Inspector General Not Too Happy With James Comey's Handling Of The Clinton Email Investigation
from the FBI-still-sucks-but-in-exciting-new-ways! dept
The damning report the President has been waiting for has arrived. The Inspector General’s report covering everything from James Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation (terribly with bonus insubordination) to a couple of FBI agents forming a two-person #Resistance (stupid and made the FBI look bad, but not illegal) runs almost 600 pages and won’t make anyone looking to pin blame solely on one side of the partisan divide very happy.
It’s been claimed the report would finally show the FBI to be an agency filled with partisan hacks, further solidifying “Deep State” conspiracy theories that the government Trump runs is out to destroy Trump. It was somehow going to accomplish this despite many people feeling the FBI’s late October dive back into the Clinton email investigation handed the election to Trump.
Whatever the case — and whatever side of the political divide you cheer for — the only entity that comes out of this looking terrible is the FBI. That the FBI would engage in questionable behavior shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but the anti-Trump “resistance” has taken Trump’s attacks on the FBI as a reason to convert Comey, the FBI, and the DOJ into folk heroes of democracy.
The summary of the report [PDF] runs 15 pages by itself and hands out enough damning bullet points to keep readers occupied for hours. Then there’s the rest of the report, which provides the details and may take several days to fully parse.
Here are some of the low lights from Inspector General Michael Horowitz, possibly the only person who should be touting “Deep State” theories since he’s spent his IG career being dicked around by the DEA, DOJ, FBI, and DEA.
The report says everything about the Clinton email investigation was unusual. Termed the “Midyear Exam” by the FBI, the investigation was mostly a voluntary affair. Most of the evidence and testimony obtained was obtained from consenting witnesses and participants. The FBI rarely felt the need to compel testimony or evidence with subpoenas. It also did not access the contents of multiple devices used by Clinton’s senior aides, devices that may have contained classified info that had been circulated through a private email server. As the report notes, this is at odds with Comey’s sudden interest in Anthony Weiner’s laptop, where his estranged wife (and former Clinton personal assistant) Huma Abedin apparently had stored copies of Clinton emails.
The IG says the tactics used were unusual but does not pass official judgment on them. However, the actions of five FBI employees involved in the investigation did further damage to the FBI and its reputation by taking an investigation already viewed as politically-questionable and aggravating the perception.
In undertaking our analysis, our task was made significantly more difficult because of text and instant messages exchanged on FBI devices and systems by five FBI employees involved in the Midyear investigation. These messages reflected political opinions in support of former Secretary Clinton and against her then political opponent, Donald Trump. Some of these text messages and instant messages mixed political commentary with discussions about the Midyear investigation, and raised concerns that political bias may have impacted investigative decisions.
However, the IG did not uncover evidence suggesting any of these FBI employees had the power to steer the investigation. Some of those engaged in anti-Trump texts actually pushed for additional subpoenas and search warrants in an investigation that seemingly had little use for any testimony not obtained voluntarily. But that doesn’t mean these actions were harmless.
Nonetheless, these messages cast a cloud over the FBI’s handling of the Midyear investigation and the investigation’s credibility.
From there, it moves on to James Comey’s surprising decision to go public with the email investigation’s conclusions in July of 2016. This followed the softening of language in the FBI’s investigative report. Clinton’s handling of classified info went from “grossly negligent” to “extremely careless.” The possibility of hostile actors accessing Clinton’s email server went from “reasonably likely” to “possible.” Then Comey decided to go public, cutting plenty of people out of the loop so they wouldn’t prevent him from doing so.
Comey acknowledged that he made a conscious decision not to tell Department leadership about his plans to make a separate statement because he was concerned that they would instruct him not to do it. He also acknowledged that he made this decision when he first conceived of the idea to do the statement, even as he continued to engage the Department in discussions about the “endgame” for the investigation.
Comey admitted that he concealed his intentions from the Department until the morning of his press conference on July 5, and instructed his staff to do the same, to make it impracticable for Department leadership to prevent him from delivering his statement. We found that it was extraordinary and insubordinate for Comey to do so, and we found none of his reasons to be a persuasive basis for deviating from well-established Department policies in a way intentionally designed to avoid supervision by Department leadership over his actions.
