Controversial actions taken by then-FBI Director James Comey in the lead-up to the 2016 election were not driven by political bias, the Justice Department’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz said Thursday. However, Comey still broke with DOJ protocols in decisions the Inspector General described as “extraordinary,” “insubordinate,” “ad hoc,” and “based on his personal views even if it meant rejecting longstanding Department policy or practice.”
The findings were in a long-awaited and much anticipated report where the Department’s independent watchdog was examining the handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe, as well as other actions taken by the Justice Department before the 2016 election.
The report found serious breaches of protocol by Comey, which will bolster the official case the White House made to justify President Trump’s decision to fire him. But it did little to support Trump’s claim that Comey or the FBI was biased against the President.
Thursday’s report said that Comey’s move to hold a press conference, without briefing Justice Department leadership of his plans, in July 2016 announcing the FBI’s findings in its Clinton email probe into Hillary Clinton’s emails was “extraordinary and insubordinate.”
“[W]e 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 DOJ Inspector General said.
Also being examined was Comey’s move to send a letter to Congress, just days before the election, to announce that the email probe was being reopened due to emails found on a computer in the probe of Anthony Weiner, whose wife was a top Clinton aide.
The Inspector General knocked the Justice Department for its delay on moving on the emails, which were discovered in late September, according to the report.
The DOJ said it found no evidence that the email probe — called the “Midyear investigation” — was “deliberately placed on the back-burner by others in the FBI to protect Clinton.” However it pointed to claims that the delay was due to a move to prioritize the Russia probe, where a top agent Peter Strzok had also sent a series of anti-Trump texts to another DOJ official, the IG previously revealed.
“Under these circumstances, 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 IG said.
This delay had “potentially far-reaching consequences,” the report said, with Comey telling IG investigators that it affected his decision to write the letter to Congress.
While the Inspector General found no evidence Comey’s decision to send the letter “was influenced by political preferences,” it again criticized him for engaging in “ad hoc decision making based on his personal views even if it meant rejecting longstanding Department policy or practice.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are ready to pounce on the report, with Democrats having alleged that the FBI was unfair to Clinton and Republicans poised to use the report to bash Comey, a key witness in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling.
The IG also looked at various disclosures to the media, and particularly those authorized by then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who was fired by Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this year. A preliminary Inspector General report on McCabe came out a few weeks after his termination.
Read the report below: