Department of Justice Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz has released his 500 plus-page report, which purports to shine a light on the mishandling at top levels of the Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation of the 2016 investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server while she served as Secretary of State under former President Obama. Such mishandling included violations of Department of Justice standards and FBI protocols. The report from the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (“OIG”) criticized certain actions and decisions of former FBI Director James Comey, together with those of other senior FBI officials who were involved in the probe, including former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe. Mr. McCabe is already the subject of an earlier criminal referral from the OIG for his alleged unauthorized leaks to the media and lying to federal investigators about his media contacts. Special FBI agent Peter Stzrok and Lisa Page, an attorney who has since left the FBI, were targeted in this report for their blatantly anti-Trump text messages. Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch was also criticized for exercising bad judgment in connection with her infamous tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton.
Mr. Horowitz’s report focused on process and procedures. The inspector general made clear when he launched his investigation in January 2017 that “his 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.” Moreover, this report did not address whether the Department of Justice or FBI abused the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to obtain a surveillance order against former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page, or the government’s reliance on former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele’s salacious and unverified “dossier” in its FISA court application, which the OIG is investigating separately.
In analyzing the highly anticipated OIG report’s conclusions, it is clear that either Mr. Horowitz himself decided to pull his punches or that the final version, which had been reviewed by upper echelons in both the FBI and Justice Department before its public release, emerged in a disappointingly watered-down form. To be sure, the report faulted Comey for deviating from FBI and Justice Department procedures in handling the probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server while she served as Secretary of State, thereby negatively impacting “the perception of the FBI and the department as fair administrators of justice.” Comey, according to the OIG report, “engaged in ad hoc decision making based on his personal views even if it meant rejecting longstanding Department policy or practice.”