WASHINGTON - A report by the Justice Department’s watchdog found no evidence that political bias affected the outcome of the FBI’s probe into Hillary Clinton but provided fresh political fodder for Republicans and Donald Trump to sow doubts about the continuing investigation into the president.
While the focus was on judgment calls by former FBI Director James Comey, Republicans immediately seized on secondary findings by Inspector General Michael Horowitz, including that five FBI officials expressed hostility toward Trump before his election as president. Horowitz said their actions have been referred to the bureau for possible discipline.
The president’s allies touted freshly disclosed anti-Trump text messages. In one case from August 2016, FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page questioned whether Trump would become president. Strzok replied: “No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.”
Republican Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, a top Trump ally, said the findings show “individuals within the DOJ and FBI were intent on taking down President Trump” and that has implications for special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether anyone close to Trump colluded in it.
“It appears that at least five individuals that were involved in the Hillary Clinton investigation went on to investigate aspects of Russia,” Meadows said.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump had been briefed on the report, which she said “reaffirmed the president’s suspicions about Comey’s conduct and the political bias among some of the members of the FBI.”
The 500-page report found former Director Comey showed bad judgment and “insubordination” in his handling of the Clinton case but “we did not find that those decisions were the result of political bias on Comey’s part.” Nor did the report directly discuss the Russia probe now led by Mueller.
“Nothing in this report lays a glove on Mueller” or his investigation, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said. And while Comey mishandled the investigation into whether Democrat Clinton misused a private email server as secretary of state, Schumer said, “it was Trump who benefited from all these mistakes.”
Mueller’s team will be back in court Friday asking a judge to revoke bail for Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who he has charged with money laundering and lobbying violations. Then next week, two congressional panels plan to hold hearings on the inspector general’s report.
Horowitz again and again questioned decisions by senior leaders at the FBI, such as the decision to assign many of the same agents, including Strzok, who had been involved in the Clinton case to the Russia investigation.
Horowitz reviewed Comey’s announcement in July 2016 that no prosecutor would find grounds to pursue criminal charges against Clinton for improperly handling classified information on her private email server. He also looked at Comey’s decision to inform Congress only days before the election that the Clinton investigation was being re-opened. Comey’s public announcement of findings angered Republicans, while his reopening of the inquiry outraged Democrats.
Trump initially cited Comey’s actions in the Clinton probe as the reason he fired the FBI director, although he later told Lester Holt of NBC News that he was thinking about the Russia probe when he made his decision.
“Though FBI leadership made errors in judgment in the run-up to the election, those actions were not influenced by any political bias and, if anything, helped Donald Trump’s candidacy,” Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. “President Trump will surely attempt to use this report to discredit the ongoing criminal investigation into his campaign, so let’s be clear: This report has absolutely nothing to do with the Mueller investigation, which must be allowed to conclude without interference from the president.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement that John Huber, a U.S. attorney based in Utah who’s reviewing allegations of FBI bias and wrongdoing, “will provide recommendations as to whether any matter not currently under investigation should be opened, whether any matters currently under investigation require further resources, or whether any matters merit the appointment of Special Counsel.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray told reporters that the FBI plans training for its personnel worldwide to ensure that they do their jobs without political bias and understand the lessons from the inspector general’s report.
Comey said the report “found no evidence that bias or improper motivation affected the investigation, which I know was done competently, honestly and independently.” In an op-ed article for the New York Times, he said the report “also resoundingly demonstrates that there was no prosecutable case against Mrs. Clinton, as we had concluded.”
The takes and angling on the findings are certain to build toward Horowitz’s scheduled testimony next week about his report. He is to appear at a Senate Judiciary hearing on Monday, and then a joint hearing by the House Judiciary and the Oversight and Government Reform panels on Tuesday.