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 ClintonTexas history curriculum to emphasize that slavery played 'central role' in Civil War Election Countdown: Abrams ends fight in Georgia governor's race | Latest on Florida recount | Booker, Harris head to campaign in Mississippi Senate runoff | Why the tax law failed to save the GOP majority Texas education board approves restoring Hillary Clinton in history curriculum 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.

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 ComeyComey invites House Republicans to hold public hearing after news of possible subpoena GOP chairman plans to subpoena Comey, Lynch to testify before next Congress Conway’s husband: I’d rather move to Australia than vote for Trump 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 ChaffetzUtah New Members 2019 Fox News contributor mocks Elizabeth Warren with photo at Disneyland Eric Trump blasts professor at alma mater Georgetown: ‘A terrible representative for our school’ 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 ClintonElection Countdown: Abrams ends fight in Georgia governor's race | Latest on Florida recount | Booker, Harris head to campaign in Mississippi Senate runoff | Why the tax law failed to save the GOP majority As Democrats gear up to challenge Trump in 2020, the key political divide will be metropolitan versus rural GOP chairman plans to subpoena Comey, Lynch to testify before next Congress 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 — Presented by The Partnership for Safe Medicines — GOP lawmaker pushes back on Trump drug pricing plan | Pfizer to raise prices on 41 drugs next year | Grassley opts for Finance gavel McConnell: Criminal justice bill unlikely this year On The Money: Why the tax law failed to save the GOP majority | Grassley opts for Finance gavel, setting Graham up for Judiciary | Trump says China eager for trade deal | Facebook reeling after damning NYT 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 TrumpMia Love pulls ahead in Utah race as judge dismisses her lawsuit Trump administration denies exploring extradition of Erdoğan foe for Turkey Trump congratulates Kemp, says Abrams will have 'terrific political future' 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.