- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 14, 2018

Fired FBI Director James B. Comey was “insubordinate” and a top agent’s political bias might have skewed the bureau’s focus on candidate Donald Trump instead of Hillary Clinton in the waning days of the 2016 presidential race, the Justice Department’s inspector general said in a report that cast shame on the storied bureau.

The agent, Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok, was caught in a text message telling paramour Lisa Page, then an FBI lawyer, that they would prevent Mr. Trump from winning the White House, according to the report by Inspector General Michael Horowitz.

Ms. Page asked Mr. Strzok for reassurance that Mr. Trump couldn’t win the election. Mr. Strzok replied: “No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.”

SEE ALSO: Democrats say IG report legitimizes Robert Mueller probe

The text, recovered just last month, was among the explosive details in Mr. Horowitz’s 500-page report looking at the events surrounding the FBI’s investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s sending and receiving classified messages on her secret, unsecured email account and server.

Investigators concluded that while Mr. Comey wasn’t motivated by political bias, he did repeatedly break department rules — including with his striking July 2016 exoneration of Mrs. Clinton and his October 2016 letter suggesting she may once again be in jeopardy.

Then-Deputy Director Andrew McCabe was dinged for not fully recusing himself from the investigation, former Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik for breaking his own recusal and sharing sensitive information with the Clinton campaign, and Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch for failing to keep Mr. Comey at heel, the audit found.

SEE ALSO: Hillary Clinton trolls James Comey over private emails revelation

More broadly, investigators said, they found the FBI riven with a culture of leaks, with numerous people who had no official reason to be in contact with reporters talking to them anyway. That was part of an overall too-cozy relationship between FBI employees and the media, characterized by free meals, sports tickets, golf games and access to private events.

Although there was no evidence of bias affecting the early big decisions on the Clinton investigation, the audit couldn’t rule out that Mr. Strzok’s antipathy toward Mr. Trump may have led the bureau to focus more on the Russia investigation in the fall of 2016 instead of clearing up the matter of questionable emails found on the laptop of Anthony Weiner, the husband of Mrs. Clinton’s top personal aide Huma Abedin.

In one striking finding, Mr. Comey said he didn’t know Ms. Abedin — who had been a key figure in the investigation — was married to Mr. Weiner, a prominent former congressman who was being investigated for sending sexually focused messages to an underage girl.

Mr. Comey also used a personal email account to conduct government business, breaking with government practice. Indeed, it appears he was using such a personal account at the same time he was investigating Mrs. Clinton for using her secret account — though unlike Mrs. Clinton, there is no evidence that Mr. Comey transmitted classified material during the probe.

Mr. Comey absorbed most of the major blows in the report for freelancing in his decision-making, such as holding the July 6, 2016, press announcement to criticize Mrs. Clinton while not recommending that charges be brought.

Ahead of that announcement, he misled his Justice Department superiors and kept them in the dark about what he would say. They had to learn of his looming announcement from the press, the report says.

“In key moments, then-Director Comey chose to deviate from the FBI’s and the department’s established procedures and norms and instead engaged in his own subjective, ad hoc decision making. In so doing, we found that Comey largely based his decisions on what he believed was in the FBI’s institutional interests,” the report said.

“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 investigation found.

Agents let two of Mrs. Clinton’s attorneys sit in on the FBI’s interview with her — even though they were witnesses themselves, having helped erase her server that contained the email messages in question. That was inconsistent with good practice, the audit said.

Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey last year, citing some of the same issues raised in the report.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday that it “reaffirms the president’s suspicions about Comey’s conduct and about the political bias” of some members of the FBI.

“It causes a great deal of concern and points out the political bias that the president has been talking about,” she said.

The inspector general did not second-guess the Justice Department’s decision not to prosecute Mrs. Clinton for her email practices, saying those are prosecutorial decisions. Nor did the department second-guess Mr. Comey’s sense that he was going to exonerate her before his agents interviewed her in the summer of 2016.

But investigators did say Ms. Lynch, the attorney general at the time, should have ordered him to heel.

The report criticizes Ms. Lynch for her airport tarmac meeting with former President Bill Clinton in the heat of the campaign, saying she acknowledged it went on too long.

Mr. Kadzik, an assistant attorney general, sought to get his son a job with the Clinton campaign while taking part in department deliberations about matters related to Mrs. Clinton, and sent sensitive information about the department’s legal plans to Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta in a “heads up” email, the report said. He was forced to recuse himself after that, but he didn’t adhere to the recusal.

Mr. Horowitz suggested a number of fixes to get the FBI back on track, such as better training on texting, stricter rules on talking about ongoing investigations and better controls over leaks.

FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said he accepted all of the recommendations.

“We’re going to learn from this report and we’re going to be better and stronger as a result,” he said.

The inspector general had referred five FBI employees, including Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page — who left the bureau last month — for further investigation by the personnel office. Mr. Wray said if punishment is recommended, people will be held accountable.

Congressional Democrats said the report shows Mr. Comey swung the election to Mr. Trump.

“Director Comey had a double-standard: he spoke publicly about the Clinton investigation while keeping secret from the American people the investigation of Donald Trump and Russia,” said Reps. Jerrold Nadler of New York and Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrats on the House Judiciary and the Oversight and Government Reform committees.

They also said they feared that Mr. Trump would use the black eye on the FBI to undercut the Russia probe, since the bureau led the investigation into Trump campaign figures in 2016.

“No deep state. No secret society. No anti-Trump cabal at the FBI,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff, California Democrat. “No vindication for the president.”

Mr. Comey posted a message on Twitter saying he wouldn’t contest the findings.

“I respect the DOJ IG office, which is why I urged them to do this review. The conclusions are reasonable, even though I disagree with some. People of good faith can see an unprecedented situation differently,” Mr. Comey tweeted. “I pray no director faces it again. Thanks to IG’s people for hard work.”

Ms. Lynch saw vindication in the report, saying it “upholds my fidelity to the rule of law” and exonerates her of political bias.

An attorney for Mr. McCabe, meanwhile, said the report largely exonerated his decision-making during the Clinton investigation — though they took issue with a conclusion that he should have been more proactive in pushing for action on the Weiner laptop in late 2016.

Mr. McCabe’s attorney also faulted the audit for not explaining why it dinged Mr. McCabe for failing to completely follow through on his recusal from the Clinton investigation, saying that information shouldn’t have been shielded in a separate secret annex.

Dave Boyer contributed to this article.

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