It all started back in 2015 when it was discovered that then Secretary of State HRC had been using a private server to send and receive what were potentially classified and highly sensitive government information and documents. An investigation was launched headed by then FBI Director James Comey.
The probe continued apace until mid-2016 when Comey made a very public statement that in spite of “extreme carelessness”, he could not find any criminal intent on the part of HRC. Consequently, she was found innocent of any illegality and wasn’t charged.
This judgment flew in the face of an alternative narrative that had been pushed by HRC’s political opponents who were convinced that she was indeed guilty. Unwilling to accept the Comey decision, they set themselves to the task of destroying his credibility and consequently his “HRC is innocent of wrongdoing” view. To that end, they raised all sorts of objections; e.g. the partisanship of certain members of his investigative team, about the failure to take testimony from HRC while she was under oath (1), and an impromptu meeting that ex-President Bill Clinton had with Comey’s boss, Attorney General Loretta .Lynch; i.e. had he tried to influence the outcome of the Comey investigation?
At this juncture, the presidential campaign was well underway. Candidate Trump seized on the aforementioned narrative and used it time and again at rallies during which he constantly referred to “crooked Hillary” and led crowds in chants of “Lock her up”. As a result of all this, the matter became fully politically charged.
Accordingly, in January 2017, the Justice Department’s Inspector General (IG), Michael Horowitz, was tasked with getting to the bottom of what had happened, was their wrongdoing, had the FBI failed to come to proper conclusions viz a viz the investigation of HRC.
Throughout the ensuing 18 months, there was an anti-FBI drumbeat which promised everyone that once the IG’s report was published, the Bureau would be exposed as a festering sore; a toxic mix of partisanship, incompetence and outright lying. Heads were going to roll, starting with indictments of Obama, HRC, and Comey, then reaching into the ranks of the agency. This narrative carried with it, the implicit guarantee of the credibility of the IG. He could be depended on to tell the truth.
On June 14th, the much anticipated IG report was published; a document in excess of 500-pages complete with the careful documentation of, and support for, key findings, a topic we turn to next.
The IG Report: A Summary
To say that certain contents of the document were highly critical of how the probe of HRC’s e-mails was handled would be an understatement. Five FBI agents were singled out (albeit not by name) as having misbehaved in one way or another (2). Ex-Director Comey was on the receiving end of the harshest of criticisms for having taken upon himself, responsibilities and decisions that were beyond his purview, even as Director, and for his departure from strict Department guidelines. (3)
But, in spite of these lapses, the IG concluded that the investigation of HRC’s e-mails had not been corrupted by partisan misbehavior, nor was Comey to be faulted for his decisions to first exonerate HRC, and then to reopen the probe of her e-mails when a previously undiscovered cache of them was discovered.
Now, if the contents of the foregoing two paragraphs seem at odds with one another, it is because they are, at least superficially. That Comey could be lambasted on the one hand, but then found to be fault-free on the other can be explained by a “dive” into the details.
As was noted early on in this blog, when Comey found HRC innocent, he accompanied that judgment with some extensive editorializing that was strictly outside the bounds of Department policy. All he was obliged to do was say “not guilty” and then shut up. That the then director chose to do otherwise was his first, significant mistake. Then, when he decided to re-open the e-mail investigation just 11 days before the 2016 election, he made the equally egregious error of making that known by means of a letter to Congress. Again, Department rules were not followed; i.e. there is to be no such disclosure in close proximity to an election when the revelation might impact voting. (4)
Finally…the bottom line
In sum and substance, the IG concluded that the FBI, Comey and his investigative team had arrived at proper, defensible outcomes even as they “stumbled” along the way. Put differently, while the process had its’ flaws, the outcomes of its execution were not. In sports parlance, the line score for a baseball team can reveal that team “A” won, even though they committed multiple errors in the field. The FBI can and should be held accountable for its’ mistakes. But the public should trust that the outcomes reached were just ones and supported by the facts.
Sadly, the IG’s report will not bring this matter to an end. Conservatives invested so thoroughly in their “crooked HRC” narrative that they must now seek not just to save face, but to develop a new narrative that again drives the view that the FBI and the Justice Department are not to be trusted. To the latter end, here is what has already begun: Key pejorative words, phrases and findings in the IG document are being cherry-picked to provide the scaffolding upon which the new narrative is built. Once the narrative is in place, it will be conflated with the investigation being run by SP Robert Mueller, so as to discredit it as well. All of this is being undertaken to construct a “wall” around the president and thus protect him from impeachment. It’s basically the “OJ (Simpson) defense”; i.e. in the absence of exculpatory evidence that would clear you, make the “cops” guilty of a “frame-up”.
- Anyone who testifies before the FBI is at risk of perjury, whether they have been placed under oath or not. That is the law.
- At least two FBI agents were cited for using Bureau computer to transact personal business.
- Comey should have consulted with his higher-ups before rendering decisions and/or making public statements.
- It can plausibly be argued that Comey’s public disclosure that he had reopened the investigation into HRC’s e-mails helped swing the election to Trump.