Our first clue? The Tweeter in Chief spent more of his morning attacking the New York Attorney General’s office than the Department of Justice after his briefing on the highly anticipated report from Inspector General Michael Horowitz. According to Bloomberg News, the report found no evidence of political bias in the handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation, but plenty of bad choices from James Comey on down:
Former FBI Director James Comey “deviated” from FBI and Justice Department procedures in handling the probe into Hillary Clinton, damaging the law enforcement agencies’ image of impartiality even though he wasn’t motivated by political bias, the department’s watchdog found in a highly anticipated report.
“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,” Inspector General Michael Horowitz said in the report’s conclusions, which were obtained Thursday by Bloomberg News.
Horowitz’ report had criticism for Peter Strzok and Lisa Page as well, but also did not find evidence that the political bias expressed in their texts to each other impacted their investigation. Their conduct, however, did “cast a cloud” over their work, Horowitz concluded — in the Clinton probe:
Republican critics seized on revelations from the inspector general that two FBI officials who worked on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, exchanged text messages sharply critical of Trump. Mueller removed Strzok from the inquiry after the texts were discovered, and Page has since left the FBI.
“We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected the specific investigative actions we reviewed,” Horowitz said in the report to be issued Thursday. “The conduct by these employees cast a cloud over the entire FBI investigation.”
Emphasis mine. The Daily Caller’s Peter Hasson pointed out this curious qualifier on Twitter, reminding followers that Horowitz is currently probing their work on the Russian-collusion investigation, too. Did their political biases interfere with their work on the later case? We may not know that for a year or more, but it does appear that Horowitz is leaving that possibility open.
As noted earlier in CBS’ scoop, the report criticizes Comey and then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch for lack of communication and effective coordination. Comey concluded on his own, without consulting Lynch (who had not officially recused herself after her tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton) on prosecutorial policy in regard to potential charges in the Hillary Clinton case. In fact, Comey did not communicate substantively with Lynch before his July 5th conclusion to the case or his October decision to reopen it briefly, a situation Horowitz described as “extraordinary” … and not in a good way:
Horowitz found a “troubling lack of any direct, substantive communication” between Comey and Attorney General Lynch ahead of the July 5 press conference and Comey’s October 28 letter to Congress.
“We found it extraordinary that, in advance of two such consequential decisions, the FBI director decided that the best course of conduct was to not speak directly and substantively with the attorney general about how best to navigate those decisions.”
Comey has claimed in testimony before Congress that he cut Lynch out of the loop because he considered her compromised in relation to the Clinton probe. He cited both the tarmac meeting and an unspecified and classified piece of information as the basis of that conclusion. Presumably Horowitz had access to the same information, but he clearly doesn’t think that it justified Comey’s arrogating of Lynch’s authority when it came to prosecutorial policy. While Comey comes out of this without much new damage, the implication that Horowitz has rejected Comey’s defense on this significant point does tend to erode his credibility as a moral voice on honorable leadership.
The report only got the most generic of responses from Trump, who was understandably more focused on the NYAG lawsuit:
So, the Democrats make up a phony crime, Collusion with the Russians, pay a fortune to make the crime sound real, illegally leak (Comey) classified information so that a Special Councel will be appointed, and then Collude to make this pile of garbage take on life in Fake News!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 14, 2018
That’s a tweet Trump could easily have written on any day before his briefing on the Horowitz report, and has written in some form on many occasions before this. It’s a sign that Horowitzmas has come up empty … for now, anyway. The question of DoJ/FBI behavior in the Russia-collusion probe is still wide open, and Horowitz’ analysis there might well be very different. We’ll have to wait for Robert Mueller to conclude his special counsel investigation before we know, though.
Update: The report does contain a big hint that Horowitz’ next effort might find more substantive misconduct:
BREAKING: Newly disclosed text among FBI officials says ‘We’ll stop’ Trump from becoming president. The message is included in a forthcoming Justice Department inspector general report on the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email investigation.
The “We’ll stop” text appears to relate more to the Russia probe than the Hillary Clinton investigation, but it’s curious that Horowitz included it here — and then concluded that political bias wasn’t evident in this investigation. Hmmmm.
Update: Rod Rosenstein only just arrived to brief Trump at noon ET. That’s why Trump hasn’t tweeted much about the IG report. Reports yesterday put the briefing in the morning.
Update: The Washington Post has more on the “we’ll stop it” text, which was from Peter Strzok:
Perhaps the most damaging new revelation in the report, according to multiple people familiar with it, is a previously unreported text message in which Peter Strzok, a key investigator on both the Clinton email case and the investigation of Russia and the Trump campaign, assured an FBI lawyer in August 2016 that “we’ll stop” Trump from making it to the White House.
“[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” the lawyer, Lisa Page, wrote to Strzok.
“No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it,” Strzok responded.
Both timing and jurisdiction are important here. Horowitz was reviewing the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe in this report, which had all but concluded well before this exchange took place. This would relate more to the work done by Strzok and Page in the Russia-collusion probe, which Horowitz is currently reviewing in a separate effort. That may well be why that qualifier Peter Hasson noted was included in the language of the report, that “We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected the specific investigative actions we reviewed”, again emphasis mine. It’s likely that Horowitz will have a lot more to say about that in his current investigation.