Michael Horowitz’s Credibility Is at Risk

I’m generally a fan of Michael Horowitz, DOJ’s Inspector General.

For example, unlike many people, I think the Inspector General report on Andrew McCabe makes a credible case that the Deputy Director got caught being less than fully forthcoming with the IG — though I also think McCabe’s lawsuit has merit and expect his claim that the report itself was not completed in proper fashion may prove key to that inquiry.

But yesterday’s Comey report — and the office’s continued failure to release a report on the non-Comey leaking that hurt Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election — threatens to do grave damage to his credibility.

As I laid out in this piece at The New Republic, I think the IG Report captures the way Comey didn’t meet the standards he set for whistleblowers and Hillary Clinton over his career. I get the feeling IG staffers find Comey just as insufferable as I do!

But that’s a problem, because the case they make that Jim Comey violated FBI rules in retaining memos documenting the highly inappropriate behavior of the President is shoddy, largely because the factual findings laid out make the claim he mishandled classified information dubious and the assessment of whether he released non-public investigative material and whether his memos recorded official acts in no way supports the claims made. The IG probably could have made a solid case on the latter issue; they just didn’t.

For example, there’s the conclusion that Comey improperly disclosed Trump’s request that he drop the investigation into Michael Flynn (i.e. “I hope you can let this go”) to his friend Daniel Richman, who then told the New York Times. For the first time, the report in the second section cites Comey’s colleagues’ response to his action. “Members of Comey’s senior leadership team used the adjectives ‘surprised,’ ‘stunned,’ ‘shocked,’ and ‘disappointment’ to describe their reactions to learning that Comey acted on his own to provide the contents of Memo 4, through Richman, to a reporter.”

The report later also claims there is “no doubt” that his colleagues used those words because he violated the FBI duty to safeguard investigative matters. But if there were truly no doubt, then the report could have shown that by citing those witnesses stating that themselves. Since the report relies on this language in its analysis of two different findings, those reactions should be included, with full context, in the factual findings section.

Then there’s the report’s claim that, in releasing that same memo, Comey had revealed non-public investigative information. To back this up, the report includes two lengthy footnotes on former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates’s extensive testimony to Congress about her discussion with White House Counsel Don McGahn about Flynn—testimony that revealed a great deal about the status of the FBI’s Flynn investigation as it existed on the day she got fired. These footnotes attempt to argue that Yates’s disclosures were less substantive than Comey’s repeated references to Trump describing the calls Flynn had made to Russia’s ambassador (calls that were publicly disclosed) and insisting that Flynn had done nothing wrong. The second footnote describes that information by asserting, “Comey’s disclosure of Memo 4 provided the public with details relevant to the Flynn investigation.”

But what Yates’s testimony demonstrates is that Yates had, without objection from the Justice Department, introduced a great deal of information about the investigation into Flynn into the public record before Comey’s disclosure. Furthermore, the report cannot claim that he revealed details about the investigation itself. The actual new information that the memo disclosed was a description of how the president had, in highly unusual fashion, tried to end the investigation into Michael Flynn. The memo could only have disclosed investigative information if the president himself was being investigated—and he wasn’t yet.

The inspector general might have argued that fielding a request from the president to end an ongoing investigation is part of that investigation itself. But it tellingly does not lay out that case, instead merely claiming that such a request is “relevant” to the investigation.

Perhaps most problematically, the report provides abundant evidence of how unusual were Trump’s efforts to intervene in ongoing investigations, how his efforts broke all sorts of DOJ rules designed to protect investigative independence.

More generally, the report does not discuss whether presidential efforts to intervene in investigations, in violation of department rules about proper communication channels and chain of command, constitute the official business of the FBI director. The report does, however, lay out abundant evidence that such efforts are not normal. It quotes former FBI General Counsel Jim Baker stating that any one-on-one meetings are “quite outside the norm of interactions between the FBI Director and a President of the United States.” It describes Baker and Comey’s repeated efforts to address Trump’s direct communications: After Trump asked Comey to let the Flynn investigation go, the report quotes Comey as saying he “took the opportunity to implore the Attorney General to prevent any future direct communication between the President and me. I told the AG that what had just happened—him being asked to leave while the FBI Director, who reports to the AG, remained behind—was inappropriate and should never happen.”

