The U.S. Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General Michael Horowitz issued a report examining various actions by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and DOJ in advance of the 2016 election in connection with the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server (referred to by the FBI and DOJ as the “Midyear” investigation).
The OIG concluded that Comey’s decision to make a public statement on July 5, 2016, that the FBI had completed its Midyear investigation and was recommending that the Department decline prosecution—and to conceal his intention to do so from Department leadership—as well as his decision to send the October 28, 2016, letter to Congress about the discovery of Midyear-related emails on the Weiner laptop was inconsistent with Department policy and violated long-standing Department practice and protocol.
In addition, during the course of the review, the OIG discovered text messages and instant messages between some FBI employees on the investigative team, conducted using FBI mobile devices and computers that expressed statements of hostility toward then candidate Donald Trump and statements of support for Clinton.
The OIG also identified messages that expressed opinions that were critical of the conduct and quality of the investigation. The OIG included in its review an assessment of these messages and actions by the FBI employees. The OIG made nine recommendations to the Department and the FBI to assist them in addressing the issues that the OIG identified in this review. The Department and the FBI agreed with all of them.
The FBI and the Justice Department referred to the investigation as “Midyear Exam” or “Midyear.” The Midyear investigation was opened by the FBI based on a referral from the Office of the Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG).
The investigation was staffed by prosecutors from the Department’s National Security Division (NSD) and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia (EDVA), and the agents and analysts selected primarily from the FBI’s Washington Field Office to work at FBI Headquarters.
The Midyear investigation focused on whether Clinton intended to transmit classified information on unclassified systems, knew that information included in unmarked emails was classified, or later became aware that information was classified and failed to report it.
The report also adds that the Midyear investigation had concluded that the “evidence did not support criminal charges” at the time of Hillary Clinton’s interview.
Our task was made significantly more difficult because of the text and instant messages exchanged on FBI devices and systems by five FBI employees involved in the Midyear investigation. These messages reflected political opinions in support of former Secretary Clinton and against her then political opponent, Donald Trump.
The suggestion in certain Russia-related text messages in August 2016 that the FBI’s Peter Strzok might be willing to take official action to impact presidential candidate Trump’s electoral prospects caused us to question the earlier Midyear investigative decisions in which Strzok was involved, and whether he took specific actions in the Midyear investigation based on his political views.
Comey’s Public Statement on July 5:
Comey told the OIG that as he began to realize the investigation was likely to result in a declination, he began to think of ways to credibly announce its closing […] Although Comey engaged with the Department in these “endgame” discussions, he told us that he was concerned that involvement by then AG Loretta
- Comey included criticism of Hillary in his report to “avoid creating the appearance that the FBI was letting Clinton off the hook.”
- Lynch and Clinton said that they did not discuss the Midyear investigation during their conversation.
- Lynch became increasingly concerned as the meeting went “on and on” and stated “that it was just too long a conversation to have had.”
Although we found no evidence that Lynch and former President Clinton discussed the Midyear investigation or engaged in other inappropriate discussion during their tarmac meeting, we also found that Lynch’s failure to recognize the appearance problem created by former President Clinton’s visit and to take action to cut the meeting short was an error in judgement.
Comey’s Decision Not to Tell Department Leadership:
Comey admitted that he concealed his intentions from the Department until the morning of his press conference on July 5, and instructed his staff to do the same, to make it impracticable for Department leadership to prevent him from delivering his statement. We found that it was extraordinary and insubordinate for Comey to do so, and we found none of his reasons to be a persuasive basis for deviating from well-established Department policies in a way intentionally designed to avoid supervision by Department leadership over his actions.
We believe Lynch should have instructed Comey to tell her what he intended to say beforehand, and should have discussed it with Comey.
Comey’s public statement announced that the FBI had completed its Midyear investigation, criticized Clinton and her senior aides and that the FBI was recommending that the Department decline prosecution of Clinton. While we found no evidence that Comey’s statement was the result of bias or an effort to influence the election, we did not find his justifications for issuing the statement to be reasonable or persuasive.
We concluded that Comey’s unilateral announcement was inconsistent with Department policy and violated long-standing Department practice and protocol by, among other things, criticizing Clinton’s uncharged conduct. We also found that Comey usurped the authority of the Attorney General, and inadequately and incompletely described the legal position of the Department prosecutors.