DOJ Inspector General finds fault, but no political bias in FBI investigations

The long-anticipated Department of Justice Inspector General Report, “A Review of Various Actions by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice in Advance of the 2016 Election,” was released today. DOJ OIG Press Release (.pdf), and Full Report (download).

The New York Times reports, Comey Cited as ‘Insubordinate,’ but Report Finds No Bias in F.B.I. Decision to Clear Clinton:

The former F.B.I. director James B. Comey was “insubordinate” in his handling of the investigation of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election, a critical Justice Department report concluded on Thursday.

But the report, by the department’s inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, does not challenge the decision not to prosecute Mrs. Clinton. Nor does it conclude that political bias at the F.B.I. influenced that decision, the officials said.

“We found no evidence that the conclusions by department prosecutors were affected by bias or other improper considerations,” the report said. “Rather, we concluded that they were based on the prosecutor’s assessment of facts, the law, and past department practice.”

The report has been highly anticipated in Washington, not least by President Trump, who has argued that a secret coterie of F.B.I. agents rigged the investigation to help Mrs. Clinton win the presidency. The findings cite no evidence to support that [conspiracy] theory.

The report criticizes the conduct of F.B.I. officials who exchanged texts disparaging Mr. Trump during the campaign. The officials, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, were involved in both the Clinton and Russia investigations, leading Mr. Trump’s supporters to suspect a conspiracy against him. Many of those text messages have been released, but the inspector general cites a previously undisclosed message in which Mr. Strzok says the F.B.I. “will stop” Mr. Trump, according to two of the officials.

The inspector general said that, because of his views, Mr. Strzok may have improperly prioritized the Russia investigation over the Clinton investigation during the final weeks of the campaign. The F.B.I. officials “brought discredit” to themselves and sowed public doubt about the investigation. But the report did not cite evidence that Mr. Strzok had acted improperly or influenced the outcome of the investigation, the officials said.

“Our review did not find documentary or testimonial evidence directly connecting the political views these employees expressed in their text messages and instant messages to the specific investigative decisions we reviewed,” the report said.

The Hill reports, Strzok attorney pushes back against ‘critically flawed’ IG report. Strzok’s attorney, Aitan Goelman, said in a statement that the report actually shows “indisputable evidence” that Strzok acted appropriately.

The findings sharply criticize the judgment of Mr. Comey, who injected the F.B.I. into presidential politics in ways not seen since at least the Watergate era.

Mr. Comey held a news conference in July 2016 to announce that he was recommending no charges against Mrs. Clinton and to publicly chastise her email practices.

* * *

“It was extraordinary and insubordinate for Comey to do so,” the inspector general wrote, “and we found none of his reasons to a persuasive basis for deviating from well-established department policies in a way intentionally designed to avoid supervision by department leadership.

”Then in late October, over the objection of top Justice Department officials, Mr. Comey sent a letter to Congress disclosing that agents were scrutinizing new evidence in the Clinton case. That evidence did not change the outcome of the inquiry, but Mrs. Clinton and many of her supporters blame Mr. Comey’s late disclosure for her defeat.

Former FBI Director James Comey responded to the OIG report in an op-ed at the New York Times. James Comey: This Report Says I Was Wrong. But That’s Good for the F.B.I.:

I do not agree with all of the inspector general’s conclusions, but I respect the work of his office and salute its professionalism. All of our leaders need to understand that accountability and transparency are essential to the functioning of our democracy, even when it involves criticism. This is how the process is supposed to work.

This report is important for two reasons.

First, the inspector general’s team went through the F.B.I.’s work with a microscope and found no evidence that bias or improper motivation affected the investigation, which I know was done competently, honestly and independently.

The report also resoundingly demonstrates that there was no prosecutable case against Mrs. Clinton, as we had concluded. Although that probably will not stop some from continuing to claim the opposite is true, this independent assessment will be useful to thoughtful people and an important contribution to the historical record.

Second, this report is vital in shedding light for future leaders on the nature and quality of our investigation and the decisions we made.

* * *

That’s why I urged the investigation in the first place.

