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FBI director to be probed for pre-poll remarks, actions

The US presidential elections 2016 may have ended with Donald Trump’s victory on November 9, but not for FBI director James Comey, who is facing an investigation for his comments and actions leading up to the polls.

world Updated: Jan 13, 2017 22:32 IST
Yashwant Raj
Investigation will be open into how James Comey, handled the case over Hillary Clinton’s emails, including his decision to discuss it at a news conference and to disclose 11 days before the election that he had new information that could lead him to reopen it.
Investigation will be open into how James Comey, handled the case over Hillary Clinton’s emails, including his decision to discuss it at a news conference and to disclose 11 days before the election that he had new information that could lead him to reopen it.

The US presidential elections 2016 may have ended with Donald Trump’s victory in the early hours of November 9, but not for FBI director James Comey, who is facing an investigation for his comments and actions leading up to the polls.

The justice department’s inspector general Michael J Horowitz said on Thursday that he would open a broad investigation into how the Comey, handled the case over Hillary Clinton’s emails, including his decision to discuss it at a news conference and to disclose 11 days before the election that he had new information that could lead him to reopen it.

The inspector general, an internal but independent watchdog, will look at allegations “procedures were not followed in connection with, or in actions leading up to or related to, the FBI director’s public announcement on July 5, 2016, and the director’s letters to Congress on October 28 and November 6, 2016, and that certain underlying investigative decisions were based on improper considerations”.

The announcement, which he made without a warning to his boss, attorney general Loretta Lynch, was criticised by Republicans as an overreach. It was not his place to play investigator, prosecutor and judge at the same time, they argued.

It was the turn of Democrats to cry foul on October 28, when the FBI director told Congress the email server case was being reviewed because of new evidence found on a laptop owned by Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s estranged husband.

That was just days before voting on November 8, and broke Clinton’s momentum in the race. She was leading Trump in all polls then and by a margin that was to have given her race easily, in the estimation of pollsters and pundits.

Clinton and her supporters have blamed that letter for her defeat, along with Russian meddling. Comey exonerated her once again in a letter to Congress on November 6, but the damage had been done, in Clinton’s view.

Horowitz, a political appointee whose term is likely to end on January 20 unless extended by the Trump administration, will also look at actions of other justice department and FBI officials, but Comey will be main focus.

The FBI director has welcomed the probe saying, in a statement: “I am grateful to the Department of Justice's IG for taking on this review. He is professional and independent, and the FBI will cooperate fully with him and his office.”

He added: “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.”

A lifelong Republican, Comey was seen as upright official, specially among liberals, for standing up to the Bush administration on unauthorised wiretapping and the use of enhanced interrogation, torture.

President Obama named him FBI director in 2013, a position that comes with a fixed tenure of 10 years as a shield against political pressure, and has defended him publicly, calling him a “good man” after the October 26 letter.

But other Democrats have been less charitable. Now, even conservatives are calling for him to either resign himself or be fired by his incoming, new bosses — attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions and Trump.