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DOJ Inspector General report on handling of Clinton email probe released

Posted at 3:31 PM, Jun 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-14 17:31:14-04

The long-awaited Department of Justice Inspector General report on the handling of the Clinton email investigation by the Justice Department and FBI has been released.

The report, more than 500 pages long, focuses on former FBI chief James Comey and the decisions he made during the course of the Clinton investigation. It describes Comey as "insubordinate" while also criticizing then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch for weak leadership. It also criticizes FBI official Peter Strzok for his priorities and communications in the Clinton email probe.

However, the report found that political bias did not affect the investigation and it gave support to the decision not to prosecute Clinton.

Conservative Republicans in particular have been calling for the report to be released, and President Trump has long blasted the Justice Department and FBI, demanding answers and information. "What is taking so long with the Inspector General’s Report on Crooked Hillary and Slippery James Comey," Mr. Trump tweeted earlier this month. "Numerous delays. Hope Report is not being changed and made weaker! There are so many horrible things to tell, the public has the right to know."

Why was "extremely careless" and not "grossly negligent" used?

The FBI has already been criticized by some for the decision to describe Clinton’s use of her email server as "extremely careless" instead of "grossly negligent," as was originally suggested.

The OIG report says Lisa Page did have some issue with the phrase "grossly negligent," suggesting it had legal connotations.

"’I was concerned that it would be confusing if we used a…term that has a legal definition…if we say she’s grossly negligent, that despite the fact that we, we and the department had a good reason to not charge her with gross negligence, given the fact that they thought it was unconstitutionally vague, and it had never been done, and, you know, sort of all of the concomitant defenses that would also follow from, from her conduct, that it would just be overly confusing," Page stated.

The report further added, "According to Comey, they tried to capture the sense that her use of the private server was ‘really sloppy, but it doesn’t rise to the level of prosecution.’"

Schiff responds to report

Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, emphasized the OIG found "no evidence" that Comey or other DOJ or FBI officials acted on the basis of political bias.

"The IG found no evidence that former FBI Director James Comey and other FBI and DOJ officials acted on the basis of political bias or other improper considerations. Instead, their decisions were made on the basis of the facts and the law."

"Although the inspector general found no evidence that political bias affected decision-making in the Clinton email investigation, it nevertheless criticized many of the actions and judgments of former Director Comey and others," Schiff added later. "The consequence of these serious errors of judgment, however, is now clear: the actions of the FBI and DOJ in the run up to the 2016 election benefited Donald Trump’s candidacy and harmed that of Hillary Clinton."

Sarah Sanders says IG report reafirms Trump’s suspicions

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, in the daily press briefing, said the DOJ IG report reaffirmed what Mr. Trump already believed regarding political bias at the FBI.

Strzok texts, "we’ll stop" Trump

In one of the more revelatory sections of the report, on Aug. 8, 2016, two months out from the election, FBI agent Lisa Page said, "[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!"

Fellow FBI agent Peter Strzok responded, "No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it."

The section gives ammunition to the claim from conservatives that Strzok and others in the FBI were working against Mr. Trump.

The OIG found Strzok’s texts were inappropriate. But the IG still did not think the Clinton probe was swayed for political reasons, as Strzok was not the sole decision-maker.

"As we describe in this chapter, we found that Strzok was not the sole decision-maker for any of the specific investigative decisions examined in this chapter," the report said. "We further found evidence that in some instances Strzok and Page advocated for more aggressive investigative measures than did others on the Midyear team, such as the use of grand jury subpoenas and search warrants to obtain evidence."

Comey sometimes used personal email to conduct FBI business, report finds

Even as he led the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server and private email to conduct State Department business, Comey himself was using a personal email account to conduct FBI business, the report found.

"We identified numerous instances in which Comey used a personal email account (a Gmail account) to conduct FBI business," the report found. "We cite five examples of such use in this section and include information provided by Comey and Rybicki about Comey’s use of a personal email account."

The OIG found that to be "inconsistent with the FBI policy statement," even though Comey said he thought his behavior was OK.

Comey responds in NYT op-ed

Comey responded to the report almost immediately in a New York Times op-ed, saying he disagrees with some of the watchdog’s assertions, but respects its review.

"The report concludes that I was wrong to announce the F.B.I.’s completion of the investigation without coordinating with the attorney general and that I was wrong to inform Congress in late October that we had reopened the investigation," Comey wrote.

"In both situations, the inspector general’s team concludes, I should have adhered to established norms, which they see as mandating both deference to the attorney general on the public announcement and silence about an investigation so close to an election. 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."

Comey also tweeted a brief response expressing similar sentiments.

Strzok’s attorney responds

Aitan Goelman, a partner at Zuckerman Spaeder LLP who represents Strzok, issued the following statement about the report:"

"As the report notes, Special Agent Strzok in particular was consistently thorough and aggressive, sometimes to the point that put him at odds with senior officials at the Department of Justice."

