision-making related to the timing of the FBI’s release of Freedom of Information
Act documents in the days before the election and the use of a Twitter account to publicize them. Those postings, which touched on Bill Clinton’s contentious 2001 pardoning of a wealthy donor, and documents related to an FBI file on Trump’s late father, fueled further confusion and criticism about management at the bureau.
The Justice Department and the FBI have a long-standing policy against discussing criminal investigations. Another Justice Department policy declares that politics should play no role in investigative decisions. Both Democratic and Republican administrations have interpreted that policy broadly to prohibit taking any steps that might even hint at an impression of partisanship.
It is rare for the inspector general to publicly disclose its investigations, particularly in such detail. That means that the inspector general has broken with policy and announced details of an investigation into whether Comey broke with policy and announced
details of an investigation.
Asked about the new investigation regarding Hillary Clinton, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in Baltimore that “we let them conduct their review before we make any statement about that.” She added that “obviously everyone’s going to await the results of that.”
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican who leads the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, wrote Thursday on Twitter that he supports the review “of what happened at the #DOJ and #FBI during the Clinton investigation.”