Inspector general report: Taking Comey and Strzok to task
A new battle has begun in “the never-ending war over the 2016 presidential campaign,” said Philip Ewing in NPR.org. The Justice Department’s long-awaited inspector general report on the FBI’s conduct in the run-up to the election arrived last week, and the nearly 600-page doorstop “offers political ammunition for both Republicans and Democrats.” The department’s internal watchdog report “excoriates” former FBI Director James Comey for his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server, especially his decision to break from protocol by publicly discussing the case. The report says that Comey did not seek or get permission from his bosses at the Justice Department for the July 2016 press conference in which he chastised Clinton for her email practices, or for his announcement 11 days before the election that the investigation had been reopened. These actions, the report said, were “extraordinary and insubordinate.” The inspector general found no evidence, however, that Comey erred in his finding that Clinton should not be prosecuted. The report also faults individual FBI officials for making negative comments about then-candidate Donald Trump while investigating Russian election interference. In one exchange, FBI lawyer Lisa Page asks agent Peter Strzok, “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” Strzok responds, “No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.” Nevertheless, the report concludes that there is no evidence that partisan bias affected the FBI’s handling of the Clinton investigation.
“The inspector general report is careful in its conclusions, but damning on the facts,” said Kimberley Strassel in The Wall Street Journal. Comey’s ham-fisted handling of the Clinton email investigation combined with the blatant anti-Trump bias shown by individual FBI officials should cast doubt on everything the bureau has done since. If Comey and company made a hash of the Clinton probe, “it is reasonable to assume” they also bungled the investigation into the Trump campaign and Russian election interference that led to the special counsel investigation. For Trump supporters, the inspector general report “can be reduced to a single phrase: ‘Told ya so,’” said Michael Graham in CBSNews.com. Strzok, a key investigator on both the Clinton email case and the Russia investigation, literally pledged to stop Trump from being elected. “In other words, the premise that motivated so many Trump supporters is proven true: The D.C. Establishment really was out to get Trump.”
That’s beyond ridiculous, said David Leonhardt in The New York Times. Two agents are not the Deep State of Trump’s fantasies. The key question is this: “Did the Justice Department and FBI use their power, as Trump has repeatedly claimed, to help Clinton’s campaign and hurt his?” The inspector general’s finding is unambiguous: No. In fact, polling data strongly suggests that if Comey hadn’t broken long-standing policy with his public announcement 11 days before the election, Clinton would have become president. “The most significant mistake in the investigation didn’t help Clinton. It hurt her, badly.” The great irony, said David French in NationalReview.com, is that Strzok’s anti-Trump bias actually backfired. The inspector general found that Strzok sat on the fact that the FBI had discovered Clinton emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop for weeks while resources were diverted to the more urgent Russia investigation. When investigators in New York finally prodded the agency into investigating the new e-mail trove—which turned out to contain nothing new or incriminating—Comey decided to cover the FBI’s posterior and inform Congress he was reopening the investigation. Clinton’s poll lead plunged. Strzok and Page may have “aimed at Trump, but they hit Clinton.”
There may have been an FBI conspiracy, “but it’s not the one you think,” said Paul Waldman in The Washington Post. One reason Comey probably felt so much pressure to alert Congress about the emails discovered on Weiner’s laptop is that FBI agents in the New York field office leaked their existence to Republicans, including Rep. Devin Nunes and Rudy Giuliani. At the time, Giuliani predicted in a Fox News interview that Clinton would be hit with “a surprise or two” in the next two days. It’s easy to forget now, but news stories from October 2016 reported that some FBI agents had “deep antipathy” to Clinton and wanted to see her prosecuted over the email server and her candidacy destroyed. We don’t yet know these agents’ names, and “we haven’t read their texts. We may eventually learn the full extent of the actions they took, since the inspector general is conducting a separate investigation that involves them.” This story isn’t over yet.