As F.B.I. director, I wanted a second set of eyes on the agonizing decisions we made during the 2016 election, knowing full well the inspector general’s office could draw different conclusions. I also was confident that even if it disagreed with our decisions, it would find the F.B.I. team made them without regard for political favor or partisanship.

The inspector general’s office has now reached that very conclusion. Its detailed report should serve to both protect and build the reservoir of trust and credibility necessary for the Department of Justice and the F.B.I. to remain strong and independent and to continue their good work for our country.

Of course, today is the day that our Twitter-troll-in-chief and his conservative media entertainment complex GOPropaganda machine have been waiting for. The OIG report is a disappointment for them, but they will nevertheless oversell cherry-picked findings that fit their previous conspiracy theories in an attempt to use it to discredit the Special Counsel’s Russia investigation.

David Corn at Mother Jones writes, Trump Uses the Comey Report to Cover-Up His Guilt in the Russia Scandal:

Even before the Justice Department inspector general’s report on former FBI director James Comey was released on Thursday afternoon, Donald Trump initiated the inevitable tweet storm, hoping to use this development as yet another distraction from the Trump-Russia scandal.

The Comey report, issued by Inspector General Michael Horowitz, examined Comey’s handling of the FBI’s Hillary Clinton email investigation and reached an obvious conclusion: Comey deviated from Justice Department and FBI procedures by publicly announcing his recommendation in July 2016 that she not be prosecuted (while still criticizing her for how she handled her email at the State Department) and by informing Congress shortly before the election that the investigation was being revived. The IG noted, “While we did not find that these decisions were the result of political bias on Comey’s part, we nevertheless concluded that by departing so clearly and dramatically from FBI and department norms, the decisions negatively impacted the perception of the FBI and the Department as fair administrators of justice.”

In other words, the IG report confirmed reality. After all, Comey acknowledges he didn’t stick to Justice Department S.O.P.—he, of course, has defended these fateful decisions—and anyone who remembers those two episodes know that partisans excoriated Comey for acting in a political manner. (Democrats slammed him for taking the unprecedented step of harshly chastising a target not being indicted and for hastily notifying GOP leaders on Capitol Hill of a revived inquiry that produced nothing new. Republicans blamed him for, essentially, not locking her up.)

The report found that the FBI’s and Justice Department’s conclusions that the Clinton email case did not warrant prosecution were indeed legitimate. But the IG did harshly rebuke Comey for flouting Justice Department rules and for making a “serious error of judgment” when he notified Congress on his own that the bureau was reopening the Clinton email investigation. The report said it was “extraordinary that Comey assessed that it was best” for him not to speak with the attorney general or her deputy about his decision. The IG called his decision to hold that July press conference on the Clinton case without consulting with the attorney general “insubordinate.” The report pounds Comey for placing himself above the rules and assuming authority he did not possess.

Ahead of the official release of the report, Trump began tweeting out his usual denunciation of the Trump-Russia investigation headed by special counsel Robert Mueller, who inherited the probe after Trump fired Comey. Trump insisted yet again that it was a “witch hunt” and that there was “No Collusion and No Obstruction of the fabricated No Crime.”

He also claimed that Comey had been part of a Democratic conspiracy to set up a “Special Councel” (sic) to create a phony scandal and “Fake News.”

The IG report on Comey and the Clinton email probe has little to do with the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation, which the FBI, under Comey, initiated in July 2016, several weeks after Comey announced the (apparent) conclusion of the Clinton email probe. But Trump is no stickler for facts and logic. His strategy since becoming president has been to discredit the FBI and the Justice Department—basically, the entire federal law enforcement system—in order to thwart two agencies that could pose a challenge to him and his crew. If the IG report makes Comey and the FBI look bad, then Trump wants to use it to taint the Russia investigation, which began under Comey. Bad Comey, bad investigation. Trump did the same thing when he went after Andrew McCabe, the number two at the FBI who was cited in an earlier IG report for not telling the truth during a leak investigation unconnected to the Russia probe.

