Justice Department Watchdog to Probe FBI Actions in Run-Up to Election

FBI Director James Comey has been criticized for potential bias in making public statements on the ongoing investigation into Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton at a sensitive time during election season. FBI Director James Comey has been criticized for potential bias in making public statements on the ongoing investigation into Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton at a sensitive time during election season. Cliff Owen/AP

Citing demands from members of Congress and the public, the Justice Department inspector general on Thursday announced a coming review of allegations that the department and the FBI violated set procedure for remaining neutral during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz, responding to criticisms that FBI Director James Comey exhibited bias making public statements on the ongoing investigation into Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton at a sensitive time during election season, said the probe would address five allegations:

  • That department or FBI policies or procedures were not followed in connection with, or in actions leading up to or related to, the FBI director’s public announcement on July 5, 2016, and the director’s letters to Congress on Oct. 28 and Nov. 6, 2016, and that certain underlying investigative decisions were based on improper considerations.
  • That the FBI deputy director should have been recused from participating in certain investigative matters.
  • 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.
  • That department and FBI employees improperly disclosed non-public information.
  • That decisions regarding the timing of the FBI’s release of certain Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) documents on Oct. 30 and Nov. 1, 2016, and the use of a Twitter account to publicize the same, were influenced by improper considerations.

During the campaign, Comey’s zig-zaging statements on the issue offended both Republicans and Democrats at different times, though he ultimately stuck with his original decision not to prosecute Clinton for allegedly misusing classified information by using a private email server while running the State Department. 

“The review will not substitute the OIG’s judgment for the judgments made by the FBI or the department regarding the substantive merits of investigative or prosecutive decisions,” Horowitz said in a statement. “Finally, if circumstances warrant, the OIG will consider including other issues that may arise during the course of the review.”

The FBI had already done an internal review of whether its FOIA staff exhibited bias in tweeting about newly released documents.

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