The U.S. Justice Department’s watchdog on Thursday criticized former FBI director James Comey for bypassing long-standing protocols in his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but said it found no evidence of “political bias” or an attempt by Comey to sway the outcome of the vote.
In a long-awaited report, the department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, wrote that Comey made a “serious error of judgement” in publicly disclosing the findings of the probe during the contested election between then candidate Donald Trump and former secretary of state Clinton.
“While we did not find that these decisions were the result of political bias on Comey’s part, we nevertheless concluded that by departing so clearly and dramatically from FBI and department norms, the decisions negatively impacted the perception of the FBI and the department as fair administrators of justice,” Horowitz wrote.
The inspector general’s probe focused on decisions made by Comey, at key moments during the campaign, to go public with the FBI’s findings, sidestepping then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
On July 5, 2016, Comey publicly announced that he was not bringing criminal charges against Clinton for her handling of classified information in her emails.
Then, on October 28, less than two weeks before the election, Comey informed members of Congress that he was reopening the investigation after discovering a new cache of emails, before closing it a second time just two days before the election.
Comey came in for harsh criticism for his actions in the run up to the election. While Republicans blasted his initial decision to exonerate Clinton, Democrats blamed the former FBI director for costing them the presidential election by reopening the investigation so close to the election.
Trump, who had praised the relaunch of the probe on the even of the election, last year cited Comey’s handling of the investigation when he abruptly dismissed him as FBI director. The president later said that he had the “Russia thing” in mind when he let go of Comey.
Comey has long defended his actions during the election, writing in a recently released book that he did “something I could never imagine” to protect the bureau’s independence after concluding that Lynch “appeared politically compromised.”