What a mess.
There are no winners in Thursday’s release of the 500-page Justice Department inspector general report on the FBI’s actions during the 2016 election.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz said former FBI Director James Comey was “insubordinate,” former Attorney General Loretta Lynch erred in judgment, and FBI officials beyond Peter Strzok and Lisa Page were unprofessional in sending anti-Trump messages.
Here are the major takeaways from the report’s release:
Comey’s long series of bad decisions
When it came to overseeing the Clinton email investigation, Comey blew it – at least in the eyes of the inspector general. Yes, Comey faced no-win decisions that were sure to anger everyone around him.
But over and over, according to the report, he made the wrong call.
The inspector general gave a bruising series of conclusions on Comey’s conduct: He shouldn’t have held his July 2016 news conference about the Clinton investigation. When he did it anyway, he should have informed then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch about his recommendation not to pursue charges. And he shouldn’t have told Congress, just days before the 2016 election, that there were new Clinton emails to examine.
Perhaps this is why there are protocols in place and norms to be followed. The report suggests that if Comey stuck to the rules – no matter the fallout – he would not have been faulted for it today.
And most ironic for Clinton supporters, Comey also used his Gmail for FBI business at times.
A major blow to the FBI’s credibility
It’s not every day that the FBI director steps in front of the cameras to deliver a news conference. A stoic Christopher Wray put his stamp on the report, touting the sections that clear the FBI of systemic bias and promising accountability for agents found to have broken the rules.
“Disappointed” was how Wray described his reaction to the report – and he’s right. The IG found problems with a slew of senior FBI officials. The report itself is a grandiose airing of the FBI’s dirty laundry: Internal disagreements, bad decisions, troubling conduct, insubordination and more.
The FBI essentially gave itself a bloody nose. But that’s on top off the daily punches that the bureau takes from Trump and his Republican allies on Capitol Hill, and gripes from Democrats still seething over the 2016 election loss. No doubt, it’ll take time for the bureau to pick itself back up.
Strzok and Page, long disgraced for their anti-Trump text messages, were slammed as damaging the agency’s reputation and opening the door for the appearance of bias in the Clinton investigation and the Russia investigation as well. It’s difficult to see how Strzok keeps his job.
Report defends Clinton
The inspector general’s report Thursday solidified that Clinton had not intended to break the law with her handling of classified material on her private email, by exhaustively detailing the steps of the investigation.
Despite other issues with Comey, the IG signs off on his ultimate conclusion that Clinton should not be charged.
For a full year before the 2016 election, investigators realized they had little evidence in the case against Clinton. But they discussed for months how to end the investigation and communicate that with the public.
Comey found solace in the report’s conclusions that the Clinton probe was not biased.
“Nothing in the inspector general’s report makes me think we did the wrong thing,” Comey wrote in a New York Times op-ed.
Fodder for Trump and GOP allies
It’s all but assured that the report will not put to rest the charges that Trump and his allies have been sounding for months that Mueller’s investigation was biased against the Republican presidential nominee.
The IG report found there was no conspiracy against Trump in the 2016 Clinton investigation, but it detailed a sequence of events that created the ingredients for a conspiracy.
Republicans on Capitol Hill have been clamoring for a full accounting of the text messages sent between Strzok and Page, and Thursday’s report showed there were still text messages that had not been provided, including one in which Strzok said “we’ll stop” Trump.
Plus, the IG revealed even more FBI officials sent anti-Trump messages, including an FBI attorney on the Mueller team who was removed in February soon after the inspector general provided the texts to Mueller.
There’s also numerous issues that this report doesn’t address, from the handling of the Russia investigation itself to issues like how Comey dealt with his memos memorializing his conversations with Trump.
Fodder for Clinton and her allies (the mystery month)
At the same time, the report provides new details about how the FBI allowed the newly discovered emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop to linger in September and October 2016, while Strzok and other agents were focusing on the Russia investigation.
Strzok’s texts were decidedly anti-Trump, and Horowitz wrote he did not have confidence that Strzok was free from bias when he prioritized the Russia investigation over the Weiner emails. But that also set in motion the chain of events that led Comey to announce just before the election that was reopening the Clinton investigation, a step that many Democrats say cost Clinton the election.
Comey told the inspector general that, had he known about the laptop in the beginning of October and thought the email review could have been completed before the election, it may have affected his decision to notify Congress.
The show that never ends
The 2016 election will never end.
Mueller and congressional committees are still investigating whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russians. Other congressional panels are probing the same FBI actions in 2016 that were detailed in Thursday’s report.
Horowitz himself is still tasked with investigating the FBI’s handling of the Trump-Russia investigation, in which Republicans allege they abused the foreign surveillance process and exhibited bias toward Trump.
In Thursday’s report, Horowitz said several times that he did not examine whether bias affected the Russia investigation.
That will be a case for another day and another fight over 2016.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that former FBI employee Lisa Page was not an agent.
CNN’s Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.