Watchdog Says FBI Wasn’t Politically Biased in 2016, But Texts Reveal Otherwise

© AP Photo / Andrew HarnikFormer FBI director James Comey speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Thursday, June 8, 2017, in Washington.
Former FBI director James Comey speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Thursday, June 8, 2017, in Washington. - Sputnik International
The office tasked with reviewing the US Justice Department and FBI released a report Thursday that found a litany of mistakes in how the FBI handled a number of sensitive investigations leading up the 2016 US elections – but that came to the possibly dubious conclusion that the FBI was not in the end politically biased in its actions.

The Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General dropped a 568-page report on the FBI and Justice Department's conduct during the 2016 presidential election campaign. The watchdog said that then-FBI Director James Comey was "insubordinate" with regard to then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch and incorrect in his actions, but did not allege that he was politically motivated.

Comey caught fire in 2016 for two major, unprecedented news headlines. First, he revealed in July that Hillary Clinton would not be prosecuted for her "extremely careless" handling of classified government data on personal, private email servers during her tenure as secretary of state. The servers at hand were not authorized for official government business, but Comey ultimately reasoned that a prosecutor would be out of line to press charges in the matter.

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The second major wave from Comey was the revelation that evidence from an ongoing probe of Anthony Weiner, a disgraced former congressman from New York who resigned from office in 2011 after sending pictures of himself almost entirely naked to teenagers, had caused him to reopen the investigation into Clinton's potential foul play. Just days before the election, Comey announced that certain emails on Weiner's laptop were a matter of interest to the FBI. Since Weiner was married at the time to top Clinton aide Huma Abedin, Clinton was roped into the investigation, too.

"If I could change time… Anthony Weiner certainly wouldn't have a laptop — maybe he wouldn't have ever been born," Comey remarked in April 2018.

The report found that Comey was totally off the mark to reignite the investigation into the Democratic presidential nominee. Weiner's laptop was, in fact, a piece of evidence in an FBI investigation, but it was evidence in an FBI investigation about Weiner allegedly sexting with a teenager in a new incident unrelated to the 2011 embarrassment that caused him to leave Congress.

The DOJ watchdog also concluded that Comey was out of line in informing the public about an investigation into Clinton at any point in time, since it is FBI policy not to disclose anything about an investigation that may or may not be taking place. In a sense, the watchdog echoed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in his May 2017 letter recommending that Comey be removed from the FBI. "The director was wrong to… announced his conclusion that the case should be closed without prosecution," Rosenstein said.

"Compounding the error, the director ignored another longstanding principle: we do not hold press conferences to release derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation."

The inspector general mirrored Rosenstein's condemnation of Comey, writing that "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."

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The watchdog was referring to Comey's first major flub in July, when he announced there wouldn't be any prosecution of Clinton — which the OIG says is a statement he didn't even have the authority to make. Only the attorney general has the authority to decline or move forward with the prosecution of alleged criminality.

But Comey was, understandably, worried about the attorney general's conflicting interests in prosecuting Clinton. The infamous "tarmac meeting" in Arizona between then-AG Loretta Lynch and former President Bill Clinton — which Barrett Brown told Sputnik News was an "unprecedented failure of justice" — basically "tipped the scales" in Comey's mind to make the public statement, he told the inspector general.

"Comey admitted he went beyond the rules because of that tarmac discussion," Joe Lauria, editor of Consortium News, told Loud & Clear on Radio Sputnik Thursday.

​"They both claimed, of course, they didn't talk about [the email investigation]. But even the meeting itself — just seeing the former president there at all, on her plane, could have some kind of influence on [Lynch's] decision [on whether to prosecute Hillary Clinton]. It was clearly not the right thing for Bill Clinton to do. Lynch should not have let him on the plane and Comey himself admits this," Lauria told hosts John Kiriakou and Walter Smolarek.

Lauria suggested that Comey's assertion that Clinton did not have intent to mishandle classified information, and therefore had not committed a crime, is flawed. "The statute" of criminality "is clear that intent is not important" in prosecuting mishandling of classified materials, Lauria said.

And while the watchdog says Comey didn't act in a biased way to impact the election — despite allegations by Clinton and her supporters that Comey was part of her hell-freezing-over-type loss to a reality TV show star — it did say that "our task was made significantly more difficult because of text and instant messages exchanged on FBI devices and systems by five FBI employees involved in the Midyear investigation." According to the Hill, Midyear was the codename for the Clinton email investigation.

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"These messages reflected political opinions in support of former Secretary Clinton and against her then-political opponent, Donald Trump. Some of these text messages and instant messages mixed political commentary with discussions about the Midyear investigation and raised concerns that political bias may have impacted investigative decisions," the inspector general said.

Lauria took issue with the inspector general's finding that the FBI did not act politically. Agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page — who both worked the Clinton email case and the FBI's so-called "Russian meddling" case — exchanged some 40,000 texts and were lovers.

"God Hillary should win 100,000,000-0," Strzok says in one text to Page, as cited by the IG.

"I am riled up. Trump is a f*cking idiot, is unable to provide a coherent answer," he says in another text.

One encounter seemed about as politically charged as possible: "[Trump's] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!" Page said to Strzok. "No. No he won't. We'll stop it," Strzok replied.

​According to Lauria, the fact that both agents were working the Russia probe and the Clinton email probe is especially revealing. "We have the inspector general saying [Strzok] made Russia the priority over the Clinton email investigation. But then he comes to the conclusion that there was no political bias by anyone at the FBI. I don't understand how he can come to that conclusion," the editor said.

Some poetic justice was also served in the watchdog's findings. The IG reported that Comey used a personal Gmail account to conduct official FBI business, misconduct nearly identical to that which served as pretext for the Midyear investigation. Comey's use of a personal email account was "inconsistent" with FBI policy, the inspector general said, as reported by the Huffington Post.

​On Thursday evening, FBI Director Chris Wray told reporters that the inspector general report "in no way" impugned the integrity of the FBI. Wray also stated that the FBI "accepted" the findings and suggestions made by the inspector general, including the part of the watchdog's report which found that FBI employees "at all levels of the organization" were in "frequent contact with reporters."

The FBI's leak epidemic is so out of hand that the inspector general asserted that "the large number of FBI employees who were in contact with journalists during this time period impacted our ability to identify the sources of leaks." Wray said that the FBI was implementing a new policy for FBI agents to speak with reporters.

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