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United States

James Comey was ‘insubordinate’ in Hillary Clinton email inquiry, watchdog says

Inspector general for US Justice Department says ex-FBI director ‘departed from norms’ but wasn’t motivated by political bias

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 June, 2018, 11:51pm
UPDATED : Friday, 30 November, 2018, 9:11am

Former FBI director James Comey was “insubordinate” in handling the investigation into Hillary Clinton, damaging the bureau and the US Justice Department’s image of impartiality even though he wasn’t motivated by politics, the department’s watchdog found.

Although the report issued on Thursday by Inspector General Michael Horowitz did not deal directly with special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia meddling in the 2016 US election and possible collusion with those around US President Donald Trump, he and his Republican allies in Congress were primed to seize on it as evidence of poor judgment and anti-Trump bias within the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department.

The inspector general said it was “extraordinary and insubordinate for Comey to conceal his intentions from his superiors, the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General, for the admitted purpose of preventing them from telling him not to make the statement, and to instruct his subordinates in the FBI to do the same.”

Comey defended himself in an op-ed published in The New York Times after the report was released.

“In 2016, my team faced an extraordinary situation – something I thought of as a 500-year flood – offering no good choices and presenting some of the hardest decisions I ever had to make,” Comey wrote.

Horowitz also said that five FBI officials expressed hostility toward Trump before his election, and disclosed in his report to Congress that their actions have been referred to the bureau for possible disciplinary action.

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The report examined actions taken by top officials before the 2016 election, including the handling of the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state. The investigation expanded to touch on an array of politically sensitive decisions by officials including Comey and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

While the report sent to Congress on Thursday doesn’t deal with the origins of the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 US election and possible collusion with those around President Donald Trump, he and his Republican supporters in Congress are likely to use it as evidence of poor judgment and anti-Trump bias within the FBI and the Justice Department.

In tweets, Trump has said Comey’s investigation into Clinton was “phony and dishonest” and that Comey, whom he fired on May 9, 2017, left the FBI’s reputation in tatters.

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Trump has expressed great interest in the inspector general’s report, as well as some scepticism it might not be as damning as he hoped.

“What is taking so long with the Inspector General’s Report on Crooked Hillary and Slippery James Comey,” Trump tweeted on June 5. “Numerous delays. Hope Report is not being changed and made weaker! There are so many horrible things to tell, the public has the right to know. Transparency!”

Among topics the inspector general reviewed was Comey’s announcement in July 2016 that no prosecutor would find grounds to pursue criminal charges against Clinton for improperly handling classified information on her private email server, as well as Comey’s decision to inform Congress only days before the election that the Clinton investigation was being re-opened. Comey’s public announcement of findings angered Republicans, while his reopening of the inquiry outraged Democrats.

Horowitz found a “troubling lack of any direct, substantive communication” between Comey and Attorney General Lynch ahead of the July 5 press conference and Comey’s October 28 letter to Congress.

“We found it extraordinary that, in advance of two such consequential decisions, the FBI director decided that the best course of conduct was to not speak directly and substantively with the attorney general about how best to navigate those decisions.”

Lynch had announced that she would go along with whatever Comey recommended with regard to the Clinton case, although she didn’t formally recuse herself. Lynch had come under heated criticism for agreeing to meet with former President Bill Clinton in June 2016 on her plane while it was sitting on a tarmac in Phoenix, Arizona. The two sides have said they didn’t discuss anything related to the investigation.

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Republican critics seized on revelations from the inspector general that two FBI officials who worked on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, exchanged text messages sharply critical of Trump. Mueller removed Strzok from the inquiry after the texts were discovered, and Page has since left the FBI.

“We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected the specific investigative actions we reviewed,” Horowitz said in the report. “The conduct by these employees cast a cloud over the entire FBI investigation.”

The inspector general also released a report in April finding that deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe lacked candour on four different occasions regarding interactions with the media, including providing information to a reporter about the FBI’s investigation into the foundation created by Hillary and Bill Clinton. The inspector general has referred the matter to the US attorney for the District of Columbia for further investigation.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions relied on the report to fire McCabe only hours before he was set to retire and qualify for his full government pension. McCabe and his lawyer have adamantly contested the allegations.

The inspector general also has opened a separate review into whether the Justice Department and FBI followed appropriate procedures in obtaining a secret warrant to conduct surveillance on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page in late 2016 and early 2017.