Former FBI director James Comey was “insubordinate” in his handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe, but he did not exhibit any political bias, the Department of Justice’s internal watchdog said on Thursday.
In October 2016, less than two weeks before the election, Comey sent members of Congress a letter disclosing that a probe into Clinton’s emails was being reopened after new emails were discovered, a disclosure Clinton contends contributed to her surprise defeat by Trump.
Two days before the November 8 election, Comey said the FBI found no additional evidence in the new emails.
In the 500-page report, Comey is criticised for violating Justice Department policies by making these announcements, but it also says there is no evidence he did this out of political motivation.
FBI Director Christopher Wray told reporters at a briefing that he accepted the inspector general’s report, but stressed it did not find that political bias had impacted its investigations.
“The report does identify errors of judgment, violations of, or even disregard for policy and decisions that at the very least, with the benefit of hindsight, were not the best choices”, Wray said.
Both Democrats and Republicans have used parts of the report to support their claims about the Clinton investigation.
Democrats said it confirmed political bias did not influence the Clinton investigation, while Republicans focused mainly on the newly released text messages between two FBI employees.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Trump was 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.”
Perhaps the most damaging part of the report is the finding that several FBI employees who played critical roles in the investigation sent political messages, raising questions about their objectivity.
The report reveals a previously undisclosed text message between former FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page in which Strzok said “we’ll stop” Trump from becoming president. The text was in response to one from Page in which she wrote, “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!”
These texts imply a “willingness to take official action to impact a presidential candidate’s electoral prospects,” the report said.
The report also criticised the FBI for a one-month delay between the time new Clinton emails were found on September 26, 2016, and when the FBI finally got a search warrant to review them to search for new evidence in late October as the election loomed.
Strzok was among a number of FBI employees who failed to act promptly, the report said.
“The FBI’s inaction had potentially far-reaching consequences,” the report found, noting there were no persuasive arguments to explain the delay.
Aitan Goelman, Strzok’s lawyer, said the report found no evidence that his political views had an impact on the Clinton probe.
Both Page and Strzok have since left the FBI.
The investigation into Clinton’s email server began in 2015 and focused on whether Clinton sent or received classified information using the private server located in the basement of her New York home, which was not authorised to handle such messages.
Then-FBI director Comey concluded in July 2016 that while there was “evidence of potential violations” regarding the handling of classified information, “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring a case against Clinton.
The same conclusion was made after thousands of new emails were discovered several months later, shortly before the election.
Trump fired Comey shortly after taking office.