Key takeaways from the 500 page report by the Inspector General
The report by Inspector General Michael Horowitz on the FBI’s handling of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private unguarded email server during her time as Secretary of State has been released.
It is over 500 pages.
It concludes that Mrs. Clinton was properly not charged with crimes and criticizes FBI Director Jim Comey for his actions in the 2016 election.
But there is much more.
We note two common themes, one minor and one major.
Minor: For the most part the media continue to call this an email scandal. That’s OK as long as what is understood by that is that Mrs. Clinton set up a private server in an unguarded facility, paid a state department employee of the books to do the set-up, deleted emails, scrubbed her computer, and testified under oath she didn’t know that the marking of “C” on an email meant “confidential. ”
But all of this is old news and the people who think that this was about use of something like Gmail and that Secretary Colin Powell did the same thing are naive, perhaps willfully so.
Major: Most media accounts are recording that the FBI broke protocols but was not politically biased – but it is more complicated than that.
This is what IG Horowitz wrote: “Our review did not find documentary or testimonial evidence directly connecting the political views these employees expressed in their text messages and instant messages to the specific investigative decisions we reviewed.”
This is a high standard and even in the IG report itself there seems to be some caveat to it.
We’ll get to the caveat but any conclusion that the IG found that the FBI was free of anti-Trump bias is flatly inaccurate. Mr. Horowitz found – to repeat for emphasis – no “documentary” or “testimonial(s)” which “directly” connected that bias to the investigation.
In other words the IG didn’t find a memo that said something among the lines of this: “Hey guys, Trump is terrible. Let’s do everything we can to stop him.” Except that he sort of did which caused the caveat.
Let’s unpack this.
Mr. Strzok: “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.”
The report unearths many examples of bias. The most flagrant were texts between the lead agent on the Clinton investigation Peter Strzok and high-ranking attorney Lisa Page who were involved an adulterous affair and exchanged tens of thousands of texts over that period, some directly related to the Clinton investigation.
In February 2016 Ms. Page warned Mr. Strzok about the FBI’s investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s server saying that she “might be our next president…The last thing you need [is] going in there loaded for bear.”
In May of 2016 when Ted Cruz quit the Republican primaries making Mr. Trump the near-certain GOP nominee, Mr Strzok texted Ms. Page: “Now the pressure really starts to finish (the Clinton investigation).”
Why? That calls for speculation but one is entitled to think that Mr. Strzok wanted to clear the deck for Mrs. Clinton which the FBI did in due course.
An August 2016 text between the two discovered several months ago talked of an “insurance policy” in the thought-to-be-unlikely event of a Trump victory.
After Mr. Trump won, the two texted each other about feeling nauseous and unable to eat.
One text, however, also in August of 2016 stands out:
• Ms. Page: “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!”
• Mr. Strzok: “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.”
The FBI must have worried that this text was a smoking gun because it was redacted in the groups of texts that were sent to Congress under subpoena. We can perceive no national security reason for the redaction we expect more legal and political fallout from this.
The IG came to see it as very troubling and issued the caveat to its comments on bias:
Noting that Mr. Strzok was involved in both the Clinton email server investigation and the Trump/Russia investigation and that he had prioritized the latter (remember, Mr. Strzok felt the pressure building), the IG wrote that Mr. Strzok’s “text messages led us to conclude that we did not have confidence that Strzok’s decision was free from bias.”
Everyone who wants to exonerate the FBI of bias-free decision making should re-read the last twelve words of that statement.
Also: The inspector general concluded that Strzok’s text, along with texts from other FBI personnel disparaging Mr. Trump, “[are] not only indicative of a biased state of mind but, even more seriously, implies a willingness to take official action to impact the presidential candidate’s electoral prospects.”
Also: The texts “potentially indicated or created the appearance that investigative decisions were impacted by bias or improper considerations.”
Our view: Lisa Page and Peter Strzok were not part of a conspiracy to steal the election for Hillary Clinton. They were colleagues, romantically attracted to each other in the center of a super-charged investigation at a critical political time, they despised Donald J. Trump and saw themselves as heroes acting in real time.
When Mr. Strzok, closed out the Clinton case, he got ready to go to London to interview witnesses in the Trump case and he texted Ms. Page:
“And damn this feels momentous. Because this matters. The other one did, too, but that was to ensure that we didn’t F something up. This matters because this MATTERS.”
Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page told the IG investigators that their text messages were the sharing of opinions but that those opinions did not affect their work. Ms Page: “I’m an American. We have the First Amendment. I’m entitled to an opinion.”
She sounds desperate here but must know the truth which is this: While she was involved in this investigation she should have avoided even the appearance of bias.
As to the claim that they would “stop” the election of Mr. Trump, Mr. Strzok told investigators that it “was intended to reassure Page that Trump not be elected, not to suggest that he would do something to impact the investigation.”
Perhaps. But that isn’t how it sounded.
Their relationship ended in June of 2017 with Ms. Page texting: “Don’t ever text me again.”
It should have stopped before it started, before they betrayed their families and brought disgrace to themselves and the FBI.
In short, these were two jackasses who never should have been anywhere near the Clinton investigation
There were other examples of anti-Trump bias in the report.
• There was un FBI agent in November 2016 who texted that although Clinton aide Huma Abedin had “lied,” it doesn’t matter since “no one at DOJ is going to prosecute.”
• There were the Justice Department’s decisions during the investigation to reach agreements with Mrs. Clinton and her team to keep them from a grand jury, to agree to limitations in their searches of computers, and to agree to immunity agreements. The report recognizes “discretionary judgments made during the course of an investigation.” But also notes that its task of assessing the integrity of decisions was “made significantly more difficult” by the obvious bias among key players, which “cast a cloud” over the entire “investigation’s credibility.”
• There was the decision to let Mrs. Clinton’s attorneys, Cheryl Mills and Heather Samuelson, attend the FBI’s interview with Mrs. Clinton when they were potential witnesses to her possible offenses. This was “inconsistent with typical investigative strategy and gave rise to accusations of bias and preferential treatment,” the IG says.
As to Director Jim Comey:
The IG report eviscerates Mr. Comey for:
• The July 5 Press Conference at which he announced that Mrs. Clinton would not be prosecuted. Noting Mr. Comey’s “conscious decision not to tell [Justice] Department leadership about his plans to independently announce” an end to the investigation, the IG called Mr. Comey “insubordinate.”
• The October 28 Letter to Congress. Mr. Horowitz called the decision to send that letter a “serious error of judgment” and concluded that it was “extraordinary that Comey assessed that it was best” for him not to notify the attorney general or her deputy beforehand.
In summary, the IG eviscerates Mr. Comey for “ad hoc decision making based on his personal views.” Mr. Comey, on a book tour preaching to the world about “higher loyalty,” finds his reputation in tatters due to this report authored by Michael Horowitz who was appointed to his position by President Obama.
Final point: Mrs. Clinton stupidly set up a private email server later criticized by the Obama State Department, arrogantly labeled millions of voters “deplorables,” and failed to campaign in the Midwest – but arguably Jim Comey, presiding over some out-of-control anti-Trump investigators, cost her the election.