Re­port re­bukes Comey

Watch­dog: Ex-FBI chief in­sub­or­di­nate, not bi­ased in probe

The Record (Troy, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Eric Tucker and Chad Day The As­so­ci­ated Press

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 and his sup­port­ers 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.

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.

Comey, whom Trump fired shortly af­ter tak­ing of­fice, bore the brunt of much crit­i­cism in the re­port, but not for po­lit­i­cal fa­voritism.

The in­spec­tor gen­eral con­cluded that the FBI direc­tor, who an­nounced in the sum­mer of 2016 that Clin­ton had been “ex­tremely care­less” with clas­si­fied ma­te­rial but would not be charged with any crime, de­parted from nor­mal Jus­tice Depart­ment pro­to­col nu­mer­ous times.

But it also said, “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.”

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

Trump sup­por t ers quickly fo­cused on the re­port’s re­count­ing of an­tiTrump 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 Pe- ter Str­zok, who was later dropped from Mueller’s team, “im­plies a will­ing­ness to take of­fi­cial ac­tion to im­pact the pres­i­den­tial can­di­date’s elec­toral prospects.”

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.”

But the re­port re­jects the Trump talk­ing point that the FBI fa­vored Clin­ton over him and that its lead­ers were driven by pol­i­tics. It also does not sec­ond- guess the FBI’s con­clu­sion that Clin­ton should not have been pros­e­cuted, de­spite re­peated as­ser­tions by Trump and his sup­port­ers that any­one less po­lit­i­cally con­nected would have been charged.

The re­port 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 some gov­ern­ment busi­ness while sec­re­tary of state — with a sep­a­rate probe into po­ten­tial co­or­di­na­tion be­tween the Trump cam­paign and Rus­sia that was di­vert­ing FBI re­sources and at­ten­tion. The Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion was un­known at the time to the Amer­i­can pub­lic.

The FBI, in a state­ment ac­com­pa­ny­ing the re­port, ac­cepted the con­clu­sion that Comey broke from pro­to­col and that er­rors in judg­ment by staff dam­aged the bureau’s rep­u­ta­tion. Comey wrote an opin­ion piece for The New York Times in which he said he dis­agreed with some con­clu­sions but re­spected the watch­dog’s work.

Trump is cer­tain to use the re­port’s harsh assess­ment of FBI ac­tions to try to val­i­date his fir­ing of Comey last year, an act cen­tral to spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether the pres­i­dent sought to ob­struct jus­tice. The White House cited as the orig­i­nal ra­tio­nale for Comey’s fir­ing his han­dling of the Clin­ton in­ves­ti­ga­tion, even though Trump days later said he was think­ing of “this Rus­sia thing.”

On the other side, even ab­sent po­lit­i­cal bias, the re­port al­leges a long se­ries of mis­judg­ments that Democrats will likely use to sup­port their be­lief that Clin­ton was wronged by the FBI.

The watch­dog faults Comey for his un­usual July 5, 2016, news con­fer­ence at which he dis­closed his rec­om­men­da­tion against bring­ing charges in the email in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Cases that end with­out charges are rarely dis­cussed pub­licly. And 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 ear­lier in the sum­mer 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, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. 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, who was also in­ter­viewed in the IG in­ves­ti­ga­tion, said he had “ab­so­lutely not” dis­cussed the email probe.

Also crit­i­cized was Comey’s de­ci­sion, against the rec­om­men­da­tion 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 in them that changed its orig­i­nal con­clu­sion.

The re­port faulted the FBI for fail­ing to act with more ur­gency in re­view­ing emails from Weiner’s lap­top. Comey has said had he had known more about the lap­top ear­lier, it might have af­fected his de­ci­sion to no­tify Con­gress.

The re­port sharply crit­i­cizes FBI agent 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.


Part of the the Depart­ment of Jus­tice In­spec­tor Gen­eral’s re­port is shown af­ter its re­lease in Wash­ing­ton Thurs­day.


In this file photo, for­mer Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton speaks in New York.


In this file photo, then-FBI Direc­tor James Comey tes­ti­fies on Capi­tol Hill in Wash­ing­ton.

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