The Justice Department Inspector General announced it has launche an investigation to examine whether the Federal Bureau of Investigation followed proper procedures in its probe of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server. The inspector general’s announcement comes amid outcry from Democrats who say Clinton’s loss to President-elect Donald Trump was in part due to Comey's bringing Clinton's emails back into the public spotlight less than two weeks before the 2016 election.
The Justice Department's Office of Inspector General said the probe would focus in part on decisions leading up to public communications by FBI Director James Comey regarding the Clinton investigation, and whether underlying investigative decisions may have been based on "improper considerations." Although the FBI ultimately decided not to refer Clinton’s case for prosecution, Comey aroused suspicion that may have diminished trust in Clinton among voters.
The FBI’s role in Clinton’s unexpected defeat in November has remained a subject of fierce debate — with Comey himself in the middle of the controversy. Clinton's campaign has blamed Comey and the FBI for her loss to President-elect Donald Trump. Eleven days before Election Day, Comey sent a letter to lawmakers telling them investigators had uncovered emails that appeared to be pertinent to the bureau’s probe, considered completed at the time, of Clinton's private email server and her handling of classified material while secretary of State.
The announcement exploded in the final days of the campaign. And with a subsequent letter from Comey, a Republican nominated by Obama to his position, saying the emails had turned up no new evidence did little to quell the storm.
“In the matter of the email investigation, it was our my judgment — my judgment, the rest of the FBI’s judgment — that those were exceptional circumstances where the public needed information,” Comey told the House Judiciary Committee in September.
Critics have called the disclosure an unprecedented break with bureau policy. The FBI typically does not comment publicly on ongoing investigations.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch and other senior department officials told Comey at the time not to send his letter to lawmakers on Oct. 28 announcing that the Clinton investigation was being reopened. They argued that doing so violated long-standing policy to not undertake anything significant with a major investigation so close to an election if, by doing so, it could affect the results.
Comey proceeded anyway, writing to lawmakers about a fresh trove of e-mails possibly tied to Clinton that needed to be reviewed. But handling of the probe had already been assailed by that point, after Lynch met privately with Bill Clinton on an airport tarmac in late June. Lynch said she and the former president discussed only personal issues, such as their grandchildren, but the private meeting quickly became a pivotal, controversial event in the investigation’s timeline.
The Justice Department watchdog also will investigate allegations that the assistant attorney general for legislative affairs improperly disclosed non-public information to the Clinton campaign, and whether he should have been recused from participating in certain matters. It also will review whether the FBI’s decision to release certain Freedom of Information Act documents on Oct. 30 and Nov. 1 via a Twitter account was influenced by improper considerations.
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Brian Fallon, Clinton's spokesman, told MSNBC on Thursday that Comey's actions "cried out for an independent review." It is the usual practice of prosecutors and law enforcement, including the FBI, not to disclose information about investigations that do not end in criminal charges.
Still, the internal review will not change the outcome of the FBI’s findings in the probe against Clinton, Justice Department Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz told lawmakers in his announcement of the probe. And as the Hill adds, the probe will also look into allegations made repeatedly by Republicans throughout the FBI’s investigation into Clinton — that officials improperly disclosed nonpublic information to the Clinton campaign; and that FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe should have been recused from the case following reports a Clinton ally donated to his wife’s political campaign.
The referrals came various congressional leaders, including House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (Utah), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (Va.) on the Republican side, and Oversight ranking member Elijah Cummings (Md.), Senate Appropriations Committee ranking member Patrick Leahy (Vt.) and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee ranking member Tom Carper (Del.) on the Democratic side.
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Horowitz wrote that he will explore “allegations that Department or FBI policies or procedures were not followed” in connection with both letters, but his probe will extend beyond that. He wrote that he also will explore “allegations that Department and FBI employees improperly disclosed non-public information” — which is perhaps a reference to Giuliani, who seemed to claim at one point he had insider FBI knowledge. And Horowitz wrote that his inquiry will extend back to Comey’s July announcement that he was recommending the Clinton base be closed without charges.
The full details of the probe as announced by Horowitz are below:
In response to requests from numerous Chairmen and Ranking Members of Congressional oversight committees, various organizations, and members of the public, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) will initiate a review of allegations regarding certain actions by the Department of Justice (Department) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in advance of the 2016 election.
Cognizant of the scope of the OIG's jurisdiction under Section 8E of the Inspector General Act, the review will examine the following issues:
- Allegations that Department or FBI policies or procedures were not followed in connection with, or in actions leading up to or related to, the FBI Director's public announcement on July 5, 2016, and the Director's letters to Congress on October 28 and November 6, 201, and that certain underlying investigative decisions were based on improper considerations;
- Allegations the FBI Deputy Director should have been recused from participating in certain investigative matters;
- Allegations that the Department's Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs improperly disclosed non-public information to the Clinton campaign and/or should have been recused from participating in certain matters;
- Allegations that Department and FBI employees improperly disclosed non-public information; and
- Allegations that decisions regarding the timing of the FBI's release of certain Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) documents on October 30 and November 1, 2016, and the use of a Twitter account to publicize same, were influenced by improper considerations.
The review will not substitute the OIG's judgment for the judgments made by the FBI or the Department regarding the substantive merits of investigative or prosecutive decisions.
Finally, if circumstances warrant, the OIG will consider including other issues that may arise during the course of the review.
So is this the final action of a desperate-to-maintain-his-legacy Obama administration to ensure this topic never goes away and that the blame for Hillary's loss is placed anywhere, except on her and her campaign.
The White House has - obviously - denied any involvement in this 11th hour decision by the Obama administration to further cast blame on someone else but Hillary for losing the election:
“Decisions that are made by inspectors general across the administration are independent," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters. “Hopefully they will follow the evidence where it leads.
Finally, for those asking, Horowitz is an Obama appointee who has been a consistent Democratic donor over the years, including donations to Clinton's Senate bid, as well as longtime Clinton ally Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and current Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).