WASHINGTON — A Justice Department internal review sharply criticized former FBI Director James Comey for making “insubordinate” and “ad hoc” decisions in the Hillary Clinton email probe, but found no evidence his actions were politically motivated.
The review, released Thursday, also levied harsh judgment on five other FBI officials for sending pro-Clinton and anti-Donald Trump text messages because they “sowed doubt” and “cast a cloud” over the investigation. But the review found no evidence their actions affected the conduct of the probe.
The much-anticipated 500-plus page report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz does not question Comey’s decision not to prosecute Clinton for having confidential information on her email servers.
“We found no evidence that the conclusions by department prosecutors were affected by bias or other improper considerations,” the report said. “Rather, we concluded that they were based on the prosecutor’s assessment of facts, the law, and past department practice.”
The report, based on a review begun in January 2017, provides the most comprehensive examination of Justice Department and FBI decisions in the election-year probe of Clinton’s email. It also provides fodder for both sides in what has become a contentious political battle.
Trump has complained repeatedly that biased FBI officials aimed to undermine his campaign. On Thursday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the report “reaffirmed the president’s suspicions about Comey’s conduct and the political bias amongst some of the members of the FBI.”
But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the report showed “Comey’s mishandling of publicity around the Clinton email all proved to benefit candidate Trump, not the other way around.” He continued, “So it hardly reflects a deep state or bias against him.”
While Trump tweeted Thursday that the report reflected on special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, which the president has called a “witch hunt” created by Democrats, Schumer said the report contains nothing to undermine Mueller.
Comey, fired by Trump in May 2016, stood by his decisions and tweeted, “I respect the DOJ IG office, which is why I urged them to do this review. The conclusions are reasonable, even though I disagree with some.”
Clinton’s only comment was a tweet about the reports finding that Comey used his personal email in his investigation of her: “But my emails.”
The report criticizes Comey’s decisions to make three public statements about the email probe during the 2016 election.
Comey “engaged in ad hoc decision making based on his own personal views even if it meant rejecting long-standing Department policy,” the report said.
In July 2016, Comey said he would not recommend charges against Clinton. In October, he sent a letter to lawmakers saying the probe had reopened with discovery of emails on a laptop of former Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner, of Brooklyn, the husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin. On Nov. 6, two days before the election, Comey said no new evidence had emerged.
“While we did not find that these decisions were the result of political bias on Comey’s part, we nevertheless concluded that by departing so clearly and dramatically from FBI and department norms, the decisions negatively impacted the perception of the FBI,” the report said.
The report called Comey’s decision to make his statements without telling then Attorney General Loretta Lynch — who met with former President Bill Clinton in her plane on an airport tarmac in June — “troubling” and “insubordination.”
The report also castigated five FBI officials for sending text and instant messages that showed “hostility” to Trump and “support” for Clinton, saying they had “sowed doubt about the FBI’s handling of the investigation, and impacted the reputation of the FBI.”
The report called the thousands of messages between FBI Assistant Director Peter Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page — both involved in the Clinton probe and Russia investigation — “deeply troubling.” It revealed a new exchange in which Page said Trump’s “not ever going to become president, right?” Strzok replied, “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.”
The report said these messages showed not only bias but “implies a willingness to take official action to impact the presidential candidate’s electoral prospects.”
In response to the report, FBI Director Christopher Wray said he would take steps to restore the reputation of the FBI. “I take this report very seriously and we accept its findings and recommendations,” he said.