Conservatives immediately jumped on a portion of Thursday’s report disclosing that FBI agent Peter Strzok, who worked on both the Clinton case and the Russia probe, texted a bureau lawyer in August 2016  that “we’ll stop” Trump from reaching the White House. The report criticized Strzok for creating “the appearance that investigative decisions were impacted by bias or improper considerations.” But it concluded, “Our review did not find documentary or testimonial evidence directly connecting the political views these employees expressed in their text messages and instant messages to the specific investigation decisions we reviewed.” Still, this text will become part of the Trumpian right-wing case against the Russia investigation—despite the fact that the FBI did nothing to impede Trump’s election, while Comey’s last-minute revival of the Clinton inquiry was a significant blow to her campaign.

For months, Trump has been widening his assault beyond the FBI and the two men who led the bureau when it opened its counterintelligence investigation of interactions between Trump associates and Russians. In pardoning Scooter Libby, Joe Arpaio, and Dinesh D’Souza, Trump sent the message that federal prosecutors cannot be trusted—they are overly vindictive and overly political. Now why might Trump want voters to adopt such a view?

Trump has been trying to portray himself as a victim of devious and dishonest plotters and attempting to dodge his proven guilt in the Trump-Russia scandal. He keeps insisting that the investigation of collusion between himself and Moscow and any subsequent obstruction of justice he may have committed (by firing Comey, dictating a false statement about the infamous Trump Tower meeting, and other actions) is a diabolical scheme underhandedly orchestrated by the Democrats and the Deep State to falsify a case against him.

Trump refuses to acknowledge that he and his gang have already been caught engaging in wrongdoing. That includes not only the indictments and plea agreements Mueller has obtained, but also what’s in the public record: The Trump camp did try to collude with what it was told was a Kremlin plot to help Trump by sharing dirt on Clinton with his campaign; the Trump campaign attempted to set up a back-channel with Vladimir Putin’s office while he was waging information warfare against the 2016 election; and Trump and his aides during the campaign publicly denied any Russian attack was under way, consequently providing cover for a foreign adversary assaulting the United States. This is all incontrovertible.

Trump’s attacks on Comey, McCabe, the FBI, the intelligence community, Democrats, the Steele dossier—it’s all designed to delegitimize one of the most important investigations in the FBI’s history and to draw attention away from the sins he and his campaign committed, whether they were crimes or not. There is much to debate regarding Comey’s actions in the Clinton email case. But those decisions had nothing to do with the launching of an investigation of Putin’s war on the election and the contacts between Trump associates and Russia. Trump’s exploitation of the IG report is merely a matter of Trump yet again obstructing reality.

See Corn’s earlier reporting, Donald Trump Is Getting Away With the Biggest Scandal in American History.

1 thought on “DOJ Inspector General finds fault, but no political bias in FBI investigations”

  1. But they did find anti-Trump bias, which they failed to link to effecting investigative decisions. Proving such a link is no easy task. It is troubling that those biases were at high levels of the FBI. Kimberly Strassel of the WSJ expounded on this in her column. I offer an excerpt for your readers consideration:

    Be ready to hear the report absolves the FBI and DOJ of “bias.” Not true. It very carefully states that “our review did not find documentary or testimonial evidence directly connecting the political views these employees expressed in their text messages and instant messages to the specific investigative decisions we reviewed.” Put another way, he never caught anyone writing down: Let’s start this Trump investigation so we can help Hillary win.

    But the bias is everywhere. It’s in the texts between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, and those of three other employees who are routinely “hostile” to Candidate Trump. It’s in Ms. Page’s freak-out that Mr. Trump might win the presidency and Mr. Strzok’s reply: “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.” It’s in a message from an unnamed agent in November 2016 who writes that although the FBI found Clinton aide Huma Abedin had “lied,” it doesn’t matter since “no one at DOJ is going to prosecute.” To which a second agent replies. “Rog—noone is going to pros[ecute] even if we find unique classified.”

    It’s in the Justice Department’s decision to cut deals with Mrs. Clinton and her staff and shelter them from a grand jury. And to agree to limitations in searching for and in devices. And in immunity agreements. The report is largely neutral on all this, giving officials the broad benefit of the doubt on “discretionary judgments made during the course of an investigation.” But it immediately follows that statement by noting that its job of evaluating the integrity of decisions was “made significantly more difficult” by the obvious bias among key players, which “cast a cloud” over the entire “investigation’s credibility.”

    Food for thought.

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