Political News

Senators Remain Split as They Question Justice Department Watchdog on FBI Report

Posted June 18, 2018 8:34 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — Democrats and Republicans jostled for political points Monday as they pressed the Justice Department’s inspector general for the first time over his exhaustive examination of the FBI’s handling of its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

But over two hours of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, it became evident that there was little that the inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, could say to sway either side in their long political fight over what occurred at the FBI in the run-up to the 2016 election.

Republicans raised doubts about key conclusions of Horowitz’s report, saying that they believed political bias among bureau officials may have improperly shaped its decision not to recommend charges against Clinton. Democrats insisted that whatever FBI officials had intended, their actions only served to harm Clinton’s candidacy and potentially cost her the election.

Horowitz’s 500-page report, released Thursday after a yearlong investigation, found ample evidence of personal political bias by top FBI officials working on the Clinton investigative team and said it cast a cloud over the FBI and its work. Horowitz’s report found that actions by James B. Comey, the former FBI director, had likewise harmed the bureau. But Horowitz said he found no evidence that FBI officials’ political views influenced prosecutorial decisions in the Clinton case that he reviewed, though he expressed deep concern about their apparent openness to the idea.

“We found the implication that senior FBI employees would be willing to take official action to impact a presidential candidate’s electoral prospects to be deeply troubling and antithetical to the core values of the FBI and the Justice Department,” Horowitz told senators.

Citing findings that two FBI officials had exchanged text messages disparaging — and in one case pledging to “stop” — Donald Trump when he was a candidate, Republican senators said it stretched credulity to believe that the team investigating Clinton had stopped short of acting on their political convictions.

“We can’t just write it off,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. "I think there was a lot of bias that did affect an investigation that is to me almost impossible to explain using any standard that I grew up with as a prosecutor or even a defense attorney.”

Graham urged Horowitz to reconsider his findings.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, committee’s chairman, warned that the Justice Department faces a “serious credibility problem” for apparently applying different standards to Clinton and Trump.

“They see a story of kid-glove treatment for one side and bare-knuckle tactics for the other,” he said.

Under questioning from Grassley, Horowitz confirmed that his office was investigating whether Comey had acted inappropriately in another case, when he provided confidants outside the FBI with copies of memos he wrote about his conversations with Trump.

“We received a referral on that from the FBI,” Horowitz said. “We’ll issue a report when the matter is complete.”

Democrats zeroed in on Comey’s earlier actions: namely, his decision to break with long-standing policy to publicly discuss the Clinton case — the decision they said might have cost Clinton the presidency, not helped her. And though they conceded that political statements by the investigative team were inappropriate, they said Clinton’s election loss provided proof to support Horowitz’s conclusions.

“If the FBI was trying to throw the election to Hillary Clinton, it couldn’t have done a worse job,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt. “Every single misstep by the FBI damaged Hillary Clinton and helped Donald Trump.”

As senators circled Comey, his successor as FBI director, Christopher A. Wray, tried to show lawmakers that he intended to chart a different course.

Wray repeatedly defended the FBI but acknowledged serious missteps. He said that it was not the job of the FBI to make charging decisions, and he was critical of Comey’s decision to hold a news conference in July 2016 in which he declared that the FBI would not recommend charges against Clinton but harshly criticized her handling of sensitive government information.

“Mistakes made by those employees do not define our 37,000 men and women and the great work they do every day,” Wray said. “Nothing in this report impugns the integrity of our workforce.” Democrats demanded to know whether anyone at the FBI had provided information during the campaign to Rudy Giuliani, who appeared to hint at the time that he knew that agents had reopened the Clinton email investigation in October.

Two days after the election, Giuliani told Fox News, “I had expected this for the last — honestly, tell you the truth, I thought it was going to be about three, four weeks ago.” He added: “I did nothing to get it out. I had no role in it. Did I hear about it? You’re darn right I heard about it.”

Neither Wray nor Horowitz would comment on whether there was an investigation into whether anybody at the FBI provided information to Giuliani, who is now a lawyer for Trump in the special counsel investigation.

Wray also took a swipe at Comey for previously disclosing the FBI had been investigating any leaks to Giuliani. “There are a number of things I probably would have done differently,” Wray said with a wry smile and raised eyebrow.

Wray also promised to crack down on leaks to the press, and he said he had created a unit to investigate unauthorized disclosures of classified information.

“Leaks are wrong,” he said. “And we need to be tough on them.”

Wray also continued to express confidence in the special counsel leading the Justice Department’s investigation into Russian election interference and Trump’s campaign, Robert Mueller.

“I do not believe that Special Counsel Mueller is on a witch hunt,” he said, later adding, “I believe Special Counsel Mueller is conducting an important investigation.”