The U.S. Justice Department’s watchdog delivered a stinging rebuke Thursday to the FBI and former director James Comey for their handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, but the report does not conclude Comey’s actions were motivated by political bias or a preference for Clinton over Donald Trump in the 2016 election.
The inspector general’s report criticized Comey for publicly announcing his recommendation against criminal charges for Clinton. It also faulted him for alerting Congress days before the 2016 election that the investigation was being reopened because of newly discovered emails.
The report said he was “insubordinate,” his actions were “extraordinary” and that he departed from normal protocol numerous times.
But it also says, “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.”
Comey, in an opinion piece for the New York Times published shortly after the report’s release, said: “I do not agree with all of the inspector general’s conclusions, but I respect the work of his office and salute its professionalism.”
He added in a tweet that he believes the inspector general’s conclusions are “reasonable” and that “people of good faith” can see the “unprecedented situation differently.”
The report also cited text messages, sent during the campaign, between an FBI agent and an FBI lawyer in which the former said “we’ll stop” Trump from becoming president.
According to the report, lawyer Lisa Page texted Peter Strzok in August 2016: “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!”
Strzok responded: “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.”
Both were involved in the investigation into Trump’s campaign. Messages between the two, which came to light last year, have fuelled accusations among Trump’s supporters of a “deep state” conspiracy to undermine his campaign and presidency.
The report said Page and Strzok’s conduct “cast a cloud over the entire FBI investigation,” but investigators “did not find documentary or testimonial evidence” that political bias directly affected parts of the probe.
Strzok was removed last summer from special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, which is investigating allegations of collusion between the campaign and Russia, following the discovery of the messages.
Comey’s successor at the FBI said the agency accepted the report’s findings and that employees would be held accountable for any misconduct, though he refused to go into specifics.
“We need to hold ourselves accountable for the choices we make and the work we do,” FBI director Christopher Wray told reporters.
Wray admitted he was “disappointed” by what he read, but said nothing in the report “impugns the integrity” of the FBI as an institution.
Trump has looked to the report to provide a fresh line of attack against Comey and his deputy, Andrew McCabe, as he claims that a politically tainted bureau tried to undermine his campaign and, through the later Russia investigation, his presidency. Trump is expected to try to use the report to validate his firing of Comey last year.
But the nuanced findings provide no conclusions to support Republicans and Democrats who want to claim total vindication.
The conclusions were contained in a 500-page report that document in painstaking detail one of the most consequential investigations in modern FBI history and reveal how the FBI, which for decades has strived to stand apart from politics, came to be entangled in the 2016 presidential election.