After Trump called Comey directly about an intelligence investigation on March 9, 2017, Comey called then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions immediately, “to keep the Attorney General in the chain of command between [Comey] and the President.” The last memo records Comey reviewing again the proper channels for the president to intervene in investigations; the report’s discussion of it notes that Comey’s chief of staff shared the details in real time with the proper chain of command.

Is this what constitutes official business? This is what the inspect general’s report would have you believe: that the president asking Comey to do things that break the FBI’s rules is part of the FBI director’s job—and hence, Comey is at fault for airing that official business to his associates and ultimately the press. The report treats a memo recording the president demanding that he “‘lift the cloud’ created by the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election” as official business, implying that Comey should have done what the president asked of him.

As the report reveals, a whistleblower provided a full copy of Comey’s memos to the IG Department. At that point, then, the IG had solid documentation of all the ways Jeff Sessions and others had failed to protect the independence of the Department.

There’s no sign the IG investigated that problem, which remains ongoing.

Instead, after months of pressure from Trump, it instead made a weak case that Comey broke the rules, without assessing all the other urgent problems revealed by the memos.

I actually don’t think the IG produced this report in response to pressure from Trump. The facts they do lay out — to the extent they lay out the facts — aren’t that supportive of Trump.

But I do think the IG presents abundant evidence of other problems at DOJ that remain pressing. And instead of focusing on those, they instead made a weak case against Jim Comey.

I don’t like Jim Comey’s sanctimony either. But given the way the IG focuses on Comey to the detriment of the other violations of DOJ process, it suggests this investigation was affected by more personal animus than anything Peter Strzok did.

25 replies
  1. P J Evans says:

    It makes me wonder about pressure from the AG’s office.
    (ETA: Haven’t some of the other reports from the DOJ IG also been a little on the hinky side?)

  2. CaliLawyer says:

    It is remarkable that we’ve never anything on the Clinton leaks. Not even a leak. The media has completely lost interest.

    • bmaz says:

      Assuming you are referring to the FBI field office leaks to Rudy G and others, that is an excellent point.

      • Theodora says:

        Who is “they”? From what I understand Comey specifically asked Horowitz to open that investigation to look at those leaks from the NY office. He does mention those leaks and how they pressured both Comey and McCabe to make public information that was very damaging to Hillary but he always couched those statements with weasel words like “most likely” coming from that office. (Comey denies that it was pressure from them that made him speak publicly but others told Horowitz that was a big factor.) When Horowitz was asked by a Congressman if he investigated those leaks he said something about it being ongoing.
        In his filing for his lawsuit for wrongful termination Peter Strzok explicitly mentions the behavior of those agents in the NY office:
        “While Special Agent Strzok and others who expressed negative opinions of President Trump have been subject to administrative punishments of various degrees of severity, no actions have been taken against agents who expressed harsh criticism of Secretary Clinton during the 2016 campaign, or those in the New York Field Office who leaked negative information about Secretary Clinton to the Trump campaign in the weeks before the election.”
        https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/6244862/8-6-19-Strzok-v-Barr-Complaint.pdf Page 9

        Why does the media completely ignore this story? The NY FBI office did more damage to Hillary than the Russians. The IG report makes it clear that it was pressure from them and fear of those leaks that made Comey break the rules and defy his bosses and make those two public statement that were deeply damaging to Hillary. The one about the emails on Weiner’s laptop very likely cost her the election, according the Nate Silver and others.
        McCabe got so much pressure from the NY office that he allowed the fact that the Clinton Foundation was under investigation (based on bogus accusations made by Steve Bannon flunky Peter Schweitzer in his book “Clinton Cash”) to be given to Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal.
        Both Comey and McCabe were spineless fools who allowed their underlings in the NY office to repeatedly break the rules and very likely violate the Hatch Act. Yet the media completely ignores what the NY FBI did to help elect Trump. WHY??? Is it just that that office, which is notorious for leaking, is too good a source to burn? It is as shame that the fearless Wayne Barrett has died:

  3. Joseph Carson says:

    Is it possible that, by law, DOJ does not self-regulate its own management culture, that other agencies have essential roles in the its regulation. If so, then if those external regulatory agencies are breaking the law in how they are NOT regulating DOJ’s management culture, could that be a causal factor in what ails DOJ?

