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Why the FBI's investigation into election leaks matters

Before the political world moves on entirely, it's worth noting the takeaways from the investigation into FBI leaks in the 2016 election.

It may seem like ancient history, but five years ago, there was considerable interest in the FBI, the presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and the extent to which the bureau leaked sensitive information to journalists in the hopes of affecting the outcome.

The result was a lengthy investigation from Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department's inspector general, which is now complete. As the Washington Post reported, the probe didn't amount to much, though there were a handful of revelations that matter.

A four-year probe by the Justice Department Inspector General could not determine who in the FBI spoke to reporters about sensitive subjects during the 2016 election, or find evidence that Rudolph W. Giuliani had inside information about an investigation into Hillary Clinton that upended the race in its final days.

Horowitz found that there were "substantial media contacts" between FBI employees and the press, and he found fault with "a cultural attitude at the FBI that was far too permissive of unauthorized media contacts in 2016."

As an official matter, the release of yesterday's report effectively brings the controversy, such as it was, to a close. But before the political world moves on entirely, it's worth noting two broader takeaways.

First, none of the findings help Rudy Giuliani. He made some highly provocative claims in 2016 about the FBI and Hillary Clinton, and the Justice Department's inspector general, it now appears the former mayor lied -- a lot.

Second, Team Trump invested an enormous amount of energy into the idea that many within the FBI deliberately tried to undermine the Republican presidential ticket in 2016. The multi-year investigation found something very different: so many people from within the FBI were trying to undermine Clinton that the inspector general's office struggled to sort out the culprits.

From the report released yesterday:

"During the investigation, the OIG requested and obtained records from the FBI indicating which FBI officials used FBI equipment or devices to communicate with media members who had reported on non-public, ongoing FBI criminal investigations in 2016. In response to the OIG's request, the FBI provided records indicating that 52 FBI employees had contact with one or more of the relevant reporters, using their government issued devices, in April and May 2016, and that 33 FBI employees had contact with one or more of the relevant reporters, using their government issued devices, in October 2016."

For context, October 2016 was when the FBI re-opened an examination of Clinton's emails, contributing to her defeat. It was also, evidently, when dozens of FBI employees were furiously leaking to the press.

To suggest that many in the FBI intervened behind the scenes to influence the presidential campaign is fair. To suggest that many in the FBI intervened against the Republican ticket is foolish.