|MARK PETERSON / REDUX FOR THE NEW YORKER|
The much-anticipated report by the Justice Department's inspector general on the FBI's handling of its investigation into Hillary Clinton was sure to have something for everyone. And did.
President Trump and his Vichy Republican sycophancy, which had demanded the investigation in the first place, could disingenuously claim that the report's extraordinarily harsh criticism of former FBI Director James Comey validated their view that he was corrupt and put in the fix to help Clinton, yet more ammunition in their blood quest to short circuit Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.
Meanwhile, the rest of us could briefly revel in a moment of political exoneration -- from Trump's own Justice Department, no less -- and state with even greater conviction that Comey's actions in those dramatic final four months of the 2016 campaign were indeed misguided and ultimately benefitted Trump, grievously wounded Clinton, and along with Russian cyber-meddling, effectively doomed her campaign.
The exhaustive 500-page report by Michael E. Horowitz, released on Thursday afternoon, broke no new ground. This would seem to be rather amazing except that Comey's actions had been exhaustively documented -- and debated.
The report found no evidence to validate Trump's claim that a secret deep-state cabal of Clinton supporters inside the FBI conspired to clear her of wrongdoing over her handling of classified information on a private email server while secretary of state and then concocted a phony investigation -- a "witch hunt" in the president's oft-stated view -- into his campaign's ties to Russia as a way to undermine his presidency.
The straight-shooting Horowitz did conclude that Comey was "insubordinate" in his handling of the Clinton investigation by injecting the FBI into presidential politics in ways not seen since Watergate and flouting Justice Department practices when he decided only he and not then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch had the authority and credibility to make key decisions and speak for the department.
But significantly, Horowitz did not challenge the decision not to prosecute Clinton nor did he find that political bias influenced that decision.
"We found no evidence that the conclusions by department prosecutors were affected by bias or other improper considerations," the report said. "Rather, we concluded that they were based on the prosecutor’s assessment of facts, the law, and past department practice."
Horowitz sharply criticized other senior bureau officials who showed a "willingness to take official action" to prevent Trump from becoming president.
He specifically criticizes the conduct of Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who worked on both the Clinton and Russia investigations, were having an affair at the time and disparaged Trump in text messages. Many of those text messages have been released, but the IG cited a previously undisclosed message in which Strzok wrote that the FBI "will stop" Trump.
Nevertheless, Horowitz concluded that while Strzok may have improperly prioritized the Russia investigation over the Clinton investigation during the final weeks of the campaign and FBI officials "brought discredit" to themselves and sowed public doubt about the Clinton investigation, Strzok did not influence its outcome.
"Our review did not find evidence to connect the political views expressed in these messages to the specific investigative decisions that we reviewed," the report said.
Strzok, who was removed from the Russia investigation by Mueller when some of the text messages were first revealed and faces disciplinary action, told investigators the stop-Trump message "was intended to reassure Page that Trump would not be elected, not to suggest that he would do something to impact the investigation," according to the IG's report.
Comey had held a news conference on July 5, 2016 to announce he was recommending that no charges be brought against Clinton while chastising her for being "extremely careless" in her email practices. The public dressing down was highly unusual since it is the Justice Department and not the FBI that makes charging decisions.
Then on October 28, just 11 days before the election and over the objection of top Justice Department officials, Comey sent a letter to Congress disclosing that agents were scrutinizing "new" emails in the Clinton case.
Horowitz concluded the letter was a "serious error of judgment" and called it "extraordinary that Comey assessed that it was best" for him not to speak directly with either Lynch or the deputy attorney general about his decision before sending the letter, which congressional Republicans predictably, quickly and gleefully leaked.
Finally, on November 6, with voting set to begin in less than 48 hours, Comey announced that after an intensive review of the "new" emails, they were found to be either personal or duplicates of those previously examined, and that the FBI had not changed the conclusions it reached in July in exonerating Clinton. Significantly, he said nothing about the FBI's ongoing investigation of Russian election interference and possible Trump campaign ties to the Kremlin.
Comey's conspicuous non-mention of the Russia investigation on both October 28 and November 6 arguably was outside of Horowitz's purview, but Comey has never been adequately called to account for that puzzling omission. And needs to be.
The FBI director, who was fired by Trump on May 9, 2017, has defended his actions and did so again on Thursday, saying he would have faced criticism for any decision and that he opted to be transparent. FBI officials have acknowledged that their so-called transparency was based on the assumption that Clinton would win and concerns about not appearing to conceal information to help her, but there is no way around the reality that Comey screwed up over and over again.
Comey's serious breaches of protocol as cited by Horowitz will be used by Trump to further justify his decision to fire the FBI director, while the president most assuredly will ignore or reject the report's conclusion that Comey was not biased against him.
Trump told "Fox and Friends" on Friday morning that the report showed "criminal" behavior by Comey although it made no such claim, while other reactions to the report predictably broke down along partisan lines.
"A fair reading of the report shows that the FBI applied a double standard to the Clinton and Trump investigations that was unfair to Clinton and helped elect Trump," said John Podesta, who was Clinton's campaign chairman. "That said, he'll use one random Strzok email to spin a deep-state conspiracy which plays to his core."
Which Trump of course already has, perversely using a report that clearly showed the FBI helped candidate Trump to further tarnish the agency while his sycophancy, led by the vile Rudy Giuliani, call for the Mueller investigation to be shut down.
"Rosenstein and Jeff Sessions have a chance to redeem themselves and that chance comes about tomorrow," Trump's lead defense lawyer declared on Fox News. "It doesn’t go beyond tomorrow. Tomorrow, Mueller should be suspended and honest people should be brought in, impartial people to investigate these people like Peter Strzok. Strzok should be in jail by the end of next week."
Giuliani explained that this investigation should be conducted by "honest FBI agents from the New York office who I can trust implicitly," which is rich and then some because of the likelihood that Giuliani himself was a behind-the-scenes player in the New York office being a major source of the anti-Clinton leaks cited by Horowitz.
The short-term takeaway from the report is that Trump's sycophancy once again got more than it bargained for because (guess what?) the legal system he so regularly derides worked, and that was not to his advantage.
Like previous efforts to shift blame from Trump -- whether specious claims that Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower phones or a series of comically inept investigative reports from Devin Nunes and House Intelligence Committee Republicans -- the report from Trump's own Justice Department found no evidence of bias against Trump or that Clinton should have been prosecuted.
The long-term takeaway is that Mueller will plod on and Trump eventually will be brought down, whether by the special prosecutor, Michael Cohen or Stormy Daniels.
Or perhaps all three.
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