President Donald Trump said he thinks former FBI Director James Comey committed “very criminal acts.” But the facts don’t support the president’s opinion.
The Justice Department inspector general’s report released June 14 doesn’t make such a charge. It says Comey was “insubordinate” and defied internal policy.
Trump also made two inaccurate claims concerning special counsel Robert S. Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether there was coordination with the Trump campaign.
The president claimed the inspector general’s report “totally exonerates” him, but the report didn’t make any determination about the findings of the Mueller investigation.
Trump also claimed Mueller’s team has “no Republicans,” when the party affiliation of four team members is unknown and Mueller himself was described as a registered Republican when he was appointed FBI director in 2001 by a Republican president.
No Evidence of ‘Criminal’ Acts
The president made his claims on June 15 in remarks to a group of reporters and in an interview with “Fox & Friends” anchor Steve Doocy, who asked the president if he thought Comey should go to jail.
Doocy, June 15: From what you’ve seen so far should James Comey be locked up?
Trump: Well, look, I would never want to get involved in that. Certainly he, they just seem like very criminal acts to me. What he did was criminal. What he did was a terrible thing to people. What he did was so bad in terms of our constitution in terms of the well-being of our country. What he did was horrible.
Should he be locked up? Let somebody make a determination. Look at all the dishonest things that crooked Hillary did. Look at what’s gone on. It’s very sad.
A few moments later, Doocy said: “From what we’ve seen though regarding the IG report it sounds like Comey made some bad judgments but nothing criminal.”
That is what the inspector general’s report said.
The report concerns the FBI and Department of Justice actions regarding the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server for government business.
It says Comey was “insubordinate” in deciding to make a public statement about the investigation on July 5, 2016, and not tell his superiors in the Department of Justice about it beforehand.
IG report: Comey admitted that he concealed his intentions from the Department until the morning of his press conference on July 5, and instructed his staff to do the same, to make it impracticable for Department leadership to prevent him from delivering his statement. We found that it was extraordinary and insubordinate for Comey to do so, and we found none of his reasons to be a persuasive basis for deviating from well-established Department policies in a way intentionally designed to avoid supervision by Department leadership over his actions.
The report goes on to say that Comey contacted Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates about his plans for a public press conference the morning of July 5, 2016, “but did so only after the FBI had notified the press.”
In the press conference, Comey said that Clinton and her staff had been “extremely careless” in handling “highly classified information,” but the FBI would not recommend any criminal charges. “Our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case,” he said.
The IG report said Comey held the press conference because of “his belief that only he had the ability to credibly and authoritatively convey the rationale for the decision to not seek charges against Clinton.” The IG report “found no evidence” of bias in that action, but said making the “unilateral announcement” violated FBI “practice and protocol by, among other things, criticizing Clinton’s uncharged conduct.”
The report went on to evaluate the decision to not recommend criminal charges in the Clinton email investigation, and it found “no evidence that the conclusions by the prosecutors were affected by bias or other improper considerations; rather, we determined that they were based on the prosecutors’ assessment of the facts, the law, and past Department practice.”
There was another action by Comey that the IG report criticized. The former FBI director sent a brief letter to Congress on Oct. 28, 2016, shortly before the election, saying that FBI investigators, during the course of an unrelated investigation, found “the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent” to the prior Clinton email server investigation.
The IG report called this “a serious error of judgment” that again “meant rejecting longstanding Department policy or practice.” (On Nov. 6, 2016, Comey sent another letter to Congress, saying FBI agents had reviewed the emails and still concluded, as the bureau had in July, that there should be no criminal charges in the case.)
The report is clearly critical of Comey’s public actions that went against longstanding department policy. But was there anything “criminal” about that? The inspector general’s report didn’t say so, nor did it make a criminal referral to the Department of Justice.
The Mueller Investigation
The president falsely said that the inspector general’s report “totally exonerates” him, and he repeated a claim he has made before about the party affiliations of the investigators on Mueller’s team.
Trump, June 15: Look, we have 13 angry democrats. There are — I call them 13 angry democrats and others work for Obama for eight years. I mean they have no Republicans, you have no — it’s a very unfair situation but the I.G. report totally exonerates. I mean if you look at the results and if you look at the head investigator is saying we have to stop Trump from becoming president.
In separate comments the same day to a group of reporters, Trump again claimed that “I think that the report yesterday, maybe more importantly than anything, it totally exonerates me. There was no collusion. There was no obstruction. And if you read the report, you’ll see that.”
Actually, you won’t see that in the IG report, which doesn’t concern the findings or potential outcome of Mueller’s investigation. It specifically says the FBI’s Russia investigation “was not a part of this review.”
The report does detail text messages exchanged between Peter Strzok, deputy assistant director of the espionage section, and Lisa Page, special counsel to former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who both expressed “hostility,” in the words of the report, toward Trump.
Strzok was assigned to lead the Russia investigation in July 2016. Both briefly served on the special counsel’s investigation in 2017, Page in a 45-day temporary position and Strzok before being removed in July 2017 after the inspector general had discovered some of his text messages. Mueller was appointed special counsel in May 2017.
In one exchange on Aug. 8, 2016, according to the IG report, Page wrote, “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” Strzok’s response: “No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.”
Strzok told the inspector general’s office that “he did not specifically recall sending [that text], but that he believed that it was intended to reassure Page that Trump would not be elected, not to suggest that he would do something to impact the investigation,” the IG report said.
“We were deeply troubled by text messages sent by Strzok and Page that potentially indicated or created the appearance that investigative decisions were impacted by bias or improper considerations,” the IG report said. But it added that most of the text messages concerned the Russia investigation, and this report didn’t evaluate that. The report found no evidence connecting such political views with decisions made in the Clinton email investigation — the subject of the IG report — but it referred the information to the FBI to consider whether there had been any violations of the bureau’s code of conduct.
The IG report does say that it didn’t have “confidence” that one decision by Strzok was “free from bias” — that decision was to give priority to the Russia investigation over following up on the Clinton-related emails Comey referenced in his Oct. 28, 2016, letter to Congress. But the report also noted that FBI Assistant Director E.W. Priestap was supervising the Russia investigation at the time and it “found no evidence of bias” on the part of Priestap.
As for Trump’s claim about Mueller’s team, we’ve written before about the party affiliations of those 17 people. The special counsel’s office told us it doesn’t keep any records on party affiliation of its staff. But the Washington Post did find that 13 of the 17 investigators on the team are registered Democrats. The four others have no party affiliation or no record of one.
Trump overlooks the fact that Mueller, who’s heading the investigation, was appointed FBI director in 2001 by a Republican president, George W. Bush. At the time, the Post reported that Mueller was a registered Republican. Mueller was also appointed special counsel by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, another Republican who was appointed by a Republican president — Trump.
Nine of the team members have made federal political contributions, with five giving to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and six giving to Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns. One investigator has given to Democrats and Republicans. It’s worth noting that Trump and his family have also given to Democrats. See our March story on this for more information.