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 Rodham ClintonPro-Trump group blasts 'rigged' Russia probe in ad starring Tomi Lahren Trump believes Russia 'probably' behind election hacking It's time for Republicans to play offense while Democrats are weak 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 TrumpOPINION: Trump's travel ban victory should force media to examine itself CNN's Acosta: Fox 'always' got questions under Obama States rights might be best medicine for Trumpcare 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 ChaffetzJuan Williams: Trump refills the swamp Chaffetz: Threats against lawmakers should be taken seriously Gowdy won't use Oversight gavel to probe Russia MORE (Utah), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleySenate Dems plan floor protest ahead of ObamaCare repeal vote It's time for Republicans to play offense while Democrats are weak A bipartisan consensus against 'big pharma' is growing in Congress MORE (Iowa) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteBob GoodlatteThis week: Senate races toward ObamaCare repeal vote Warning: Lawsuit ads may be harmful to the health of Americans Black Dem accuses Steve King of 'white privilege' in heated exchange MORE (Va.) on the Republican side, and Oversight ranking member Elijah Cummings (Md.), Senate Appropriations Committee ranking member Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyA bipartisan consensus against 'big pharma' is growing in Congress Going national with automatic voter registration Republicans slam Trump’s new policy toward Cuba MORE (Vt.) and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee ranking member Tom CarperTom CarperDems push for more action on power grid cybersecurity Overnight Energy: Lawmakers challenge Trump's proposed EPA cuts Overnight Energy: Tillerson maintains support for Paris deal despite Trump decision 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.”