    More importantly, can DOJ management culture be changed to where it, as required by law, exemplifies the merit principles of the federal civil service if its external regulators continue to break the law in NOT regulating it for that end?

    Just asking.

    [Just responding: Yes there is an internal mechanism within DOJ for accountability. One is the IG. The other is OPR. There is a serious question as to how effective either truly is. But to intone there is nothing is stupid and uninformed. Lastly, we do not condone link whoring here. Peddle your blog post elsewhere, it has been removed from this comment. Don’t try to pull that crap here again. – bmaz]

  4. dwfreeman says:

    You know what is amazing, not that the MSM never investigated the NY FBI field office action vis a vi Rudy Giuliani, the Trump family and campaign buildup of the Weiner laptop case before the less-than significant Hillary emails were accessed just in time for a last minute Trump-Russia suppression voter push; no, what is amazing is that the case against Weiner was never investigated by anyone.

    Because Weiner was a known douchebag horndog loved by a woman who happened to be Hillary’s top aide.

    Weiner was set up and packaged for the FBI and Comey’s re-entry into the political fray in connection with the GOP’s obsession in nailing Hillary on missing emails from her private and/or government servers. Everyone covered the original report that led to the FBI seizure of Weiner’s laptop.

    And, of course, that was the reason the October Surprise worked so well without any questions being asked.

    Nobody looked at why that story became a flashing neon headline without any reason for becoming public except the absolute need of the Trump campaign to make it so.

    It is, in my mind, the greatest trick the Trump campaign pulled off in 2016 election. They set up Weiner, a two time congressional loser and failed New York City mayoral candidate, alleging that he was engaged with some unknown 15-year-old rural North Carolina girl in an ongoing sexting affair that lasted the approximate time of Trump’s move from primary season contender to Republican presidential nominee. A January to May romance that nobody except her unidentified family and an alleged teacher who blew the whistle knew about. What are the fucking odds on that?

    And if this story is so authentic, why were Russian foreign agents, Brietbart associates and a UK tabloid the first to report this story without really identifying the victim or her family in any meaningful way, while claiming she was underage when she wasn’t. And the truth is, Weiner didn’t search out the victim, she stalked him knowing his sicko behavior might reap dividends. And the woman who assisted this process was actually a woman who had previously sexted with Weiner and knew all about his predilections and the ease of catfishing him.

    So, allegedly a 15-year-old Gastonia North Carolina girl in January 2016 sent an email to Anthony Weiner claiming she was a big fan and wanted to write a book about him.

    When the story broke in the Daily Mail on Sept. 21, 2016, there were vague contentions from media outlets that they had verified the story. Which offered the greenlight to any other reporting on this story. That’s the way the news media works; one claims responsibility, and now the story is good to go however you report it.

    Except, the story was investigated by WhoWhatWhy.org. And their reporting of it documents why this story stinks and more importantly why the NY FBI field office behavior needs complete review. Russ Baker’s investigative blogsite is one of the best in the business. It covers stories that no one else does. And it does an exceptional job on this one.

    This is the kind of wag the dog story that will eventually get made in Hollywood with a level of disbelief that will make its truth seem unreal to most audiences even when tagged as a story based on true events. The only thing false about this story is why it ever happened.

      • Desider says:

        North Carolina, prolly not. More like a Roger Stone-style ratf*cking opp with potentially Russian help to hack Weiner’s hookup feed and compromise his laptop.
        Yeah, it’d be great to trust that there really was this 15-year-old, but it still stinks. And it’s really crazy that Weiner served 18 months hard time for sexting with a girl who contacted him & he never met nor touched, while Epstein got 13 months cushy time for pimping out dozens of underage girls.

