Opinion

Opinion

Editorial of The Times

Posted June 15, 2018 10:42 p.m. EDT

No, Hillary Clinton’s Emails Will Never Go Away

As political bombshells go, this one proved to be something of a dud.

For months, the White House and Congress had been anxiously awaiting the report from Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department's inspector general, on a host of politically ticklish moves made by the FBI and the Justice Department during the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

President Donald Trump in particular had been itching to brandish the findings as proof of a sprawling “deep state” plot to bring him down — a plot that, as best anyone can tell, exists wholly within the fever swamp of the president’s imagination.

The report, released Thursday afternoon, ran a whopping 500 pages, but its conclusion can be summed up pretty tidily: Plenty of people did plenty of breathtakingly stupid things, but there is no evidence that political bias affected the outcome of the FBI’s investigation.

As such, if any of the bureau’s errors had any impact on the outcome in 2016, it seems clear that the most consequential was the decision by James Comey, the former FBI director, less than two weeks before the election, to announce that the investigation into Clinton’s email was being reopened, a move that almost certainly aided Trump.

Horowitz was supremely unimpressed with the conduct of the players involved. The report questioned whether Andrew McCabe, the former deputy director of the FBI, should have further distanced himself from certain matters because his wife had once received political contributions from a former Virginia governor, Terry McAuliffe, a longtime Clinton pal. Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch is criticized for, among other ditherings, not cutting short her impromptu tarmac visit from Bill Clinton in June 2016. At the very least, having declined to recuse herself, Lynch would have been wise to keep a closer eye — and shorter leash — on Comey, her FBI chief.

Comey receives a thrashing in the report. Horowitz found that the former FBI director repeatedly crossed the line from arrogance to insubordination: Comey was wrong to unilaterally announce in July 2016 that charges would not be brought against Clinton; he was wrong to announce so close to Election Day that the Clinton email investigation was being reopened, and, in one of the richer fresh tidbits to emerge, he was wrong to conduct official business via his own private email account.

The most inflammatory takeaway involves the anti-Trump texts exchanged by Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, two bureau officials who worked on both the Clinton investigation and the inquiry into interaction between the Trump campaign and Russia. As previously revealed, in an August 2016 exchange, Page texted Strzok, who was at that time a lead agent in the Russia investigation: Trump is “not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” Strzok’s reply, newly revealed in Thursday’s report: “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.” (Strzok was removed from the Russia investigation when these texts came to his boss’ attention last summer.) Such Trump bashing, concluded Horowitz, “is 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.”

All told, Horowitz found five bureau officials involved with the Clinton investigation who’d sent messages indicating an anti-Trump bias. The report calls out these individuals as having “cast a cloud” over the investigation and damaged the bureau’s reputation.

But! Horowitz’s report also confirms that mouthing off by a handful of officials did not add up to a secret plot against Trump. The inspector general’s office said it “did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected the specific investigative actions we reviewed.” Similarly, for all of Comey’s bad choices, investigators “did not find that these decisions were the result of political bias on Comey’s part.”

Of course, none of Horowitz’s careful, nuanced assessments matter to the president and his defenders.

Republicans seized on the report as proof that the deep state really is out to get Trump. The Strzok-Page texts understandably drew the most fire. But Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., was among those passing broader judgment, declaring the report “a damning indictment” of Comey and the entire Justice Department’s “mishandling of the investigation.” Twitter became a sea of dark conspiracy theories.

This should surprise nobody. Trump and his supporters were set on using the Horowitz report as part of their effort to delegitimize Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

Thursday morning, before the report went public, three Trump allies in the House fired off a letter to Horowitz, expressing concerns that his report had been watered down by people within the FBI and Justice Department, and requesting that the inspector general hand over earlier drafts of his report for comparison. That’s right: Trump’s congressional allies now want to investigate the inspector general’s investigation of the FBI’s investigation.

Shortly before the findings were released, Attorney General Jeff Sessions told a reporter that he expected “a careful report” from the inspector general that would “help us better fix any problems that we have and reassure the American people that some of the concerns that have been raised are not true.”

Sessions got his careful report. Sadly, the president and his minions are committed to making sure that it in no way reassures the American people.

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