The US Department of Justice inspector general said on Thursday that he is investigating actions taken by DoJ and FBI officials, including FBI director James Comey, during the 2016 presidential election.
The surprise probe was launched in response to calls from Congress and members of the public, who have questioned whether Mr Comey’s statements in the final weeks of the campaign were politically motivated, according to a statement by Michael Horowitz, the inspector general.
The IG’s effort will not second-guess the FBI’s decision to recommend that Hillary Clinton not be indicted for her use of a private email server while secretary of state.
The probe will include “allegations that department or FBI policies or procedures were not followed” in Mr Comey’s public statements about Mrs Clinton’s private email server and that aspects of its investigation of the former secretary of state “were based on improper considerations”, the statement said.
On October 28, Mr Comey wrote to Congress saying that the FBI was reviewing a new batch of Mrs Clinton’s emails discovered on a laptop her aide Huma Abedin shared with her husband, former congressman Anthony Weiner. The news jolted the Democrat’s campaign, putting it on the road to eventual defeat, some observers claimed.
Two days before the voting, the FBI chief wrote to lawmakers again saying that nothing had been found on the laptop to alter his decision not to recommend charges. Mrs Clinton has fingered Mr Comey’s extraordinary intervention as one of the chief factors in her shock loss.
Mr Comey’s unusual involvement in matters affecting the balloting began with his decision to hold a July 5 press conference to announce that he had decided against recommending an indictment of the Democratic candidate. Mr Comey that day handed Republicans a ready-made talking point when he said that Mrs Clinton and her aides had been “extremely careless” in their handling of state department emails.
The FBI customarily makes no public comment on individuals who are not charged with a crime, but Mr Comey said he was making extensive disclosures about Mrs Clinton because the “American people deserve those details in a case of intense public interest”.
The IG will also evaluate whether the bureau’s deputy director, Andrew McCabe, should have recused himself from the Clinton investigation given his wife’s financial links to Mrs Clinton’s allies. Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe’s political action committee donated nearly $500,000 to Dr Jill McCabe’s state Senate campaign in 2015.
Several months after her election defeat, Ms McCabe’s husband was promoted to the bureau’s number two job and assumed oversight of the Clinton probe. Last year, when questions first arose about the propriety of his involvement in the Clinton matter, the FBI issued a statement saying he had followed the bureau’s ethics advice and had played no role in his wife’s campaign.
Mr Horowitz, an independent watchdog with more than 400 auditors and attorneys at his disposal, also will look into allegations that Peter Kadzik, assistant attorney-general for legislative affairs, “improperly disclosed non-public information to the Clinton campaign and/or should have been recused from participating in certain matters”.
A May 19, 2015, email from Mr Kadzik’s private Gmail account to John Podesta, Mrs Clinton’s campaign manager, warned that a House judiciary committee hearing that day would probably feature “questions on state department emails”. The email, released by WikiLeaks, carried the subject line: “Heads up.”
Other leaks by FBI and department officials about their investigations during the campaign will also be a focus, the statement said. Last autumn there were reports that agents in the FBI’s New York field office, angered by Mr Comey’s July 5 refusal to recommend criminal charges be filed against Mrs Clinton, had begun talking to reporters.
The inspector general said he would also evaluate allegations about odd tweets on an FBI twitter account used to distribute the results of Freedom of Information Act requests, which emerged shortly before the election.
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