The Slatest

Department of Justice Report Concludes That FBI’s Handling of Clinton Email Case Was Flawed but Not Motivated by Political Bias

A close-up on Comey's face in which his expression reads as, well, you can't win 'em all.
James Comey at an appearance before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on July 7, 2016. Alex Wong/Getty Images

This post has been updated with new information.

A highly anticipated review of the FBI’s conduct during the 2016 election concludes that former FBI director James Comey and other agents damaged the bureau’s reputation by making public remarks about the Hillary Clinton email investigation and sending indiscreet texts but that the outcome of the investigation was not influenced by political bias, Bloomberg reported in a Thursday-morning scoop that has since been confirmed by other outlets and by the public release of the review itself.

The report—which runs 568 pages, including supplements—was written by Department of Justice inspector general Michael Horowitz. (“Inspectors general” are independent watchdogs within government agencies.) It says that Comey’s decision to publicly announce that he did not recommend charges against Clinton—and then to notify Congress just before the 2016 election that the investigation had been reopened—constituted inappropriate deviations from DOJ procedure:

While we did not find that these decisions were the result of political bias on Comey’s part, we nevertheless concluded that by departing so clearly and dramatically from FBI and department norms, the decisions negatively impacted the perception of the FBI and the department as fair administrators of justice.

The report is critical of agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page, who worked on both the Clinton email investigation and the Trump-Russia investigation, for sending texts to each other (on their FBI devices) that were critical of Trump. Here’s the exchange that has attracted the most attention:

In a text message on August 8, 2016, Page stated, “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” Strzok responded, “No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.”

Here’s how Strzok and Page explained those comments:

When asked about this text message, Strzok stated that he did not specifically recall sending it, but that he believed that it was intended to reassure Page that Trump would not be elected, not to suggest that he would do something to impact the investigation. Strzok told the OIG that he did not take any steps to try to affect the outcome of the presidential election, in either the Midyear investigation or the Russia investigation. Strzok stated that had he—or the FBI in general—actually wanted to prevent Trump from being elected, they would not have maintained the confidentiality of the investigation into alleged collusion between Russia and members of the Trump campaign in the months before the election. Page similarly stated that, although she could not speak to what Strzok meant by that text message, the FBI’s decision to keep the Russia investigation confidential before the election shows that they did not take steps to impact the outcome of the election.

Horowitz wrote that the exchange quoted above demonstrated poor judgment and “implies a willingness to take official action to impact the presidential candidate’s electoral prospects” but that “our review did not find documentary or testimonial evidence directly connecting the political views these employees expressed in their text messages and instant messages to the specific investigative decisions [in the Clinton case] we reviewed.” (For what it’s worth, Strzok and Page’s texts also disparaged such Democratic figures as Chelsea Clinton and Bernie Sanders—at one point Strzok suggested that Trump and Sanders “cancel each other out” because Sanders is also “an idiot.”)

Crucially, while the IG report released Thursday does—as you can see above—involve some discussion of the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation, it does not draw any conclusions about whether that inquiry was conducted in a fair and impartial manner. Horowitz’s investigation of that question is reportedly ongoing.

Correction, June 14, 2018: This post initially misidentified Lisa Page as an FBI agent.