The Justice Department's watchdog has launched a sweeping review of conduct by the FBI director and other department officials before the presidential election, following calls from Congress and members of the public.
Top advisers to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton have blamed FBI Director James Comey, in part, for her loss in November. Now, federal investigators say they will examine whether public statements by Comey in July, October and November 2016 ran afoul of policies that caution officials not to influence the outcome of an election and to avoid making derogatory comments about people who haven't been formally charged with wrongdoing.
The FBI had no immediate comment on the broad review, though Comey has told friends and employees that he had few good choices in the investigation into Clinton's handling of classified information on her private email server.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz said he would not "substitute" his judgment on the declination to prosecute Clinton for that of prosecutors and the FBI. And he said the review could expand based on what his investigators encounter along the way.
Among the issues the IG will scrutinize:
- Allegations that Justice Department and FBI staffers improperly leaked details about investigations before the election.
- Claims that some "underlying investigative decisions were based on improper considerations."
- Allegations that the deputy director of the FBI and the chief congressional liaison at the Justice Department should have recused themselves from the Clinton investigation.
- How the FBI release of information about an old investigation of Bill Clinton's last-minute presidential pardons happened only days before the election and how an FBI Twitter account came to publicize the documents.
Former Hillary Clinton press secretary Brian Fallon told MSNBC that the review is "entirely appropriate and very necessary."
Fallon said the FBI actions and apparent "deviations" from protocol "cried out for an independent review" to examine why Comey made the statements and why higher-ups at the Justice Department failed to rein him in.