Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz faults then-FBI Director James Comey for being “insubordinate” and other FBI agents for sending anti-Trump text messages in his long-awaited review of the FBI and DOJ’s Hillary Clinton investigation during the 2016 presidential election.
For more than a year, Horowitz has been reviewing the agencies’ actions related to its investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state. The report was released Thursday afternoon.
Horowitz’s investigation looked at a variety of allegations, including whether it was improper for Comey to make a public announcement about not recommending prosecution over the Clinton email arrangement.
"We found that it was extraordinary and insubordinate for Comey to conceal his intentions from his superiors, the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General, for the admitted purpose of preventing them from telling him not to make the statement, and to instruct his subordinates in the FBI to do the same," Horowitz’s report says.
Comey responded to the report on Thursday by tweeting that he believes the “conclusions are reasonable, even though I disagree with some.”
“People of good faith can see an unprecedented situation differently,” Comey said.
Newly discovered texts between FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page also play a key role in the findings. The inspector general, though, said he "did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected the specific investigative decisions."
“In particular, we were concerned about text messages exchanged by FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, Special Counsel to the Deputy Director, that potentially indicated or created the appearance that investigative decisions were impacted by bias or improper considerations,” the report says.
According to the report, Strzok texted Page in August 2016 that “we’ll stop” Donald Trump from becoming president.
“[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” Page texted Strzok.
“No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it,” Strzok responded.
Horowitz's review months ago revealed other anti-Trump texts between the two officials, who were romantically involved. The "stop" Trump text goes further, and is likely to fuel claims from the White House that the bureau was working against him.
The FBI, in its response contained in the report, said the inspector general “found no evidence to connect the political views expressed by these employees with the specific investigative decisions.” But it said the inspector general has referred five employees for investigation into whether the messages violated the FBI’s Offense Codes and Penalty Guidelines.
Horowitz criticized then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s infamous meeting on an Arizona tarmac with former President Bill Clinton just days before the FBI decided it would not recommend criminal charges against Hillary Clinton.
“Although we found no evidence that Lynch and former President Clinton discussed the Midyear investigation or engaged in other inappropriate discussion during their tarmac meeting on June 27, 2016, we also found that Lynch’s failure to recognize the appearance problem created by former President Clinton’s visit and to take action to cut the visit short was an error in judgment,” Horowitz wrote.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said in a statement the report shows “an alarming and destructive level of animus displayed by top officials at the FBI.”
Other Republican lawmakers pounced on the newly revealed Strzok text.
“In Louisiana, we call that bias, we don't call that objective,” Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said on Fox News’ “Outnumbered Overtime” on Thursday.
Strzok had been assigned to Robert Mueller’s special counsel probe, but has since been reassigned. Page later resigned.
An attorney for Strzok, Aitan Goelman, denied the agent’s personal political views influenced his work. “His dedication to unbiased service is a fact that would be universally echoed by the thousands of people who have worked with Pete during his 26 years of service in the FBI and U.S. Army,” Goelman said.
The final report could lead to repercussions for some in the DOJ and FBI.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement that the report “reveals a number of significant errors by the senior leadership of the Department of Justice and the FBI during the previous administration.”
In an interview with The Hill’s new web show “Rising” on Wednesday, Sessions said the option of “termination” is on the table for those accused of serious wrongdoing. Some of the key figures, though, have already been fired or left the government.
The release of the report itself has been delayed for weeks, as the department and FBI have carefully reviewed a draft copy to identify information they want protected from disclosure.
A related review already has put former top FBI official Andrew McCabe in legal jeopardy. The Justice Department’s internal watchdog sent a criminal referral for McCabe in April to the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington. That was in response to Horowitz’s finding that McCabe leaked information to the press and later lied about it to Comey and federal investigators, prompting Sessions to fire him in March. The Washington Post reported that Comey has since been questioned by the U.S. attorney’s office as part of a McCabe investigation.
In November, Horowitz said his team had interviewed dozens of people and reviewed thousands of records in the course of its investigation. He said his team was looking at whether “certain underlying investigative decisions were based on improper considerations.”
Fox News’ Catherine Herridge, Bill Mears and Jake Gibson contributed to this report.