After FBI cleared by IG report, GOP must reform itself

After FBI cleared by IG report, GOP must reform itself
© Greg Nash

The verdict is in. The Justice Department Inspector General’s (IG) report  on the FBI’s investigation of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDems make history, and other takeaways from Tuesday's primaries Establishment-backed Vukmir wins Wisconsin GOP Senate primary Ironworker and star of viral video wins Dem primary for Speaker Ryan's seat MORE’s email server has rendered all kinds of verdicts. Some can only be seen by reading between the lines. Beyond the explicit verdicts of DOJ personnel in the IG’s report, there are implicit verdicts as well of the accusers. In the world of government oversight, the accusers fare way worse than the FBI. In fact, this report delivers a severe beating to the credibility of the mob that is the Republican right wing.

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The IG began the investigation because of allegations from Republicans that the FBI showed political bias in its handling of its investigation of Clinton’s email server. Once begun, the public wanted to know, 1) did the FBI show political bias in its investigation?; 2) were there any other inappropriate actions by the FBI?; and, 3) how did then-Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyOmarosa is case of false friend dilemma with few legal options John Brennan rips Trump on Twitter about what it means to be 'presidential' Is the ‘Ferguson Effect’ to blame for the carnage in Chicago? MORE comport himself in that case.

 

The IG concluded that, even though a few FBI personnel uttered inadvisable, unprofessional comments suggesting political bias, he could find no evidence of political bias influencing the bureau’s actions. Verdict, not guilty. Next, he found lots of examples of inappropriate judgments, from former Attorney General Loretta Lynch to a few agents and others. These were bad judgment calls, not bad behavior. Verdict, guilty. Last, James Comey reserved the greatest wrath from the IG, and rightfully so. His judgment calls were Hamletonian and tragic. Verdict, guilty.

Comey clearly struggled with doing the right thing, while committing perhaps a colossal parapraxis: He said he didn’t want to affect the 2016 election by revealing the ongoing probe into Russia’s influence in the campaign, yet he unwittingly put his thumb on the scales for Trump through his actions related to the Clinton investigation.

That might arguably have cost Clinton the victory. Comey was stuck between a rock and a hard place. He had Republicans, chief among them former House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzMatt Schlapp: Trump's policies on Russia 'two or three times tougher than anything' under Obama Tucker Carlson: Ruling class cares more about foreigners than their own people Fox's Kennedy chides Chaffetz on child migrants: 'I’m sure these mini rapists all have bombs strapped to their chests' MORE (R-Utah), breathing down his neck, politically, on one side. Then he had Lynch, on the other side, potentially conflicted because of her rendezvous on the Arizona tarmac with former President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonMcAuliffe: We should look at impeaching Trump over Putin summit What ISIS is up to during your summer vacation Kavanaugh once said president would likely have to testify before grand jury if subpoenaed: report MORE. Unfortunately for “Hamlet” Comey, he has to own his judgments. The bottom line, though, is that his actions, including the July 2016 press conference in which he criticized Clinton but declined to recommend charges against her, probably helped Trump win.

Regardless, that brings us to the accusers. They face more consequences, in terms of hurt credibility. Republicans were crying foul that the FBI was helping Clinton, but Comey’s actions appear to have favored Trump. That’s what the IG report suggests. But Republicans are still whining. They want retribution for the FBI ultimately helping Trump. Huh?!

You know the phrase that lawyers always know the answer before they ask the question? For lawyers, answers are critical. For politicians, answers are irrelevant. Only questions are relevant. Sometimes questions take the form of accusations. In the case of this IG report, the accusers’ suspicions were wildly off the mark. Yes, there were lapses in judgment by DOJ leaders, but the entire premise of the accusers’ political agenda has collapsed — there was no political bias that came to bear in the FBI Clinton probe. No deep state, no Democrats hiding in FBI cubicles, no secret societies. For the accusers: verdict, reckless.

Note to Congress: Before you launch accusations, you might want to do your own investigation first and get some answers. You have the power to do so. Because you don’t know how to, or have the resources to, doesn’t entitle you to resort to political theatre instead. Because the egg on your collective faces is the likely result.

The Republican version of oversight has consisted, over recent years, of epic failures, such as Whitewater and Waco (back in the day), Benghazi and Uranium One, to name a few. The only recent Republican investigation worthy of merit in the last two decades is Fast and Furious. Present day, all Republican investigations into Russia have been abject failures. The Senate Intelligence investigation is credible because it is bipartisan.

There’s a reason Republicans are so inexperienced in credible oversight. I have written about this before. When Newt Gingrich and his band of revolutionaries took over Congress in 1995, they recruited several of us experienced in oversight to teach their incoming novice staff. We presented them two paths: how to conduct credible oversight (good), and how to conduct political oversight (bad). It was spoon-fed to them but they rejected the spoon. They instead took Gingrich’s preferred path, the political one.

As a cub congressional staffer, working for a conservative Republican (Sen. Charles GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOvernight Health Care: Lawsuit challenges Arkansas Medicaid work requirements | CVS program targets high-cost drugs | Google parent invests in ObamaCare startup Oscar Archivist rejects Democrats' demand for Kavanaugh documents Kavanaugh recommended against Clinton indictment in 1998: report MORE (R-Iowa.)), I had to work doubly hard to get even the whiff of cred from the mainstream media. I became successful at it because I learned the elements of credibility, which conservatives were clueless about because they had been in the political wilderness for so many decades.

Instead of earning credibility, they created their own echo chamber, starting with Rush Limbaugh, and then Fox News in 1996.

No longer did they have to be credible. They just had to feed the echo chamber. Too often Republicans appear in right-wing outlets to discuss their investigations. That denies them any check against bias that a Democrat might bring. The importance of having minority representation on an investigation is that the minority, regardless of party, is more likely to seek truth because they don’t have political power. Truth becomes their power. Both sides need each other for credibility. To reject that means you have a political agenda.

The FBI is an arrogant organization, so scrutiny and reform are essential. The bureau will institute some reforms, such as its internal recusal policy, as reflected in the IG report. But Republicans are unlikely to reform themselves as they work on behalf of President TrumpDonald John TrumpDems make history, and other takeaways from Tuesday's primaries Pawlenty loses comeback bid in Minnesota Establishment-backed Vukmir wins Wisconsin GOP Senate primary MORE. That will require scrutiny by all of us of a party run amok.

Kris Kolesnik is a 34-year veteran of federal government oversight. He spent 19 years as senior counselor and director of investigations for Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). Kolesnik then became executive director of the National Whistleblower Center. Finally, he spent 10 years working with the Department of the Interior’s Office of Inspector General as the associate inspector general for external affairs.