Watchdog: Comey insubordinate, not biased in Clinton probe

  • FILE - In this Jan. 10, 2017 file photo, then-FBI Director James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File) Cliff Owen

  • Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks in New York. The Justice Department’s internal watchdog is expected to criticize the FBI’s handling of Clinton’s email investigation. ap file photo

  • Part of the the Department of Justice Inspector General's report after its release in Washington, Thursday, June 14, 2018. The report documented in painstaking detail one of the most consequential investigations in modern FBI history and revealed how the bureau, which for decades has endeavored to stand apart from politics, came to be entangled in the 2016 presidential election.(AP Photo/Jon Elswick) Jon Elswick

Associated Press
Thursday, June 14, 2018

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.

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.

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.