Watchdog finds errors, not bias, in Comey’s Clinton probe
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Watchdog finds errors, not bias, in Comey’s Clinton probe

Report does not vindicate Trump’s claims that FBI head sought to undermine his campaign, nor Clinton’s charge that he hurt her chances of victory

In this January 10, 2017 photo, then-FBI Director James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
In this January 10, 2017 photo, then-FBI Director James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a stinging report, the Justice Department watchdog said Thursday that former FBI Director James Comey was “insubordinate” in his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation during the 2016 presidential election. But it also concluded there was no evidence that Comey was motivated by political bias.

US President Donald Trump has looked to the hotly anticipated report to provide a fresh line of attack against Comey and the FBI as he claims that a politically tainted bureau tried to undermine his campaign and — through the later Russia investigation — his presidency.

Clinton and her supporters, on the other hand, have complained that Comey’s later announcement, shortly before the election, that the investigation was being reopened badly hurt her chances to defeat her Republican rival.

But the nuanced findings provide no conclusions to support either Republicans or Democrats who want to claim total vindication.

The inspector general’s report concluded that Comey, who announced in the summer of 2016 that Clinton would not be charged with any crime in the email probe, departed from normal Justice Department protocol numerous times.

In this April 6, 2017, photo, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

But it also says, “We found no evidence that the conclusions by the prosecutors were affected by bias or other improper considerations; rather, we determined that they were based on the prosecutors’ assessment of the facts, the law and past department practice.”

Trump is certain to try to use the report to validate his firing of Comey last year, an act that is central to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether the president sought to obstruct justice.

But the report will likely deny the president a favored talking point that the FBI favored Clinton over him and that its leaders were driven by politics. It does not second-guess the FBI’s conclusion that Clinton should not have been prosecuted, despite repeated assertions by Trump and his supporters that anyone less politically connected than she would have been charged.

The conclusions were contained in a 500-page report that document in painstaking detail one of the most consequential investigations in modern FBI history and reveal how the bureau, which for decades has endeavored to stand apart from politics, came to be entangled in the 2016 presidential election.

US President Donald Trump addresses a meeting on prison reform at the White House in Washington, DC, on May 18, 2018. (AFP/Nicholas Kamm)

The report alleges a long series of misjudgments that Democrats will likely use to support their belief that Clinton was wronged by the FBI.

The watchdog faults Comey for his unusual July 5, 2016, news conference at which he disclosed his recommendation against bringing charges. Charging announcements are normally made by the Justice Department, not the FBI. Cases that end without charges are rarely discussed publicly.

In this instance, Comey said that the FBI found Clinton and her aides to be “extremely careless” in handling classified material but “no reasonable prosecutor” could have brought a case against her. At a congressional hearing last May, he said he was concerned that the Justice Department itself could not “credibly” announce the conclusion of its investigation, in part because then-attorney general, Loretta Lynch, had met aboard her plane with former US President Bill Clinton.

Also criticized was Comey’s decision, against the recommendation of the Justice Department, to reveal to Congress that the FBI was reopening the investigation following the discovery of new emails.

The FBI obtained a warrant nine days before the presidential election to review those emails, found on the laptop of former Rep. Anthony Weiner, and ultimately determined that there was nothing in them that changed its original conclusion.

The inspector general also faulted the FBI for failing to act with more urgency in reviewing emails from Weiner’s laptop.

In a column published in The New York Times just after the report’s release, Comey said he did not agree with all of the conclusions but praised its “professionalism.”

“The inspector general’s team went through the FBI’s work with a microscope and found no evidence that bias or improper motivation affected the investigation,” he said.

“The report also resoundingly demonstrates that there was no prosecutable case against Mrs. Clinton, as we had concluded,” Comey wrote.

“Although that probably will not stop some from continuing to claim the opposite is true, this independent assessment will be useful to thoughtful people and an important contribution to the historical record.”

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