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Department of Justice Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz testified Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee about his office’s report on the “Oversight of the FBI and DOJ Actions in Advance of the 2016 Election.”
Here is his opening statement before the committee:
“Chairmen, ranking members, and members of the committees: Thank you for inviting me to testify at today’s hearing to examine the Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) findings in our “Review of Various Actions by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice in Advance of the 2016 Election.” The report reviews various actions by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Department of Justice (Department) in connection with the investigation into the use of a private email server by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (named the Midyear investigation by the FBI). The report can be found on the OIG’s website.
“The 500-plus page report was the product of 17 months of investigative work by a dedicated OIG team that reviewed well over 1.2 million documents, including over 100,000 text and instant messages, and interviewed more than 100 witnesses, many on multiple occasions. Our report provides a thorough, comprehensive, and objective recitation of the facts related to the Department’s handling of the Midyear investigation. The review team followed the evidence wherever it led, and it was through their efforts that we identified the inappropriate text and instant messages discussed in the report. Additionally, as a result of the OIG’s painstaking forensic examinations, we recovered thousands of text messages that otherwise would have been lost or undisclosed. We completed our report when we were satisfied that we had pursued all reasonable investigative leads and finished our detailed forensic examinations. As a result of this approach, our report includes, for example, text messages that we recovered just last month, which were significant to our findings. It also includes an analysis of the FBI’s decision not to request access in May 2016 to certain classified information, a decision that we did not learn of until the later stages of our review.
“As detailed in our report, we found that the inappropriate political messages cast a cloud over the Midyear investigation, sowed doubt about the credibility of the FBI’s handling of it, and impacted the reputation of the FBI. Moreover, we found the implication that senior FBI employees would be willing to take official action to impact a presidential candidate’s electoral prospects to be deeply troubling and antithetical to the core values of the FBI and the Department of Justice.
“Our review also included a fact-based, detailed assessment of certain specific investigative and prosecutorial decisions that were the subject of controversy. It was necessary to select particular investigative decisions for focused attention because it would not have been possible to recreate and analyze every decision made in a year-long investigation. In examining the decisions we selected for review, the question we considered was not whether a particular decision was the ideal or most effective choice, but rather, whether the documentary and testimonial evidence indicated that the decision was based on improper considerations, including political bias. This approach is consistent with the OIG’s handling of such questions in past reviews with respect to assessing discretionary judgment calls, and recognizes and respects the institutional oversight role of the OIG. Our report provides a comprehensive assessment of these decisions and of the Midyear 2 investigation, and details the factual evidence, so that the public, Congress, and other stakeholders can conduct their own assessment of them.
“Within this framework, as to the specific investigative and prosecutorial decisions we reviewed, we did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected those specific investigative decisions, in part because the decisions were made by the larger Midyear team or the prosecutors. This determination by the OIG does not mean that we necessarily endorse the decisions or conclude they were the most effective among the options considered, or that our finding should or can be extrapolated to cover other decisions made during the course of the investigation by FBI employees who sent inappropriate political messages. With regard to the decision to close the investigation without prosecution, we found no evidence that the conclusions by the prosecutors were the result of improper considerations, including political bias, but rather were based on the prosecutors’ assessment of the facts, the law, and past Department practice.
“Conversely, we found that the FBI’s explanations for its failure to take immediate action after discovering the Weiner laptop in October 2016 to be unpersuasive, and we did not have confidence that the decision of Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok to prioritize the Russia investigation over following up on the Weiner laptop was free from bias.
“We also found that, in key moments, then FBI Director James Comey clearly departed from FBI and Department norms, and his decisions negatively impacted the perception of the FBI and the Department as fair administrators of justice. Director Comey concealed from the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General his intention to make a unilateral announcement in July about the reasons for his recommendation not to prosecute former Secretary Clinton. His July 5 statement included inappropriate commentary about uncharged conduct, announced his views on what a “reasonable prosecutor” would do, and served to confuse rather than clarify public understanding of his recommendation. In late October, he again acted without adequately consulting Department leadership – and contrary to important Department norms – when he sent a letter to Congress announcing renewed investigative activity days before the election.
“There are many lessons to be learned from the Department’s and the FBI’s handling of the Midyear investigation. But among the most important is the need to respect the institution’s hierarchy and structure, and to follow established policies, procedures, and norms even in the highest-profile and most challenging investigations. No rule, policy, or practice is perfect, of course. But at the same time, neither is any individual’s ability to make judgments under pressure or in what may seem like unique circumstances. When leaders and officials adhere to their bedrock principles and values, the public has greater confidence in the fairness and rightness of their decisions, and those institutions’ leaders better protect the interests of federal law enforcement and the dedicated professionals who serve us all. By contrast, the public’s trust is negatively impacted when law enforcement officials make statements reflecting bias, when leaders abandon institutional norms 3 and the organizational hierarchy in favor of their own ad hoc judgments, and when leadership of the Department and the FBI are unable to speak directly with one another for the good of the institutions. Our report makes nine recommendations to assist the FBI and the Department in addressing these issues, most of which can be tied together through a common theme – that the FBI and the Department remain true to their foundational principles and values in all of their work.”