"But the report is critically flawed in its bizarre conclusion that the IG cannot rule out ‘with confidence’ the possibility that Special Agent Strzok’s political ‘bias’ may have been a cause of the FBI’s failure, between September 29 and October 25, 2016, to seek a second search warrant for the Anthony Weiner laptop. In fact, all facts contained in the report lead to the conclusion that the delay was caused by a variety of factors and miscommunications that had nothing to do with Special Agent Strzok’s political views. The report itself provides indisputable evidence that, when informed that Weiner’s laptop contained Clinton emails, Strzok immediately had the matter pursued by two of his most qualified and aggressive investigators."

OIG: Peter Strzok may have intentionally prioritized Russia probe over Clinton email investigation follow-up

FBI official Peter Strzok had a leadership role in both the Clinton email probe and the earlier phase of the Russia investigation — the OIG suggests that Strzok may have intentionally prioritized the Russia probe over following up on the Clinton investigation when new emails were recovered on Anthony Weiner’s laptop.

FBI headquarters were notified on Sept. 28, 2016, that additional emails relevant to the Clinton email probe had been discovered on a laptop belonging to Anthony Weiner. Nothing was done about this for three weeks. The inspector general honed in on the fact that during this period, Strzok and several other investigators who had worked on the Clinton probe were assigned to the Russia probe, "which was extremely active" during this September/October time frame, per the OIG report.

"We did not have confidence that Strzok’s decision to prioritize the Russia investigation over following up on the midyear-related investigative lead discovered on the Weiner laptop was free from bias," the report said.

Watchdog finds no evidence of political bias

The DOJ IG said it found no evidence of political bias in its review of how the Clinton email probe was handled.

The report says, "we did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected the specific investigative decisions" made by prosecutors or investigators involved in the Clinton email probe.

Gowdy "alarmed, angered, and deeply disappointed" by findings

Rep. Trey Gowdy, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Committee, made a statement ahead of the report’s release, calling the findings "deeply disappointing."

Here is the bulk of his statement:

"I am alarmed, angered, and deeply disappointed by the Inspector General’s finding of numerous failures by DOJ and FBI in investigating potential Espionage Act violations by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

This report confirms investigative decisions made by the FBI during the pendency of this investigation were unprecedented and deviated from traditional investigative procedures in favor of a much more permissive and voluntary approach. This is not the way normal investigations are run.

The investigation was mishandled. The investigatory conclusions were reached before the end of the witness interviews. The July 5th press conference marked a serious violation of policy and process. And the letters to Congress in the fall of 2016 were both delayed in substance and unnecessary in form.

Moreover, the treatment afforded to former Secretary Clinton and other potential subjects and targets was starkly different from the FBI’s investigation into Trump campaign officials. Voluntariness and consent in the former were replaced with search warrants, subpoenas, and other compulsory processes in the latter. Many of the investigators and supervisors were the same in both investigations but the investigatory tactics were not.

Former Director Comey violated department policy in several significant ways. The FBI’s actions and those of former Director Comey severely damaged the credibility of the investigation, the public’s ability to rely on the results of the investigation, and the very institutions he claims to revere."

What is the IG’s investigation about?

In July 2016, Comey made the controversial decision to announce that he was recommending that no charges be filed over the investigation into her emails. Then, days before the election, Comey announced in a letter to Congress that new emails had surfaced in the case. Clinton herself has blamed Comey in part for her election loss to Mr. Trump. Then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch too has been criticized for meeting briefly with former President Bill Clinton on a tarmac while the investigation was ongoing.

In January 2017, the same month Mr. Trump took office, DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz launched a review of the DOJ’s and FBI’s conduct regarding the case.

Mr. Trump fired Comey in May 2017, initially pointing to an assessment of his handling of the Clinton investigation by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Rosenstein had written that Comey had badly mishandled the conclusion of the Clinton investigation, calling it a "textbook example of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do."

The president asserted he fired Comey over his handling of the Clinton email investigation, although that claim has been brought into question since, as Mr. Trump casts doubt on the legitimacy of the Russia investigation. In the same NBC interview with Lester Holt in which he blamed Comey’s handling of the Clinton email probe, Mr. Trump said he thought of this "Russia thing" when he decided to fire Comey.

What was the Clinton email investigation about again?

The Clinton email probe centered around Clinton’s use of a private email server to conduct business while she was secretary of state. The investigation looked into whether those emails were classified, as well as Clinton’s deletion of roughly 30,000 emails after she and other former secretaries of state were told in 2014 to preserve their emails.

Here’s what you may have forgotten about the Clinton email investigation

The nonprofit Project on Government Oversight urged that Horowitz’ findings, the first nonpartisan, full review of the FBI’s conduct regarding the Clinton case, be taken seriously.

"The report represents the crucial role that Inspectors General play in conducting credible oversight to bring accountability to our government," said Danielle Brian, executive director at POGO. "Independent–and public–analysis of Hillary Clinton’s actions, of James Comey’s actions, and any and all other relevant parties, will go a long way toward giving the public truth and understanding about how their government, and its officials, have served them."

Read the entire report here: