Watch­dog finds that Comey was ‘in­sub­or­di­nate,’ but not bi­ased in probe of Clin­ton

Re­port doesn’t vin­di­cate claims of ei­ther party

The Day - - FRONT PAGE - By ERIC TUCKER and CHAD DAY

Wash­ing­ton — In a sting­ing re­buke, the Jus­tice Depart­ment watch­dog de­clared Thursday that for­mer FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey was “in­sub­or­di­nate” in his han­dling of the Hil­lary Clin­ton email in­ves­ti­ga­tion in the ex­plo­sive fi­nal months of the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. But it also found there was no ev­i­dence that Comey’s or the depart­ment’s fi­nal con­clu­sions were mo­ti­vated by po­lit­i­cal bias to­ward ei­ther can­di­date.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump had looked to the much-an­tic­i­pated re­port to pro­vide a fresh line of at­tack against Comey and the FBI as Trump claims that a po­lit­i­cally tainted bureau tried to un­der­mine his cam­paign and, through the later Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, his pres­i­dency. He is likely to use the harsh as­sess­ment of Comey as val­i­da­tion for his de­ci­sion to fire him, an act now cen­tral to spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether the pres­i­dent sought to ob­struct jus­tice.

Clin­ton and her sup­port­ers, on the other hand, have long com­plained that she was the one whose elec­tion chances were tor­pe­doed by Comey’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion an­nounce­ments about her email prac­tices, in the sum­mer and then shortly be­fore the elec­tion.

Yet the re­port’s nu­anced find­ings — that the FBI re­peat­edly erred, though not for po­lit­i­cally im­proper rea­sons — com­pli­cated ef­forts by Repub­li­cans and Democrats alike to claim to­tal vin­di­ca­tion.

The con­clu­sions were con­tained in a 500-page re­port that doc­u­ments in painstak­ing de­tail one of the most con­se­quen­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tions in mod­ern FBI his­tory and re­veals how the bureau, which for decades has en-

deav­ored to stand apart from pol­i­tics, came to be en­tan­gled in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

The re­port also un­der­scores ef­forts by se­nior FBI and Jus­tice Depart­ment lead­ers in the fi­nal stages of the pres­i­den­tial race to jug­gle de­vel­op­ments in the Clin­ton in­ves­ti­ga­tion — she had used pri­vate email for gov­ern­ment busi­ness while sec­re­tary of state — with a sep­a­rate probe into po­ten­tial co­or­di­na­tion be­tween the Trump cam­paign and Rus­sia. The Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, though di­vert­ing bureau re­sources and at­ten­tion away from the fi­nal stages of the Clin­ton probe, was un­known at the time to the Amer­i­can pub­lic.

Comey, whom Trump fired shortly af­ter tak­ing of­fice, bore the brunt of much the re­port’s crit­i­cism. It says the FBI di­rec­tor, who an­nounced in July 2016 that Clin­ton had been “ex­tremely care­less” with clas­si­fied ma­te­rial but would not be charged with any crime, re­peat­edly de­parted from nor­mal Jus­tice Depart­ment pro­to­col. Yet it does not sec­ond-guess the con­clu­sion that Clin­ton should not have been pros­e­cuted — de­spite as­ser­tions by Trump and his sup­port­ers that any­one less po­lit­i­cally con­nected would have been charged.

It also re­jected the Trump talk­ing point that the FBI fa­vored Clin­ton over him, say­ing, “We found no ev­i­dence that the con­clu­sions by the pros­e­cu­tors were af­fected by bias or other im­proper con­sid­er­a­tions; rather, we de­ter­mined that they were based on the pros­e­cu­tors’ as­sess­ment of the facts, the law and past depart­ment prac­tice.”

Still, Trump sup­port­ers quickly fo­cused on the re­port’s re­count­ing of anti-Trump text mes­sages from two FBI of­fi­cials who worked the Clin­ton probe and later the Rus­sia case, in­clud­ing one in which an agent says, “We’ll stop it” with re­gard to a pos­si­ble Trump vic­tory.

The re­port sug­gests that text from Peter Str­zok, who was later dropped from Mueller’s team, “im­plies a will­ing­ness to take of­fi­cial ac­tion to im­pact the pres­i­den­tial can­di­date’s elec­toral prospects.” It did not find ev­i­dence that those views seeped into the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Spokes­woman Sarah Huck­abee San­ders said the re­port “reaf­firmed the pres­i­dent’s sus­pi­cions about Comey’s con­duct and the po­lit­i­cal bias amongst some of the mem­bers of the FBI.”

FBI Di­rec­tor Chris Wray told re­porters the FBI ac­cepted the re­port’s find­ings and was mak­ing changes, in­clud­ing re­quir­ing fur­ther train­ing for FBI em­ploy­ees and re-em­pha­siz­ing the im­por­tance of ob­jec­tiv­ity. In a New York Times opin­ion piece re­leased af­ter the re­port, Comey said he dis­agreed with some con­clu­sions but re­spected the watch­dog’s work.

The in­spec­tor gen­eral faulted Comey for his un­usual July 5, 2016, news con­fer­ence at which he dis­closed his rec­om­men­da­tion against bring­ing charges, even though cases that end with­out pros­e­cu­tion are rarely dis­cussed pub­licly. Comey did not re­veal to At­tor­ney Gen­eral Loretta Lynch his plans to make an an­nounce­ment.

“We found that it was ex­tra­or­di­nary and in­sub­or­di­nate for Comey to do so, and we found none of his rea­sons to be a per­sua­sive ba­sis for de­vi­at­ing from well-es­tab­lished Depart­ment poli­cies in a way in­ten­tion­ally de­signed to avoid su­per­vi­sion by depart­ment lead­er­ship over his ac­tions,” the re­port says.

Comey has said he was con­cerned that the Jus­tice Depart­ment it­self could not cred­i­bly an­nounce the con­clu­sion of its in­ves­ti­ga­tion, in part be­cause Lynch had met days ear­lier aboard her plane with for­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton. Both said they did not dis­cuss Hil­lary Clin­ton’s case.

Con­cerned about the “ap­pear­ance that for­mer Pres­i­dent Clin­ton was in­flu­enc­ing” the probe, Lynch be­gan talk­ing to her staff the next morn­ing about pos­si­bly re­cus­ing her­self from over­see­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the re­port says. She told the in­spec­tor gen­eral she de­cided not to step aside be­cause it might “cre­ate a mis­im­pres­sion” that she and the for­mer pres­i­dent had dis­cussed in­ap­pro­pri­ate things.

Bill Clin­ton, also in­ter­viewed in the IG in­ves­ti­ga­tion, said he had “ab­so­lutely not” dis­cussed the probe.

Also crit­i­cized was Comey’s de­ci­sion, de­spite the dis­cour­age­ment of the Jus­tice Depart­ment, to re­veal to Congress that the FBI was re­open­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion fol­low­ing the dis­cov­ery of new emails.

The FBI ob­tained a war­rant nine days be­fore the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion to re­view those emails, found on the lap­top of for­mer Rep. An­thony Weiner, and ul­ti­mately de­ter­mined there was noth­ing that changed its orig­i­nal con­clu­sion.

The re­port faulted the FBI for fail­ing to act with more ur­gency in re­view­ing emails from Weiner’s lap­top, say­ing the in­ac­tion had “po­ten­tially far-reach­ing con­se­quences.” Clin­ton sup­port­ers say her name could have been cleared well be­fore the elec­tion had the FBI moved faster to re­view the emails. Comey said had he known ear­lier about the lap­top’s im­port, it might have af­fected his de­ci­sion to no­tify Congress.

The Weiner lap­top was dis­cov­ered as the FBI was up­grad­ing the nascent Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Though there’s no ev­i­dence the de­vice was put on the back burner to pro­tect Clin­ton, the watch­dog said it could not be cer­tain that Str­zok’s de­ci­sion to pri­or­i­tize the Rus­sia probe over ex­am­in­ing the Weiner lap­top was “free from bias,” es­pe­cially be­cause Str­zok was ex­chang­ing anti-Trump text mes­sages at the time.

The re­port lam­bastes Str­zok and a now-re­tired FBI lawyer, Lisa Page, for text ex­changes that it says were “deeply trou­bling” and cre­ated the ap­pear­ance “that in­ves­tiga­tive de­ci­sions were im­pacted by bias or im­proper con­sid­er­a­tions.” Most of the prob­lem­atic texts re­late to the FBI’s Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the re­port notes.

Both Str­zok and Page ac­knowl­edged that some of their texts could be read as show­ing bias against Trump, but both in­sisted bias played no part in their work.

The re­port also notes that Comey, de­spite chid­ing Clin­ton for mis­han­dling gov­ern­ment busi­ness, oc­ca­sion­ally used per­sonal email him­self to dis­cuss FBI mat­ters.

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