    • Americana says:

      dw, I’ll look for the WhoWhatWhy.org but I’d like to refresh my memory of what went down so if you’ve got a few other links, shoot em my way. I’m not remembering some of the details you are. If I’m recalling correctly, Abedin came out and said she’d had to borrow Weiner’s laptop for a short while when hers was in for repair. Is that correct? To me, this was one of the most awful coincidences in the campaign but I’ll never be entirely sure it was a coincidence.

  5. orionATL says:

    “…I actually don’t think the IG produced this report in response to pressure from Trump. The facts they do lay out — to the extent they lay out the facts — aren’t that supportive of Trump…”

    i don’t see why the ig’s report would have to be “supportive of trump” to have been in response to trump’s pressure on the doj, the fbi, and every major administrator therein whom dear prez had viewed as having obstructed his personal desires or political needs (legally, obstruction of president imperator). i think it likely the ig was bending to trump’s wind :)

    – i felt that the ig report on mccabe was clearly aimed at mollifying the president and allowing him to declaim about what a scoundrel mccabe is (as if the ig had figured out how to manipulate the old fker and protect doj). leaks to the press and “lack of candor”, aka, lying, are after all tools of the trade in politics and the bureaucracy, whose persistent use can never be acknowledged. mccabe seems to have lied to the ig, but about matters that are technical in the sense of proproper behavior, rather than about something particularly consequential. the ig’s report could even be viewed as protecting mccabe from the prez by handing the president a shiny object.

    – similarly, the ig’s report could be viewed as protecting comey by giving the president means to publicly slap comey’s reputation around, but avoiding any legal jeopardy for comey (which seems par for the course for head honchos at doj going back years). if you were going to write up a psuedo-tough criticism of comey, the opaque, contradictory, and hypocritical (insofar as they never apply to the prez or one of his favorites) rules of classification, retention, storage, and “proper” disseimination (cf clinton) would be a perfect tool to use. as for the more serious but still vague issue of the proper behavior of a leader as setting the example for his subordinates, our president’s behavior in his first 2 1/2 yrs has shot that approach to all to hell. surely horowitz sees that.

    finally, and i think most fundamentally, what the ig did to comey is what comey did to clinton – clear with condemnation – and both i suspect for the same reason, to protect themselves and their baliwicks from the unusual political and legal savagery of the contemporary republican party of trump, nunez, meadows, mcconnell, s. miller, albence, et al.

  6. Jim Westcot says:

    The author of this article is a political hack. Mr. Horowitz conducted an independent investigation. On the other hand, Mueller’s investigation was tainted by partisan investigators from the beginning. So, if the author truly believed this, then he is an idiot.

    • Rayne says:

      I’m letting your bullshit through so regular community members can get a look at the nonsense we get at this site from those who can’t be arsed to do their homework, assuming this isn’t just a plain old vanilla trolling.

      Begone with your ad hominem.

    • orionATL says:

      westcot, j. –

      the author of this post is everything a political hack is not, including the possessor of remarkable intellectual integrity. you could learn a great deal by reading here were your mind not already closed.

      your comment – “Mueller’s investigation was tainted by partisan investigators” – suggests that you are projecting your own partisanship and are the sort of dunce that sucumbs to and then repeats trump propaganda.

      one does not have to be a partisan (democrat) to see trump’s complete lack of integrity, his compulsive dishonesty, his general incompetence in economic matters, domestic political matters, and international relations. many of the better educated republicans, loyal to the party but not to trump’s unacceptable conduct which threatens to destroy the party, see this too. in particular, a substantial number of republican politicians recognize this, which is why there is an astonishing exit from the republican congressional party taking place at this moment?

      as for the charge of “partisanship” it is an empty charge if based on party i.d. alone. because there are only two political parties in this nation, actions at all levels of government will always be taken by persons of one party or the other. the key issue is not political party membership, but personal integrity. there is no reason to think that those involved in investigating president trump’s substantial misconduct and and his collusion with the gov’t of russia lacked integrity. there is every reason to think, which the special counsel’s two volume report documents in great detail, that the investigators discovered substantial improper conduct by president trump and his campaign crew, a group to whom integrity has no meaning.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Looks like a mainline troll to me.

