Comey broke FBI procedure in Clinton email probe, says inspector general

Former FBI Director James Comey “deviated” from standard FBI and Justice Department procedures in his probe into Hillary Clinton’s email server use, according to the report from the inspector general, as seen by Bloomberg.

Michael Horowitz’s report, released Thursday after over a year-long investigation, found that Comey was not motivated by political bias but nevertheless damaged the FBI’s image of impartiality.

“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 and the department as fair administrators of justice,” Horowitz wrote in the report’s conclusions, seen before publication by Bloomberg.

The report had long been anticipated by Republicans, and by President Donald Trump, who tweeted earlier this month: “What is taking so long with the Inspector General’s Report on Crooked Hillary and Slippery James Comey. 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 Comey’s missteps during the Clinton email investigation was his decision in July 2016 to publicly call for Clinton’s exoneration before the probe had concluded; followed by his revelation to Congress weeks before the election that the FBI had reopened its investigation. According to Comey, his decision to announce the reopening publicly was based on the assumption Clinton would win the election, and motivated by a desire not to be seen as helping her.

The report also examined the conduct of FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who also worked on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ‘Russiagate’ probe. Strzok and Page, who were having an affair with one another, exchanged a series of barbed anti-Trump text messages and emails. Republicans argued that these messages showed proof of bias within the agency.

Horowitz’ report found no “documentary or testimonial evidence” that the lovebirds’ political bias affected their work, but conceded that “the conduct by these employees cast a cloud over the entire FBI investigation.

To Trump, one message in particular, sent after a meeting in former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe’s office, is damning.

“I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office — that there’s no way he gets elected,” Strzok wrote, “but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40.”

Trump described the message as “treason,” and said it laid bare an FBI plot to work against him once elected.

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The FBI’s conduct in 2016, during both the Clinton email investigation (“Midyear Exam”) and the counterintelligence probe into the Trump campaign (“Crossfire Hurricane”), has become a battlefield in US partisan politics. Democrats have painted Comey and McCabe as honorable public servants who were unfairly targeted by the Trump administration in an effort to somehow obstruct the probe into Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia.

On the other hand, Republicans have accused the FBI leadership of being part of an Obama administration plot to delegitimize Trump’s election through surveillance of campaign advisers and using an informant to provide grounds for it.

Last week, former FBI #2 McCabe sought immunity in exchange for his testimony on the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email case. McCabe is accused of authorizing leaks to the press about the FBI’s probe into the Clinton Foundation, but is now willing to provide emails showing that he was “working with FBI colleagues to correct inaccuracies before certain media stories were published” in October 2016.

One of the key testimonies against McCabe in the inspector general’s report came from Comey. If McCabe can produce evidence exonerating him from charges that he leaked to the press, that would mean Comey was the one “lacking candor” – FBI speak for lying under oath.

Regardless of its severity, any kind of criticism of Comey in the IG’s report will likely please President Trump, who took to Twitter on Thursday morning to vent his frustrations with the ongoing and fruitless ‘Russiagate’ investigation, with Comey, and with the “fake media.

“So, the Democrats make up a phony crime, Collusion with the Russians, pay a fortune to make the crime sound real, illegally leak (Comey) classified information so that a Special Councel will be appointed, and then Collude to make this pile of garbage take on life in Fake News!” he tweeted.

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