Justice, FBI to be investigated over Clinton probes

Justice, FBI to be investigated over Clinton probes
© Greg Nash

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 Diane Rodham ClintonChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies DNC, RNC step up cyber protections Gun proposal picks up GOP support MORE’s private email server.

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The FBI’s role in Clinton’s unexpected defeat in November has remained a subject of fierce debate — with Comey himself in the middle of the controversy. Clinton's campaign has blamed Comey and the FBI for her loss to President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump pens op-ed on kindergartners learning tech Bharara, Yates tamp down expectations Mueller will bring criminal charges Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open MORE.

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 ChaffetzOvernight Finance: Trump pitches massive tax cuts | Freedom Caucus endorses plan | Dems slam framework | House GOP to move B border wall bill | Officials under fire for private jet use GOP lawmaker pushes to end sports leagues' tax-exempt status Republicans predict Senate ObamaCare repeal would pass House MORE (Utah), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyRepublicans jockey for position on immigration House clears bill to combat crimes against elderly Grassley: DACA deal wouldn't need border wall funding MORE (Iowa) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteBob GoodlatteOvernight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open House bill set to reignite debate on warrantless surveillance Warrantless wiretapping reform legislation circulates on Capitol Hill MORE (Va.) on the Republican side, and Oversight ranking member Elijah Cummings (Md.), Senate Appropriations Committee ranking member Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyOvernight Regulation: Massachusetts AG sues Equifax | Trump weighs easing rules on gun exports | EPA nominee to fight worker safety rule in court Trump to ease rules on gun exports: report Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions MORE (Vt.) and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee ranking member Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOvernight Energy: Dems take on Trump's chemical safety pick Dems lambaste Trump’s ‘outrageous’ EPA chemical safety pick Infrastructure spending bill sliding down agenda MORE (Del.) on the Democratic side.

The White House said Thursday that it had no role in the IG's decision to open the probe.
 
“Decisions that are made by inspectors general across the administration are independent," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters. “Hopefully they will follow the evidence where it leads.” 
 
Comey in a statement reported by MSNBC said he welcomed the probe. 
 
"I am grateful to the Department of Justice's IG for taking on this review," he said. "He is professional and independent and the FBI will cooperate fully with him and his office. I hope very much he is able to share his conclusions and observations with the public because everyone will benefit from thoughtful evaluation and transparency regarding this matter."
 
Critics hammered Comey’s vague November letter for igniting a firestorm of speculation that the new emails contained a “smoking gun” without providing any substantive information for voters to judge.

“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.”