Comey faces IG review in email case
Focus is on FBI chief ’s conduct before election in Clinton investigation
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, Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz announced Thursday.
The investigation will be wide-ranging — encompassing Comey’s letters and public statements on the matter and whether the FBI or other Justice Department employees leaked nonpublic information, according to a news release from Horowitz.
Democrats and Clinton herself have blamed Comey for the Democratic candidate’s loss, arguing that the renewed
inquiry 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 officials and members of both political parties, for violating the department’s policy of avoiding any action that could affect a candidate close to an election.
The investigation will likely keep open the wounds of the bitter 2016 presidential race. 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 into 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 news conference at which he discussed the details of the case were criticized at various times as being inappropriate and violating long-standing guidelines that prohibit the public release of information about investigations, especially if such disclosures might affect an election.
Comey supporters say he was merely trying to maintain transparency and keep Congress informed. 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.
“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.”
Horowitz said he will explore the circumstances surrounding the actions of Comey and others, though he will not relitigate whether anyone should have faced charges.
“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.”
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 politically charged.
The day before the Oct. 28 letter, senior Justice Department leaders warned Comey not to send it 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. Comey, too, has notably declined to talk about any possible investigations of Presidentelect Donald Trump or his campaign, as recently as this week rebuffing requests from legislators to confirm 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.
Horowitz said he would also probe whether Peter Kadzik, the Justice Department’s assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, “improperly disclosed nonpublic information to the Clinton campaign and/or should have been recused from participating in certain matters.”
Kadzik used to be the lawyer for Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta, and Wikileaks released hacked emails showing communications between the two men about the State Department’s review of Clinton emails for Freedom of Information Act purposes.
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 if “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 help 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., D-Mich., and Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., 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 Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a close Clinton ally.
Notably absent from the list of matters being considered is Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s meeting in June with former President Bill Clinton aboard her plane on the ground in Phoenix.
The conversation, which Lynch has said she regrets, raised allegations that the attorney general was politically compromised.