Updated June 15, 2018 06:22:37
Former FBI director James Comey made a "serious error of judgment" when he announced shortly before the 2016 US presidential election he was reopening an investigation into candidate Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server, according to a report released by the Justice Department's internal watchdog.
But inspector-general Michael Horowitz also concluded — in a long-awaited, 500-page report — Mr Comey did not exhibit any political bias in his actions or try to influence the election.
The report released on Thursday (local time) calls former Mr Comey "insubordinate" and says his actions were "extraordinary".
But the report does not find evidence Mr Comey was motivated by political bias or preference in his decisions.
A long-serving law-enforcement official, Mr Comey became a controversial figure in the 2016 election, drawing accusations from both Republicans and Democrats that his handling of the investigation influenced the campaign.
He later headed a separate probe into the Trump campaign's alleged ties to Russia.
Mr Trump fired him as head of the FBI in 2017.
Both sides of the partisan divide in US politics are expected to use the Horowitz report to press their cases against Mr Comey.
The inspector-general's inquiry focused on public statements made by Mr Comey about Mrs Clinton's use of a private email server, instead of a state department server, while she was secretary of state.
In October 2016, less than two weeks before election day, Mr Comey sent members of Congress a letter disclosing that the probe was being reopened after new emails were found on the computer of the husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
Ms Clinton has since said Mr Comey's letter contributed to her unexpected defeat by Mr Trump.
Two days before the November 8 election, Mr Comey said the FBI had found no additional evidence in the new emails.
John Podesta, who ran the Clinton campaign, said, "The report demonstrates beyond doubt" Mr Comey was unfair to Mrs Clinton by announcing details of the email investigation during the campaign while not revealing the presence of the separate probe beginning in July 2016 into the Trump campaign and Russia.
"This report confirms what we have known for a long time — that the FBI inappropriately applied a double standard to the Clinton and Trump investigations which hurt her and helped elect him," Mr Podesta told Reuters.
The report sharply criticises Mr Comey for violating justice department policies and accused him of usurping the authority of then attorney-general Loretta Lynch when in July 2016 he announced there would be no charges against Mrs Clinton for her email use as secretary of state.
Mr Trump and his allies have accused a clique of FBI and justice department officials of working against Mr Trump.
In an op-ed published in the New York Times, Mr Comey said the report confirmed the call there was "no prosecutable case" against Mrs Clinton, and stood by his decision to inform Congress the case had been reopened days before the election.
"I chose to speak and tell the truth," Mr Comey wrote.
"I do not agree with all of the inspector-general's conclusions, but I respect the work of his office and salute its professionalism.
"I was not certain I was right about those things at the time. That's the nature of hard decisions; they don't allow for certainty."
He added that he encouraged the intensive review of his investigation and hoped the findings helped future FBI heads in making similar decisions.
The Horowitz report was also highly critical of Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, two FBI staff members who exchanged highly charged political messages, finding their texts cast a cloud over the FBI and created the appearance of bias.
In one newly released email from August 2016, Ms Page wrote to Mr Strzok asking: "Trump's not ever going to become president, right? Right!"
Mr Strzok replied: "No. No he's not. We'll stop it."
In July 2016, Mr Comey held an unusual news conference to explain why the FBI would not be recommending criminal charges against Mrs Clinton over her use of the private server for some official business.
He chastised Mrs Clinton for being "extremely careless" but said there was insufficient evidence to charge her with a federal crime.
That upset Republicans, who said Mr Comey's statement could have helped Mrs Clinton's election campaign.
Mr Trump's allies have signalled they will use the Horowitz report to press their argument Mr Comey did not act properly while overseeing the Russia probe.
First posted June 15, 2018 05:51:44