Watchdog finds no evidence FBI’s Clinton probe tainted by bias

 In Politics

The Justice Department’s watchdog found no evidence that political bias influenced the FBI’s handling of its 2016 investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server, the inspector general will say in a report Thursday, according to the Associated Press.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report is expected to undercut sweeping claims by Donald Trump and his allies in Congress that the FBI went easy on Clinton and began investigating the president’s campaign’s contacts with Russians because of politics — though the AP said Horowitz criticized former FBI Director James Comey for breaking agency protocol.

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Trump is likely to use the report to try to deflect special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election by casting doubt on the FBI’s fairness in opening the probe of his campaign and by belatedly justifying his decision to oust Comey.

Comey has said he felt pressured by Trump to pull back from the FBI’s Russia inquiry, leading Mueller to look into whether the president fired the FBI director to obstruct the investigation. Trump has assailed Comey as a liar, and he’s expected to pounce on any findings in the inspector general’s report that might bolster his claim.

Comey has drawn plenty of criticism for his actions in 2016. In July, he bucked the Justice Department and issued a public statement assailing Clinton’s carelessness with classified information, even as he announced the decision to exonerate her. Then, 10 days before the election, he informed Congress that the investigation had been reopened, an explosive development that Clinton says contributed to her loss. At the same time, Comey declined to confirm publicly that there was an ongoing investigation of the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia.

Trump allies have argued the probe was biased against him in part because of thousands of text messages between an FBI counterintelligence agent, Peter Strzok, and a bureau attorney, Lisa Page. In exchanges spanning 2015 through mid-2017, the pair bashed political figures on both sides of the aisle but saved their harshest criticism for Trump. Both were involved in the Clinton investigation and the probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election — though they were removed after the texts came to light.

There has been no evidence that Strzok or Page took any investigative steps intended to boost Clinton or hurt Trump, however. The Justice Department said Thursday that in May 2018, it received more than 100,000 text messages Horowitz had recovered, at least two of which he considered relevant to his final report.
Democrats have expressed confidence in recent days that the report won’t fulfill Trump’s desires. Rather, they expect Comey to be criticized for his actions that hurt Clinton — and for the report to find that the former FBI director spoke honestly with investigators, undercutting claims that he is a liar.

“I suspect it’s going to show that the FBI did not conspire against the Trump campaign,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

Nadler suggested that the report might also swipe at Comey for disclosing the Clinton investigation publicly while keeping secret the FBI’s early inquiry into the Trump campaign’s dealings with individuals linked to Russia.

In recent days, Trump and his allies in Congress have raised questions about Horowitz himself, seemingly girding themselves for findings that fall short of their claims of widespread anti-Trump bias. In February, the president questioned whether Horowitz — initially appointed by President George W. Bush — was an “Obama guy.” And last week he complained about delays in releasing the report, insinuating that it could be “made weaker.

But outside of Trump’s inner circle, support for Horowitz runs high, even among Republicans. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has called him a man of integrity who can be trusted, and has been echoed by the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). One of Trump’s closest allies on Capitol Hill, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), calls Horowitz “an honorable, decent man that does a good job.”

“I have no reason not to trust him. He has a good reputation,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said of the inspector general in an interview. “I’m going to look at the report from a trusting point of view. Until someone can tell me why I shouldn’t trust him, I do.”

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