Comey faces IG re­view in email case

Fo­cus is on FBI chief ’s con­duct be­fore elec­tion in Clin­ton in­ves­ti­ga­tion

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - FRONT PAGE - BY MATT ZAPO­TO­SKY AND SARI HOR­WITZ

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.

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