Hard to believe as it may seem, it was only a week ago that the FBI's inspector general put out a report looking back at the investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail server. Things happen fast in Trump's America.
Predictably, the president claimed that the report showed there was "no collusion" with Russia and demonstrated the allegedly deep bias against him in the highest ranks of the FBI (whom he also called scum).
None of this is true. But Trump's rants did have one positive effect for the president. They took attention away from one of the key findings of the report that has received precious little attention: the clear and unmistakable bias that it showed — not against Trump, but rather, Clinton.
Indeed, the IG report confirmed what many of us have argued for some time — that the actions of FBI director Jim Comey, in regard to the e-mail investigation, were reckless, inappropriate, and prejudiced against Clinton during the heat of a presidential campaign.
Comey's irresponsible acts are not confined to the late October 2016 letter he sent to Congress announcing that he had reopened the e-mail investigation after the FBI found e-mail exchanges between Clinton and her aide, Huma Abedin, on a laptop owned by Abedin's husband, Anthony Weiner. As the IG report makes clear, his actions months earlier were nearly as bad.
In July 2016, Comey announced there would be no prosecution of Clinton for her use of a private e-mail server, but he also publicly denounced the Democratic nominee for what he called her "extremely careless" handling of classified material.
According to the IG, his actions were "inconsistent with Department policy and violated long-standing Department practice and protocol" and Comey's justifications for making the statement were neither "reasonable" nor "persuasive."
As for the October letter, the IG is even more withering in its criticism. Comey, the IG concludes, wrongly imparted his own judgment rather than abide by longstanding department practice about revealing information regarding criminal investigation before an election. Worse, he inexplicably froze out both the attorney general and deputy attorney general when deciding to go public.
Comey had a choice, says the IG, to "follow policy/practice and depart from policy/practice." By taking the latter course, Comey "made a serious error of judgment."
Comey screwed up, as the president might say, bigly. His errors may have helped elect Trump and put us down the antidemocratic, unjust, corrupt, and inhumane path that we are on today.
Why he did it, however, is in some ways more interesting.
Last spring, when he ventured out to promote his memoirs Comey was quizzed about his July statement chastising Clinton and asked why he didn't simply say that Clinton wouldn't be prosecuted and leave it at that.
"We would've taken a tremendous amount of criticism," Comey tellingly said, "and I still would've been dragged up to Capitol Hill all that summer to justify the FBI's work."
In other words, if Comey didn't take a pound of flesh from Clinton, then congressional Republicans would have raked him of over the coals. It's compelling evidence of how the GOP's bad-faith argument shaped Comey's handling of the e-mail investigation.
But there were other considerations. Though Comey denied it, the IG found that concern about leaks from inside the FBI played a key role in Comey's decision-making.
"FBI employees not involved in the . . . investigation hated former Secretary Clinton and had made comments such as, '[Y]ou guys are finally going to get that (expletive)," FBI general counsel James Baker told the FBI. Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch recounts talking to Comey about "a cadre of senior people in New York who have a deep and visceral hatred of Secretary Clinton."
As Vanity Fair, among others, has previously reported, "It was widely understood that there was a faction in [the New York FBI] office that couldn't stand her and was out to get her." These same agents were probably leaking information to other prominent Republicans.
GOP criticism was one factor for Comey, but so too was a rogue element within the FBI that had a pipeline to prominent Republicans. Had Comey not been concerned about the New York office leaking details about the Weiner laptop to the media, would he have sent his infamous preelection letter? There's a reasonable expectation that he would not have. The subtext of the IG report is that Comey's errors in judgment were driven, almost exclusively, by these two partisan factors. For all of Comey's efforts to stay above the political fray, it was politics — and in particular Republican criticism and underhandedness — that drove his actions on the e-mail investigation.
So, for all the talk about bias within the Justice Department against Trump, the truth is that there was bias — against Clinton – and that's a good part of the reason why Trump is president today.