A government watchdog on Monday challenged a favorite Democratic talking point that his review of the FBI’s conduct during the Hillary Clinton email investigation found no evidence of bias against President Donald Trump.
“We made very clear we were not saying that as to every single decision,” Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz told the Senate Judiciary Committee. Horowitz (pictured above left) was responding to a question from Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).
Cornyn also asked if it was a fair inference that then-FBI Director James Comey’s belief that Clinton would be the next president and his desire to stay on the job affected his handling of the case.
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“I think that was the concern we had. Certainly where it’s even clearer in that October time period, because of the testimony that indicated when he explained through his chief of staff why he was going to do what he did on October 28 [when he closed the investigation again] — he was concerned about his survivability,” Horowitz said.
Horowitz appeared before the Senate panel with FBI Director Christopher Wray (pictured above right) to answer questions about the IG’s report, made public last week. Horowitz said in the report he found no evidence that anti-Trump bias affected the decision by federal prosecutors not to charge Clinton with a crime related to her use of a private email server and address to conduct official diplomatic business. Hundreds of emails found on the former secretary of state’s home-brewed system included highly classified information.
But Horowitz emphasized that hostility toward Trump may have impacted actions by the FBI after the no-prosecution decision was made. Specifically, he referenced Peter Strzok, who was an FBI counterintelligence supervisor involved in both the Clinton probe and the bureau’s probe of allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian interests during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Strzok decided in October 2016 to prioritize the collusion investigation over getting to the bottom of newly discovered information that hundreds of thousands of previously unseen Clinton emails found on a laptop computer belonged to Huma Abedin and her husband, the disgraced former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner. Abedin was one of Clinton’s closest aides at the State Department.
“We were not convinced that that was not a biased decision,” Horowitz said.
Horowitz also testified that even now — because of technical issues — he is not convinced his office obtained all of the text and instant messages that it sought from FBI employees involved in the investigation.
Cornyn also asked about the motives of Comey in amending a draft statement on Clinton’s conduct, downgrading the term “grossly negligent” to “extremely careless.”
Horowitz answered, “That would be hard to say and probably speculation in terms of what he was thinking at the time.”
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Democrats on the committee downplayed the significance of the bias and devoted much of their time to questioning on probing whether FBI agents in the New York City field office leaked information about the Weiner laptop to former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
Horowitz explained several times that his investigation focused on the Clinton email case. He said he could not comment on pending investigations reviewing the Russia investigation or other matters.
Horowitz also declined repeated invitations to criticize Trump for saying that the inspector general’s report exonerates him with respect to collusion with the Russians. Horowitz simply said that the report did not cover collusion questions.
“In my opinion, this is appalling, and the importance of these findings cannot be overstated.”
Democrats stuck to the argument that bias did not impact the Clinton probe.
“Importantly, the report found no evidence that these personal political views tainted workplace decisions,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the committee.
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Republicans piled on, however.
“In my opinion, this is appalling, and the importance of these findings cannot be overstated,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said. “Your report identifies missteps at every level of the Department of Justice, from our nation’s chief federal law enforcement officer to special agents in the field.”
Hatch also expressed disappointment with what he regards as an insufficient sense or urgency in Wray’s response to the report.
“Let’s not pretend like this was some one-off problem,” he said. “There is a serious problem with the culture at FBI headquarters.”
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) suggested Democrats are mischaracterizing the IG report.
“The report did, in fact, find bias. Insofar as anyone is suggesting that there was no bias found here, that’s just not true,” he said.
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Lee said the report merely concludes there is no proof that the bias affected the decision not to prosecute Clinton.
“What was not found was any kind of smoking gun indicating that that bias translated to and was admitted to have translated to how anyone did their job,” he said. “But the absence of evidence on that point is not the same as evidence of absence.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) expressed shock over sentiments expressed by FBI officials and the Comey’s actions highlighted in the report.
“When you add it all up, these people hated Trump, and this investigation was anything but by the book,” he said. “And at the end of the day, what Comey did just blew me away as much as it did y’all. I can’t believe this happened to my FBI.”