It seems to me that now the sun has set a number of times since the release of the long-awaited Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General’s report on the handling of the Clinton e-mail “inquiry” and congressional oversight committees have done their thing, some comments appear appropriate. To understand the context of the IG report, however, a couple of things are important. First and foremost, the mission of the Office of Inspector General is: “To detect and deter waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct in DOJ programs and personnel, and to promote economy and efficiency in those programs.”
Thus, this was an internal administrative review of the Clinton e-mail operation for the purpose of determining if DOJ employees, including prosecutors, investigators, and executives, adhered to established procedures and policies. Second, the IG does not have the authority to empanel grand juries, bring charges, and so on. The IG is responsible only to conduct an impartial review of available facts, evaluate them in light of agency policy and procedure norms, and present the findings and recommendations – which may or may not be acted on. In short, this was not the same as a “regular” FBI investigation as we know it.
Okay, so what were the key findings? This IG investigation report highlighted the finer points of administrative “discretion” by pointing out there is an important difference between wrongdoing and breaking the law. In keeping with this distinction, perhaps the most critical finding was that, while anti-Trump sentiment was alive and well within the FBI, political bias did not unduly affect the handling of the Clinton e-mail inquiry. How about them apples!
The report subtly distinguishes between “poor, but not unreasonable decision-making”, and “failing to follow standard procedures” behavior with that of “political bias”. Although such atypical actions may deserve a finger-wagging “Naughty! Naughty! ” admonition, the IG found they did not violate the law.
The IG reviewed lotsa stuff such as: who was interviewed by the FBI; how evidence was looked for; how immunity was granted to certain people, and so on. The conclusion was that, overall, these actions, however controversial, were simply judgment calls by the investigators – and not the result of political bias.
What about the decision not to prosecute anyone? Well, the IG wrote he found this was based on the prosecutors’, “assessment of the facts, the law, and past Department practice in cases involving these statutes. …We did not identify evidence of bias or improper considerations. … In key moments, then Director Comey chose to deviate from the FBI’s and the Department’s established procedures and norms and instead engaged in his own subjective, ad hoc decisionmaking.” Naughty! Naughty! He shouldn’t have done that, but neither the “no prosecutions” decision nor his actions were found based on political bias.
Anything else? Well, one of the major concerns in Washington has long been “leaks”, that is, unauthorized release of privileged or classified information to the news media. The report states, “We identified instances where FBI employees improperly received benefits from reporters, including tickets to sporting events, golfing outings, drinks and meals, and admittance to nonpublic social events.” Oh-oh, Naughty! Naughty! Shouldn’t get caught doing that. Folks might get the impression these “goodies” were in exchange for “leaks”.
The IG, however, did nothing to directly recommend discipline or criminal referrals for these possible infractions because they “did not fall under the scope of the investigation.” Regardless, FBI employees reportedly are now carefully avoiding reporters. Perhaps this is in keeping with the current FBI Director’s newly announced training regimen which includes instruction on “… avoiding the appearance of conflicts of interest”.
Well, there’s lots more to this multi-hundred page report, but the bottom line is that the IG found no solid evidence, that is documents or sworn testimony, to substantiate claims investigative decisions were made inappropriately or that political bias influenced conduct of the e-mail inquiry. No “smoking gun.”
So what are we left with? A carefully written and edited report that tells us almost nothing we didn’t already know – and “findings” that are about what we have come to expect from the “inside the beltway” establishment. At least that’s how it seems to me.
Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.