WASHINGTON (AP) — In yet another aftershock from the chaotic presidential campaign, the Justice Department inspector general opened an investigation Thursday into department and FBI actions before the election, including whether FBI Director James Comey followed established policies in the email investigation of Hillary Clinton.
Democrats have blamed Comey’s handling of the inquiry into Clinton’s use of a private email server, and his late-October public letter about the case, as one reason for her loss to Republican Donald Trump.
Workers are now putting final touches on preparations for next week’s Inauguration Day festivities, and the new probe will not change the election results. But it revives questions of whether the FBI took actions that might have influenced the outcome.
IG Michael Horowitz, the department’s internal watchdog, will direct the investigation, which comes in response to requests from members of Congress and the public.
Comey said he was pleased about the review and the FBI would cooperate fully with the inspector general.
“I hope very much he is able to share his conclusions and observations with the public because everyone will benefit from thoughtful evaluation and transparency regarding this matter,” he said in a statement.
One part of the review will concern Comey’s news conference last July in which he said the FBI would not recommend charges against Clinton for her use of a private email system during her tenure as secretary of state. Trump repeatedly criticized that practice, contending it put national security secrets at risk.
Trump also declared at raucous rallies during the campaign that he would seek a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton and that she would be in jail if he were elected. But he said after the election that he did not intend to seek a new investigation of her.
Comey, during his announcement in the summer, broke protocol when he chastised Clinton and her aides as “extremely careless” in their email practices. It’s highly unusual for federal law enforcement officials to discuss a criminal case that ends without charges being filed.
Comey reignited the email controversy on Oct. 28 when he informed Congress that agents would be reviewing a cache of emails between Clinton aide Huma Abedin and Clinton for any new evidence related to Clinton’s handling of sensitive State Department material.
That move boiled in the campaign for nine days, before Comey announced on Nov. 6 — two days before Election Day — that the inquiry had found no new evidence of wrongdoing.
Clinton and her aides have said the disclosure of the “new” emails, found on a laptop belonging to former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner, Abedin’s estranged husband, hurt the candidate in several battleground states. Trump won the election in part with narrow victories in Democratic-leaning states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Comey’s statements prompted outrage from Clinton and other Democrats who said they needlessly placed her under fresh suspicion when the FBI didn’t even know whether the emails were relevant.
Court documents released last month said the FBI had been trying to get a look at thousands of Clinton’s emails on the disgraced former congressman’s computer to see if anyone had hacked in to steal classified information. Weiner’s laptop was initially seized by agents for an investigation into his online relationship with a teenage girl in North Carolina.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican who leads the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, wrote Thursday on Twitter that he supports the IG’s review “of what happened at the (hashtag)DOJ and (hashtag)FBI during the Clinton investigation.”
Horowitz’s broad investigation will also look into allegations that the FBI’s deputy director should have been recused from participating in certain investigative matters and allegations that department officials improperly disclosed non-public information to the Clinton campaign.
It will also delve into decision-making related to the timing of the FBI’s release of Freedom of Information Act documents in the days before the election and the use of a Twitter account to publicize them.
Asked about the new investigation, Attorney General Loretta Lynch told The Associated Press in Baltimore that “we let them conduct their review before we make any statement about that.” She added that “obviously everyone’s going to await the results of that.”
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Baltimore contributed to this report.