We concluded that Comey’s unilateral announcement was inconsistent with Department policy and violated long-standing Department practice and protocol by, among other things, criticizing Clinton’s uncharged conduct. We also found that Comey usurped the authority of the Attorney General, and inadequately and incompletely described the legal position of Department prosecutors.
The late October letter to Congress about the reopening of the investigation isn’t viewed as any better by the OIG. Comey claimed he needed to do this because withholding the discovery of emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop might have been viewed as swinging the election in Clinton’s favor. The IG disagrees.
Much like with his July 5 announcement, we found that in making this decision, Comey engaged in ad hoc decisionmaking based on his personal views even if it meant rejecting longstanding Department policy or practice. We found unpersuasive Comey’s explanation as to why transparency was more important than Department policy and practice with regard to the reactivated Midyear investigation while, by contrast, Department policy and practice were more important to follow with regard to the Clinton Foundation and Russia investigations.
Comey’s description of his choice as being between “two doors,” one labeled “speak” and one labeled “conceal,” was a false dichotomy. The two doors were actually labeled “follow policy/practice” and “depart from policy/practice.” Although we acknowledge that Comey faced a difficult situation with unattractive choices, in proceeding as he did, we concluded that Comey made a serious error of judgment.
Then comes the irony. As Comey became the front-mouth for an investigation he shouldn’t have been talking about, he routinely engaged in the same behavior he was currently investigating.
We identified numerous instances in which Comey used a personal email account to conduct unclassified FBI business. We found that, given the absence of exigent circumstances and the frequency with which the use of personal email occurred, Comey’s use of a personal email account for unclassified FBI business to be inconsistent with Department policy.
In addition to being a violation of FBI policy, James Comey — currently idolized by some as a speaker of truth to power for being fired by the president — also violated FOIA law by using a private email account for government communications. Comey wasn’t the only one — other agents involved in the investigation routinely used private email accounts — but he was the FBI’s personification of the Clinton email investigation. On top of this, he told other FBI agents the use of personal email accounts would subject them to harsh punishment.
In an October 2016 speech at an FBI conference in San Diego, Comey said, “I have gotten emails from some employees about this, who said if I did what Hillary Clinton did I’d be in huge trouble. My response is you bet your ass you’d be in huge trouble. If you used a personal email, Gmail or if you [had] the capabilities to set up your own email domain, if you used an unclassified personal email system to do our business… you would be in huge trouble in the FBI.”
Some may quibble about the lack of classified info being circulated by these agents and their Gmail accounts, but the fact remains the use of private email accounts increases the risk of circulation exponentially. Sticking to government accounts reduces this possibility to zero.
There’s much more in the report, including some discussion about the propriety of the Russian influence investigation that Trump claims is a witch hunt. Nothing in the report suggests the investigation isn’t valid, even if the actions of agents (the anti-Trump texting) and Andrew McCabe’s non-recusal (his wife took money from a Clinton-connected PAC) managed to cover everything with a slimy gloss of impropriety.
The upshot of the report is this: James Comey deserved to be fired, although probably not for the reasons Trump had in mind when he did it. The people employed by the FBI are not always able to set aside their personal biases when engaged in investigations. But the FBI is no one party’s political tool. It’s a blend of both sides, which makes it unlikely anything was done intentionally to harm Trump or Clinton’s political prospects. For all the complaining done by Trump, he’s the one in office. If the election was “thrown” by Comey’s fourth quarter audible in the email investigation, Trump was the beneficiary of the FBI’s actions. This makes complaints about a Russian investigation “witch hunt” incoherent, as it tries to retcon the FBI’s actions to portray them as being #NeverTrump even when they were (not officially) helping him. The simultaneous investigations of Clinton and Trump make it difficult to craft a coherent conspiracy theory, but it certainly isn’t stopping anyone from trying. The FBI is untrustworthy, but it’s not a kingmaker.