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Watchdog: Comey not biased in Clinton probe, but agent vowed to 'stop' Trump

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Watchdog: Comey not biased in Clinton probe, but agent vowed to 'stop' Trump

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Jonathan Ernst Reuters file
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The Justice Department's watchdog said Thursday that former FBI Director James Comey breached protocol but was not politically motivated in his handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe.

But the long-awaited report from DOJ's inspector general does contain new text messages from two FBI employees that Republicans and the White House are sure to seize on as evidence of FBI bias against President Donald Trump.

"[Trump's] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!" FBI lawyer, Lisa Page, wrote to FBI agent Peter Strzok.

"No. No he won't. We'll stop it," Strzok responded.

Other messages between Strzok, an agent who worked on both the Clinton email investigation and Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Trump's campaign, and Lisa Page, an attorney at the bureau, were previously released to Congress and the media. But the new messages are more damaging.

Federal law enforcement personnel are entitled to their own political opinions, but only so far as they do not let it interfere with their investigations of political subjects.

"The damage caused by their actions extends far beyond the scope of the [Clinton email] investigation and goes to the heart of the FBI's reputation for neutral fact finding and political independence," Horowitz said in the report.

The report did not draw any conclusions about Strzok's conduct when he began participating in the FBI investigation of Russian election interference, which led him to join Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team.

The IG is conducting a separate review touching on that investigation, looking into the question of how and why the FBI began surveillance on a Trump aide, Carter Page. Strzok was removed from the Mueller team when Mueller learned about the texts that appeared to show bias against Trump.

The FBI launched an investigation in 2015 into Clinton's handling of classified materials while she was Secretary of State after it came to light that she used a private email server instead of her government email address.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz initiated a review of how that probe was handled in January 2017, just before Trump's inauguration, to investigate the decisions by officials at the FBI and the Justice Department during the probe — including Comey's decision to speak about it publicly.

In July 2016, Comey called a press conference -- without the advance knowledge of the Justice Department or the Obama White House -- in which he said Clinton had been "extremely careless" in using a private server to classified information but had not done anything criminal. Comey said "no reasonable prosecutor" would bring charges in the case.

"We found that it was extraordinary and insubordinate for Comey to conceal his intentions from his superiors, the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General." Horowitz said of Comey's decision to call the surprise press conference.

Then on Oct. 28, just 10 days before the election, Comey notified Congress that he was reopening the investigation because New York FBI agents had found additional emails on the computer of former congressman Anthony Weiner, the husband of Clinton's assistant Huma Abedin, during the course of a separate investigation into Weiner.

Horowitz said Comey made a "serious error of judgement" when he decided to notify Congress about the existence of new Clinton emails found on disgraced Congressman Anthony Weiner's computer.

The report also says that the FBI had all the information it needed on Sept. 29, 2016, to issue a subpoena to retrieve the emails from Weiner's computer, but acted too slowly. Comey told the inspector general he isn't sure if he knew at the time that Weiner was married to Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton's aide.

Horowitz ruled out political bias in the delay to subpoena the emails in the case of most FBI personnel working on the case, including Comey and his deputy Andrew McCabe. But Horowitz could not rule out whether Strzok was politically motivated, though he points out the decision did not entirely rest on him.

The report does not indicate whether any of the subjects of the investigation will be referred for criminal prosecution, but Horowitz did recommend the FBI take administrative action against Strok, Page and three other unnamed FBI employees.

Trump has accused the Justice Department and FBI of being part of a "deep state" conspiracy to help Clinton and hurt his chances of winning the election. He, along with Republicans in Congress, have called for a special counsel to investigate the Justice Department and FBI for political bias and corruption.

Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch was criticized in the report, particularly for two decisions she made during the course of the Clinton email investigation. First, she directed the FBI to call the probe a "matter" rather than a criminal investigation. Second, she met with Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, when he climbed aboard her plane on an Arizona tarmac in June 2016. Comey has said the appearance of a cozy relationship between Lynch and the Clintons motivated his decision to independently announce the investigation was closed.

Horowitz said Lynch made an "error in judgement" by not ending the conversation with Bill Clinton sooner but found no evidence that they discussed the email investigation.