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Justice Department to investigate Comey, FBI election activities

Did the FBI and Director James Comey go too far in their election-year activities? The Justice Department Inspector General's intends to find out.
FBI Director James Comey takes questions from members of the media during a news conference, Nov. 18, 2014, in Boston. (Photo by Steven Senne/AP)
FBI Director James Comey takes questions from members of the media during a news conference, Nov. 18, 2014, in Boston.
There's no shortage of observers who've argued, persuasively, that FBI Director James Comey made reckless decisions at critical moments, which in turn helped put Donald Trump in the White House. Indeed, as recent developments have made clear, Comey had evidence of illegal Russian intervention in support of Trump and questions about possible Hillary Clinton emails on Anthony Weiner's laptop.With just days remaining ahead of Election Day, and with early voting already underway, the FBI director went public with the latter, not the former. When Comey testified on Capitol Hill this week that he "would never comment on investigations" publicly, it drew sardonic laughter.But given the larger context, none of this is funny. In fact, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz announced today he is moving forward with an investigation "how the FBI and Justice Department handled certain aspects of the Hillary Clinton email investigation."

[Horowitz's probe] will include a review of FBI Director James Comey's news conference in July and his two letters to lawmakers in late October and early November."In response to requests from numerous Chairmen and Ranking Members of Congressional oversight committees, various organizations, and members of the public, the Office of the Inspector General will initiate a review of allegations regarding certain actions by the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation in advance of the 2016 election," the Justice Department said.

The scope of the review matters. Comey's late-October letter had a direct role in dictating the outcome of the presidential campaign, but the question surrounding the FBI's election-year activities go further than that one misguided-but-consequential letter.For example, in July, Comey -- a Republican appointed to his post by President Obama -- announced that the bureau would not pursue charges against Clinton. As FBI director, Comey's job in that situation was to simply announce the end of the investigation and move on, but Comey went further, delivering a prepared speech in which he condemned Clinton's "extremely careless" email server protocols.Why did he take it upon himself to share these opinions? No one really knows -- plenty of prosecutors were stunned by Comey's move at the time -- which is probably why the Justice Department's IG will explore this further.What's more, this isn't just about the FBI director. As we learned in November, a group of FBI investigators conducted "multiple" interviews with Peter Schweizer, a former speechwriting consultant for President George W. Bush, who authored an anti-Clinton screed called "Clinton Cash." Senior Justice Department "didn't think much" of the allegations, but some in the FBI invested election-year energies chasing this anyway.According to the NBC News report, Horowitz will also examine:

* Allegations that the FBI Deputy Director should have been recused from participating in certain investigative matters;* Allegations that the Department's Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs improperly disclosed non-public information to the Clinton campaign and/or should have been recused from participating in certain matters;* Allegations that Department and FBI employees improperly disclosed non-public information; and* Allegations that decisions regarding the timing of the FBI's release of certain Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) documents on October 30 and November 1, 2016, and the use of a Twitter account to publicize same, were influenced by improper considerations.

Watch this space.