This is the link to WSJ article on the DOJ IG report, released yesterday. I said I’d send it along to give you a second view of its contents and the interpretations, many of them political, that are beginning to suck the air out of current domestic and international Media coverage.
To prepare this mammoth 568 page report, (the Executive Summary alone runs 14 pages and is therefore not really a summary) the IG’s office looked at one million plus FBI and DOJ document and interviewed more than 100 witnesses, including all the senior FBI leaders who were involved in FBI investigations of the Clinton email system and Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election.
In my view, the report, while it does add a lot of the details of the investigations in terms of significant actions by the principal players and the major events, adds little to what was already in the public domain.
The report does add the authority and credibility of the DOJ IG’s office to the considerable criticism of former FBI Director Comey that has persisted because of his numerous violations of FBI and DOJ policy and serious lapses in judgment. Frankly, I had thought (and said to several colleagues when they asked for my views of his actions) that he was above the sort of mistakes I now find he made during those investigations. He was an experience Washington insider/attorney who had made highly publicized, critical decisions on ethical matters during the Bush administration involving NSA telephone intercept programs. I knew of some of those decisions and respected him for them. So what changed? Why was he unable to make appropriate, ethical decisions that would be consistent with FBI regulations in these two, critical investigations? Perhaps Mr. Comey never embraced the traditional role of the FBI and its director to leave decisions on whether to prosecute or decline a Federal case to the Justice Department. Perhaps because he had been a senior DOJ official, (Deputy Attorney General in the George W. Bush Administration from 2003 to 2005) and the US Attorney of the Southern District of New York (2002-2003); the roles of the FBI in investigating violations and DOJ in authorizing prosecutions became blurred in his mind and he believed it appropriate for him to assume DOJ prerogatives on authorizing/declining prosecutions. Whatever his reasons may have been, and we’ll probably never know, they were inconsistent with FBI and DOJ regulations and just wrong. And, most importantly, they have done significant damage to the reputation of the FBI.
In addition to Comey’s lack of authority to decline a prosecution, the IG’s report describes some of his other decisions as “extraordinary and insubordinate.” Especially critical is the report of his decision to announce, just days before the November election, that the FBI was reopening the investigation into Mrs. Clinton because of new evidence. The IG’s report called that decision a “serious error of judgment.” And few doubt that it changed the outcome of the election in candidate Trump’s favor.
The report also includes references text messages by senior FBI Headquarters officials who expressed their political preference for Hillary Clinton over her rival Donald Trump. It “found that the conduct of these five FBI employees brought discredit to themselves, sowed doubt about the FBI’s handling of the Clinton investigation, and impacted the reputation of the FBI.” However the report went on to say no evidence was found that investigative decisions were affected by any political bias. The report found that there were numerous examples of poor judgement as well as violations of internal policy and regulations by FBI employees, however, no violations of federal law were discovered.
Having said all this, the IG’s report and all those who will read it, especially current and former FBI employees, are justifiably concerned about the damage to the FBI current reputation and future credibility. It will clearly make recruitment of quality new special agents problematic, public trust and participation in FBI investigations less likely and credibility of FBI special agent testimony in court less credible. The nation’s security depends on many things, not the least of which is an effective, ethical, non-political FBI. How long it will take Director Christopher A. Wray and the FBI to regain the position of trust once held is impossible to project, but it has to be “job one” in the organization for the foreseeable future.