The Justice Department inspector general on Thursday announced that it will launch an investigation into the FBI’s conduct leading up to the 2016 elections.
The probe, which comes in response to requests from numerous chairmen and ranking members of congressional oversight committees, will look into allegations that Director James Comey broke bureau policy with his various public disclosures regarding the investigation into Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonObama's speech proves hypocrisy of Democrat's anti-Wall Street rhetoric Lawmakers targeted as district politics shift Want a tremendous deal on infrastructure spending? Suspend Davis-Bacon MORE’s private email server.
Eleven days before Election Day, Comey sent a letter to lawmakers telling them investigators had uncovered emails that appeared to be pertinent to the bureau’s probe, considered completed at the time, of Clinton's private email server and her handling of classified material while secretary of State.
The announcement exploded in the final days of the campaign. And with a subsequent missive from Comey, a Republican nominated by Obama to his position, saying the emails had turned up no new evidence did little to quell the storm.
“In the matter of the email investigation, it was our my judgment — my judgment, the rest of the FBI’s judgment — that those were exceptional circumstances where the public needed information,” Comey told the House Judiciary Committee in September.
But critics have called the disclosure an unprecedented break with bureau policy. The FBI typically does not comment publicly on ongoing investigations.
The internal review will not change the outcome of the FBI’s findings in the probe against Clinton, Justice Department Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz told lawmakers in his announcement of the probe.
And the probe will also look into allegations made repeatedly by Republicans throughout the FBI’s investigation into Clinton — that officials improperly disclosed nonpublic information to the Clinton campaign; and that FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe should have been recused from the case following reports a Clinton ally donated to his wife’s political campaign.
The referrals came various congressional leaders, including House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzChaffetz to have surgery, will miss several weeks in Washington Overnight Finance: Inside Trump's tax plan | White House mulls order pulling out of NAFTA | New fight over Dodd-Frank begins Oversight Dems want vote on Trump tax return bill MORE (Utah), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyComey to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee GOP to kill language exempting staff from new ObamaCare repeal bill House cyber chairman wants to bolster workforce MORE (Iowa) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteBob GoodlatteSenators push 'cost-effective' reg reform Rob Thomas: Anti-Trump celebs have become 'white noise' H.R. 1695: A vital first step towards Copyright Office modernization MORE (Va.) on the Republican side, and Oversight ranking member Elijah Cummings (Md.), Senate Appropriations Committee ranking member Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyLawmakers talk climate for Earth Day, Science March Poll: Sanders most popular senator in the US Senate Dems offer bill to restore internet privacy rules MORE (Vt.) and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee ranking member Tom CarperTom CarperDems probe claims of religious bias in DHS 'trusted traveler' program Senate Dems want Trump to release ethics waivers, visitor logs Medicare’s coverage decisions need more input from physicians MORE (Del.) on the Democratic side.
“Today's disclosure might be worst abuse yet. DOJ goes out of its way to avoid publicly discussing investigations close to election," former Department of Justice spokesman Matthew Miller said on Twitter at the time. “This might be totally benign & not even involve Clinton. But no way for press or voters to know that. Easy for opponent to make hay over.”
Comey had already drawn fire for his July 5 news conference announcing the bureau’s conclusion in the case — also a subject of the IG probe — that Clinton had been “extremely careless” with classified material.
It’s unclear how much of an effect the last-minute news had at the ballot box, but Clinton supporters have suggested it contributed to Trump’s narrow win in several battleground states despite Clinton’s lead in the popular vote.
Comey himself was aware of the risks associated with the late October missive. In an internal memo to FBI employees, he acknowledged that “there is significant risk of being misunderstood.”
"We don't ordinarily tell Congress about ongoing investigations, but here I feel an obligation to do so given that I testified repeatedly in recent months that our investigation was completed," Comey wrote. "I also think it would be misleading to the American people were we not to supplement the record.”
Comey has a reputation as an independent and principled lawman, which some critics say has led him to operate outside of important institutional norms.
Others say Comey had no choice but to inform Congress of the existence of the emails. When he chose to go public with the details of the investigation’s findings over the summer, he pinned himself in a corner when the bureau realized it might have more work to do.
But throughout, Comey has been strident in his defense of the probe.
“You can call us wrong, but don’t call us weasels. We are not weasels,” Comey said during a House Judiciary Committee hearing during which Republicans suggested he had caved to political pressure from above.
“We are honest people and ... whether or not you agree with the result, this was done the way you want it to be done.”