      “If the author…then “he” is an idiot,” indicates that the comment is off-the-shelf, even though the apparent ignorance about who the author is seems feigned, given that the commenter found this site.

      The bald assertion that Horowitz’s investigation was “independent” but that Mueller’s was “tainted” seems to be the intended punch line, but it sounds punch drunk to me.

  7. Marinela says:

    Since the report relies on this language in its analysis of two different findings, those reactions should be included, with full context, in the factual findings section.

    Trying to understand the motivation for the IG to play on rumors, or make up rumors, while not showing the facts. He sure understands it makes him look like a political hack, but he doesn’t care apparently.

    One more example that degradation vortex pulls everybody in Trump era.

  8. orionATL says:

    “…As the report reveals, a whistleblower provided a full copy of Comey’s memos to the IG Department. At that point, then, the IG had solid documentation of all the ways Jeff Sessions and others had failed to protect the independence of the Department…”

    i keep staring at this paragrapgh. i really don’t know what to say. i think it bothers me somewhere in the back of my mind that a person who is clearly angry with comey (i’ll rule out hyper-straitlaced for the moment) and clearly very high up in the fbi/doj hierarchy (because he had access) is being called by the honorable term ‘whistleblower’ when he is no more than a bureaucratic opponent or someone who feels injured by comey (mccabe comes to mind, from gossip i have heard).

    if ‘whistleblower’ is the term used by ig horowitz’s team, it is a small mark of disingenuity against them, perhaps in an effort to disguise the internecine warfare trump’s attacks on doj provoked?

  9. Tom says:

    Considering how stridently Trump has blasted Comey in the past: “… he was a bad cop … a dirty cop and he lied. He really lied …” (TPM story from Jan. 14, 2019), if the worst that Horowitz can say about the former FBI Director is that he didn’t follow proper record keeping procedures, then the IG Report almost has the effect of praising Comey by damning him so faintly.

    The overall tone of the IG Report is also a little bizarre as it reads as if there are step-by-step directions (which Comey reportedly ignored?) buried deep in some Policy & Procedures manual at FBI headquarters on what the FBI Director should do when the President of the United States seeks to obstruct justice and halt a criminal and counter intelligence investigation, and when the FBI Director has reason to believe the Attorney General cannot be trusted to respond to the situation in the proper manner.

      • Tom says:

        Thanks, Tom, and thanks to x174 below. Now here’s some probably not very lucid thinking. The President tried browbeating his fellow leaders at the recent G-7 summit to have Russia readmitted to the fold. He also wants to host next year’s G-7 summit at his Doral golf resort in Florida. That has me thinking again that, if Trump starts to feel that the walls are closing in on him next year and that he will be defeated next November, then he may have some plan to defect to Russia rather than face the possibility of being charged with obstruction of justice after he leaves the White House. Sounds improbable, I know, and the President would have to find some way of eluding his Secret Service detail, but it’s an idea that my thoughts keep drifting back to anytime Trump’s chumminess with Putin is front and center in the news.

    • x174 says:

      Excellent line of reasoning. The fact that it hasn’t been more of the unfolding discourse just shows how far the quality of dialogue has fallen in ‘murika. the doj and the fbi are both hideously murky institutions deserving of considerable contempt. for the woefully misbegotten act of comey to investigate hillary in the days leading up to the election, comey deserves to be shat upon. alternatively, for detailing the crimes of our dsp in the russia thang may offer him a reprieve of a good ‘ol shower from a fire hose. so many of the key players in this unfolding fiasco appear compromised. the one that seems deserving of special scrutiny, rod rosenstein, appears somehow above the fray in terms of critical media exposure. the fact the that IG also seems compromised or conflicted is par for the course in this never-ending shit show.

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