WASHINGTON ― The Justice Department’s internal watchdog has concluded that former FBI Director James Comey “deviated” from bureau and department procedures by providing information about the investigation into Hillary Clinton just days before the 2016 presidential election, according to Bloomberg.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz called it “extraordinary” that Comey didn’t talk to former Attorney General Loretta Lynch before his July 2016 press conference on the Clinton matter or before sending Congress a letter about the investigation just days prior to the election.
“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,” the report states, according to Bloomberg.
The report did not find that Comey, a Republican for most of his life, made any decisions as a result of political bias. But it did find 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,” according to Bloomberg.
The full report on the 17-month investigation led by Horowitz is expected to be released Thursday afternoon.
Clinton has blamed Comey for shaking up the election in the final stretch by sending a letter to Congress that left voters with the impression that Clinton could be indicted. Two days before the election, Comey wrote another letter indicating that nothing new had been found on Anthony Weiner’s computer that warranted reopening the investigation. Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight, drawing from polling data, has written that Comey’s disclosures likely cost Clinton the election.
Comey later testified that the idea that the FBI’s investigation of Clinton swayed the election made him “mildly nauseous.” He wrote in his book A Higher Loyalty that he was surprised when Donald Trump was elected, and had assumed from media polling that Clinton would win.
“I have asked myself many times since if I was influenced by that assumption. I don’t know,” Comey wrote. “Certainly not consciously, but I would be a fool to say it couldn’t have had an impact on me. It is entirely possible that, because I was making decisions in an environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the next president, my concern about making her an illegitimate president by concealing the restarted investigation bore greater weight than it would have if the election appeared closer or if Donald Trump were ahead in all polls. But I don’t know.”
Trump fired Comey in May 2017, not long after Comey confirmed that the FBI was investigating ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. Comey later described how Trump had asked for his loyalty, and said he believed the president was trying to “create some sort of patronage relationship.” Comey also said that Trump had tried to get him to drop an investigation into former Gen. Michael Flynn, who has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
Trump’s motives in firing Comey are now under scrutiny by Robert Mueller, who was appointed as special counsel in May 2017.
Observers expect Trump to focus on the findings of Thursday’s report to justify his firing of Comey, but to ignore the report’s broader implication: that the FBI improperly helped the Trump campaign.
Ryan Reilly is HuffPost’s senior justice reporter, covering the Justice Department, federal law enforcement, criminal justice and legal affairs. Have a tip? Reach him at email@example.com or on Signal at 202-527-9261.