The highly anticipated report from the Justice Department’s inspector general is expected to yield an unvarnished account of multiple missteps by former top officials at the department and FBI for their failure to follow long-standing protocols in the handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe, according to sources familiar with the matter.
While sources caution the report is not yet final, and responses from individuals named in the report will be included, the exhaustive review of a momentous period in the department’s history is expected to criticize former FBI Director James Comey’s handling of the investigation at key junctures for violating departmental norms. Of particular focus are the events leading up to his decision to announce in July 2016, without Justice Department approval, that “no reasonable prosecutor” would recommend charges against Clinton, as well as the decision to tell lawmakers days before the November 2016 election that FBI agents had recovered additional emails possibly relevant to the investigation.
CNN reported that at the time that Comey was advised by the Justice Department that his letter to Congress would run counter to department policy to not comment publicly on investigations close to an election, but he sent it anyway.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz is expected to recommend the department devise further written guidelines that would have addressed some of the actions taken by Comey.
Conservative media outlets, White House officials and President Donald Trump’s personal lawyers have all eagerly awaited the report’s release for months, taking particular interest in its conclusions about the former FBI director.
“What is taking so long with the Inspector General’s Report on Crooked Hillary and Slippery James Comey. Numerous delays. Hope Report is not being changed and made weaker! There are so many horrible things to tell, the public has the right to know. Transparency!” Trump wrote.
In response to questions about any purported delays, a Justice Department spokesperson said Wednesday: “We are following the ordinary process.”
Few have seen the entire report and its conclusions, leaving even those shown portions of the draft in the dark about the complete report’s bottom line.
One crucial question is the extent to which the inspector general will provide clarity on whether political bias tainted the outcome of the investigation, providing the President with further ammunition to lambaste those in law enforcement or offering a more nuanced assessment. When Horowitz announced the review in January 2017, he said it would address whether “certain underlying investigative decisions were based on improper considerations.”
But sources tell CNN that Comey is not the only one who will receive a tough judgment from Horowitz.
The report is also critical of former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, though sources could not provide further details. Lynch came under scrutiny during the campaign for meeting with former President Bill Clinton on a tarmac in Arizona in late June 2016. She did not formally recuse herself from the investigation after criticism arose over the encounter, but rather said she would accept the recommendations of career Justice Department staff and the FBI.
Another source briefed on the report said it’s expected to criticize former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe for the apparent lag between the time that agents discovered possible Clinton investigation-related emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop in late September 2016 and when the FBI obtained a search warrant in late October 2016.
As part of his review, Horowitz’s office uncovered a stockpile of private text messages exchanged between two top FBI officials who regularly mocked Trump, dreading that he would win the presidency. Given their roles at the FBI and brief stints on special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, the texts have been regularly held up by Trump and his allies as the textbook example of political bias infecting the FBI – which will heighten the ultimate findings reached by the inspector general on that score.
Representatives for Comey, Lynch and McCabe declined to comment.
One aspect of Horowitz’s report that remains unclear is how it will address the “allegations that the Department and FBI employees improperly disclosed non-public information.”
One source familiar with the scope of the report said accusations that FBI agents in New York leaked information about the Clinton investigation to former Mayor Rudy Giuliani have been examined.
Giuliani confirmed on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday that he has been interviewed by the inspector general’s office, but when asked about his exposure in the report by Chuck Todd, and whether he expects to be named as a recipient of leaks, he said: “Absolutely not.”
“I didn’t get any leaked information from the FBI,” Giuliani said.
CNN’s David Shortell contributed to this report.