- Both sides of the political aisle reacted strongly to the Justice Department inspector general’s report about the FBI’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
- The report faults Comey for “deviating” from FBI norms and says that while his actions “cast a cloud” over the FBI, they were not influenced by political bias.
- President Donald Trump’s allies see the report as a vindication of their belief that the FBI acted improperly.
- Democrats accuse the White House and conservatives of using the report to distract from the special counsel’s Russia investigation.
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It’s no secret that former FBI director James Comey has been a lightning rod for both Democrats and Republicans over the last few years.
On Thursday, a critical report from the Justice Department Office of the Inspector General about the FBI’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state stirred things up even more.
Among other things, the report found that Comey “deviated” from FBI norms while overseeing the Clinton investigation, and that he usurped the attorney general’s authority when he called an impromptu July 2016 press conference announcing that the FBI would not be recommending charges against Clinton, who was the Democratic presidential nominee at the time.
The report also said senior FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page may have had a “willingness to take official action” to hurt Donald Trump’s chances of winning the election.
Inspector general Michael Horowitz concluded that while Comey’s and others’ actions “cast a cloud” over the FBI, their decisions related to the Clinton investigation were not motivated by political bias or “improper considerations.” Horowitz added that while Strzok’s and Page’s text messages to one another raised questions, investigators found no evidence that they acted improperly or sought to influence the outcome of the investigation.
Here’s how lawmakers and pundits on both sides of the aisle reacted:
On the Republican side: ‘The whole Comey allegation is just as phony as a $US3 bill’
Many of Trump’s allies are worried the president is vulnerable in the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, which is looking at whether Trump sought to obstruct justice when he fired Comey last year.
For that reason, his defenders seized on the report to justify Comey’s ouster and cast doubt on the legitimacy of the Russia investigation as a whole.
Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor who leads Trump’s personal defence team, told Business Insider in a recent interview that Trump’s team was “anxiously awaiting” the inspector general’s report because it would show “the lengths these guys went to to hurt the president.”
John Dowd, the white-collar defence attorney who spearheaded Trump’s legal team until his resignation in March, said he believed “the whole Comey allegation is just as phony as a $US3 bill.”
“This is one of the greatest frauds I’ve ever seen – this whole Mueller probe, his appointment, everything,” Dowd said. “Comey conned everyone, and I’ve written that and conveyed it to Bob [Mueller]. It’s ridiculous. He should be investigating Comey.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, a top Republican, said in a statement after the report’s release that it confirmed what he had “long suspected” – that there were “serious errors” in the FBI’s and DOJ’s handling of the Clinton investigation.
“Today’s report is an important step toward ensuring that those mistakes are not repeated in future investigations,” he said.
Some Republican lawmakers were more aggressive in their responses.
Reps. Matt Gaetz, Andy Biggs, and Ron DeSantis sent a letter to Horowitz earlier on Thursday requesting all the drafts of the report.
“We are concerned … people may have changed the report in a way that obfuscates your findings,” they said.
The Republican National Committee, meanwhile, has thrown its weight behind discrediting Comey as a witness. The RNC created the website lyincomey.com, drawing from one of Trump’s many monikers for the former FBI director, to push its agenda.
On the Democratic side: It’s distracting from the legitimate Mueller investigation
Democrats, on the other hand, accused the president and his allies of using the IG report to distract from the Russia investigation.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that the IG report proves the FBI’s and DOJ’s actions in the run-up to the election helped Trump and hurt Clinton.
“If anti-Trump bias had influenced the conduct of the FBI’s investigations, then Comey would have disclosed the Russia investigation and its details to the public and the Congress before the election,” Schiff said.
He also agreed with the report’s finding that the DOJ shouldn’t share information with Congress about an ongoing investigation if there’s a risk it could be leaked or a lawmaker might release it. Schiff said he was concerned since Republicans have repeatedly tried to force the DOJ to give them information about the Russia probe.
Rep. Mike Quigley, another Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Trump’s allies were “conducting rogue, partisan investigations into the law enforcement agencies that have protected our country for decades.”
Quigley added that he believes the report “will be perpetuated by every individual in the Trump orbit to once again shift focus and distract attention away from the very real, very credible Russia investigation, which the president will continue to call a ‘Witch Hunt’ to anyone who will listen.”
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said in a statement that the report showed that Comey and other FBI officials broke the rules, and in doing so, hurt the Clinton campaign and aided the Trump campaign. He also warned that Trump and his loyalists “will continue to try to impugn and impede” Mueller’s investigation.
“But this report makes clear just how important it is for the Special Counsel’s investigation to proceed wherever the facts and the law take it – consistent with Department of Justice policies and free from politics or political inference,” Durbin said.
How Comey and Trump reacted
In a briefing Thursday afternoon, the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the report “reaffirmed the president’s suspicions about Comey’s conduct and about the political bias of some members of the FBI.”
Comey said in a statement posted to Twitter shortly after the report’s release that he respects the OIG and “urged” the office to conduct its review.
“The conclusions are reasonable, even though I disagree with some,” he added. “People of good faith can see an unprecedented situation differently. I pray no Director faces it again. Thanks to IG’s people for hard work.”
Trump hasn’t specifically tweeted about the IG report yet, but it’s likely a matter of time.
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