Inspector General Michael Horowitz released his long-awaited report on the FBI on Thursday, an evaluation of the Bureau’s actions in advance of the 2016 election. The nearly 600-page tome is a thorough critique of the FBI’s competence, centering around its former director James Comey and the investigation of the Hilary Clinton email scandal. While it does not describe any criminal activity, the report is a measured indictment of the FBI’s practices and is already being used as political fuel by both Democrats and Republicans.
Comey became the subject of attacks by Democrats in the weeks leading up to the 2016 elections, who accused him of political sabotage when he announced that he was reopening the investigation into Clinton’s emails after uncovering new evidence.
Among the report’s most embarrassing findings is the fact that Comey himself was using a personal email account to conduct official FBI business, something Clinton allies are pointing to as flagrantly hypocritical given the subject of his investigation. Clinton’s only response so far has been a sarcastic tweet: “But my emails.”
Trump, too, has latched on to the report as a vindication of his decision last year to fire Comey, who had begun investigating Russian interference in the election and possible collusion by the Trump campaign. “Should he be locked up? Let somebody make a determination,” Trump said Friday morning on Fox and Friends, arguing that the report proves there was no obstruction of justice in his decision.
More significant, and less conclusive, are the implications the report has for the ongoing investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference and Trump campaign collusion. Horowitz seizes on text exchanges between FBI attorney Lisa Page and Special Agent Peter Strzok—both of whom eventually became part of the Russia probe—expressing fear at the possibility of Trump being elected. “We’ll stop it,” said Strzok, in response to Page’s concerns. Both Strzok and Page were removed from the investigation at the end of last year when news of their political bias was made public.
The text exchanges “cast a cloud over the FBI’s handling of the Midyear investigation,” says the report’s executive summary. “But our review did not find evidence to connect the political views expressed in these messages to the specific investigative decisions that we reviewed.”
Trump, however, having long characterized the Mueller investigation as a “witch hunt,” said of the Horowitz report’s findings on Friday, “I think the Mueller investigation has been totally discredited.”
People criticized in an investigator general’s report are given an advance copy in order to prepare a rebuttal, which for Comey came in the form of a New York Times op-ed published on the same day. In his conciliatory defense of the email investigation, Comey emphasized the responsible practices of the Bureau as a whole and his own impossible set of options.
“In 2016, my team faced an extraordinary situation—something I thought of as a 500-year flood—offering no good choices and some of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make,” he wrote, arguing that to conceal his reopening of the investigation would have meant hiding vital information from Congress.
The report’s account of Comey’s predicament, however, describes a simpler decision: “Comey’s description of his choice as being between ‘two doors,’ one labeled ‘speak’ and one labeled ‘conceal,’ was a false dichotomy. The two doors were actually labeled ‘follow policy/practice’ and ‘depart from policy/practice.’”