The Justice Department’s inspector general just released 568 pages of information about how James Comey (and his lovestruck staffers) handled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
And both Democrats and Republicans found ways to be pissed off.
The report, which took 18 months to complete, accuses Comey of damaging the FBI and DOJ’s reputation, but the inspector general also concluded that no political bias affected his decision-making. And the report contains enough revelations to give both sides of the political aisle the ammunition to further their narratives about the 2016 election.
Following in line with their party’s leader in the Oval Office, the tenor of many Republicans’ reactions hit notes of the “WITCH HUNT!” and “Deep State.”
Democrats, meanwhile, focused on Comey repeatedly breaking protocol during the investigation in ways that helped Donald Trump win the election — actions that the inspector general described as “extraordinary and insubordinate.”
A Deep State conspiracy
Trump will surely weigh in on Twitter soon enough, but in the meantime, his press secretary spun the report for him.
“The president was briefed on the IG report earlier today, and it reaffirmed the president's suspicions about Comey's conduct and the political bias among some of the members of the FBI,” the White House’s Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Thursday.
Trump’s allies in Congress have also already seized on the inspector general’s conclusions as the proof of an anti-Trump bias within the FBI that could discredit the Russia investigation.
GOP Chair Ronna McDaniel tweeted that “[t]he IG report further demonstrates that a fervent anti-Trump bias existed from the very start of the Russia investigation. It also bolsters @realDonaldTrump's decision to fire Comey, someone who broke protocol, has a long pattern of misconduct & did irreparable damage to the FBI.”
Republicans, conservative media, and Trump himself have have long fixated on FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page as the evidence of the anti-Trump bias. Page and Strzok, who were having an extramarital affair, exchanged anti-Trump text messages while working on the email and Russia investigations. Thursday’s report included new text messages of theirs from August that only added fuel to the fire.
Page: “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!”
Strzok: “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.”
The inspector general didn’t uncover any evidence that the two staffers — or anyone else — acted on their opinions. Even Trump’s choice of FBI director Chris Wray reiterated that. But the report did note the staffers’ texts “cast a cloud over the entire FBI investigation.” And conservatives jumped on that revelation as the most explicit evidence of an effort to sabotage Trump during the election.
Rep. Jim Jordan, an influential member of the House Freedom Caucus, fired off a series of tweets about the bias and suggested another unknown saboteur still lurks about.
Other Republicans took their criticism of the report a step further and requested to see every draft to look for evidence of political censorship. A few of the president’s allies on Capitol Hill 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.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina also said that the report’s findings show why a second special counsel ought to be appointed, a move he has been pushing for several months.
Retiring Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina was more nuanced in his reaction to the inspector general’s findings. He argued the report showed Comey had mishandled both the Clinton email investigation and the Trump Russia investigation. He also said that the FBI treated Clinton and her associates with a softer hand than Trump and his.
“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,” he said.
Many Democrats hate-read the report as details of Comey’s actions before the election that hurt the electoral prospects of Clinton — from the July press conference where he announced he wouldn’t be prosecuting Clinton to the October “Comey letter” when he re-opened the email investigation.
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.”
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin told reporters on Thursday that “James Comey’s comments during the campaign were not only harmful to the Hillary Clinton effort, but were improper under FBI standards …. That has been confirmed by this inspector general report.”
Clinton even weighed in on the inspector general’s criticism of Comey in the report for using a personal Gmail account to conduct some FBI business.
But as Republicans began using the report to sow doubt about the Russia investigation, some Democrats began changing tactics and highlighting the the report’s conclusion that partisanship hadn’t motivated Comey’s actions — even if they may have been wrong.
"Anyone who is planning to use this report to undermine the Mueller probe or prove the existence of a deep state conspiracy against Pres. Trump will be sorely disappointed,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters.
“This is not proof of a ‘Deep State’ or evidence of a conspiracy against the President,” added Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware. “Most importantly, this does nothing to undermine the important investigation that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is conducting into Russian interference with our election.”
Cover image: Former FBI director James Comey speaks during a stop on his book tour in Washington, on April 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)