The Department of Justice's inspector general slammed former FBI Director James Comey for his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server — and both Democrats and Republicans came away unhappy.
In the highly anticipated report released Thursday at the end of an 18-month investigation, Inspector General Matthew Horowitz found that while Comey damaged the reputation and public perception of the FBI and DOJ, he didn't exhibit signs of political bias in his decision-making. The report also notes that other high-ranking FBI officials showed a “willingness to take official action” to stop Donald Trump from winning the presidential election.
“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,” the report concluded.
Amid the controversy swirling around Comey and the Justice Department during the 216 election, Horowitz announced in January 2017 that he was opening an investigation into how the FBI handled the investigation of Clinton’s private email server during her tenure as secretary of state.
Democrats and Republicans alike have long awaited the report— Comey has made plenty of enemies. But no one has perhaps been more excited for the release of the report than President Donald Trump.
Here are the most important revelations and political fallout of the year-and-a-half review:
Comey's Gmail account
Comey used a personal Gmail account to conduct official but unclassified FBI business on numerous occasions, against FBI protocol. Comey explained that such use was “incidental,” and he always ensured that everything was forwarded to a government account for proper recordkeeping.
A Gmail account is different from the private server Clinton used — and deleted thousands of emails from — but Comey’s lack of compliance with proper email protocol will almost certainly drive many Clinton supporters into a rage.
The decision not to prosecute
Horowitz scrutinized Comey’s July press conference when the FBI director called Clinton’s email habits “extremely careless” but said the FBI would not recommend Clinton be prosecuted because their investigation showed no crimes were committed — a departure from FBI protocol against acknowledging investigations and explaining recommendation decisions.
Comey hid his plans for that press conference from his superiors at the Justice Department and instructed other FBI officials to conceal them as well, according to the report. Horowitz called that behavior "extraordinary and insubordinate" and found none of Comey's reasons a "persuasive basis for deviating from well-established department policies."
Comey responded to some of the criticism in a seemingly pre-prepared New York Times op-ed: “I was not certain I was right about those things at the time. That’s the nature of hard decisions; they don’t allow for certainty. With the added benefit of hindsight, the inspector general sees some things differently.”
The inspector general also looked into Comey’s decision to publicly announce that the FBI was reopening the email investigation just 11 days before the general election, which Hillary Clinton and some election analysts believe cost her the presidency. Comey sent a letter to lawmakers announcing that new Clinton emails had been found on the computer of Anthony Weiner, a former New York congressman and husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
"We searched for evidence that the Weiner laptop was deliberately placed on the back burner by others in the FBI to protect Clinton, but found no evidence in emails, text messages, instant messages, or documents that suggested an improper purpose," according to the report.
In his new book, A Higher Loyalty, Comey suggested that his belief that Clinton was likely to win may have influenced his decisions.
“It is entirely possible that because I was making decisions in an environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the next president, my concern about making her an illegitimate president by concealing the restarted investigation bore greater weight than it would have if the election appeared closer or if Donald Trump were ahead in all polls,” Comey wrote. “But I don’t know.”
Two days before the election, Comey then wrote to lawmakers again to say that the Clinton investigation was officially closed.
More text messages
Republicans and the president have long fixated on FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page — who exchanged anti-Trump text messages while having an affair and working on the email and Russia investigations — as evidence of anti-Trump deep state conspiracy.
The report published a previously unreported text message exchange which is sure to set off more such accusations:
Page: “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!”
Strzok: “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.”
The inspector general's office, however, "did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, directly affect the specific investigative actions we reviewed,” according to the report. It does chide both Page and Strzok for having “cast a cloud over the entire FBI investigation” and calls their messages “antithetical to the core values of the FBI and the Department of Justice."
Page also told the inspector general why she and Strzok texted on their work phones instead of their personal ones: “to keep our affair a secret from our spouses."
Pissing off both sides of the aisle
Despite the report's harsh conclusions of Comey's behavior, its content drew anger from some Republicans. A few of the president’s allies on Capitol Hill even sent a letter to Horowitz on Thursday that suggested he allowed the report to be watered down.
“We are concerned that during this time, people may have changed the report in a way that obfuscates your findings,” Rep. Matt Gaetz wrote with Rep. Andy Biggs and Rep. Ron DeSantis. The three Republican allies demanded that Horowitz provide all past drafts of the report.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said that the report’s findings show why a second special counsel ought to be appointed, a move he's been pushing for several months.
The report also angered Democrats, even though the inspector general didn't find any evidence of political bias that influenced Comey’s decision.
“James Comey’s comments during the campaign were not only harmful to the Hillary Clinton effort, but were improper under FBI standards,” Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin told reporters on Thursday. “That has been confirmed by this inspector general report.”
And Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, said that “[t]he stark conclusion we draw after reviewing this report is that the FBI’s actions helped Donald Trump become President.”
Here's a copy of the full report:
Cover image: In this June 8, 2017 photo, former FBI director James Comey testifies before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)