Trump: I did a great service in firing ex-FBI chief Comey

The Justice Department’s internal watchdog released a 500-page report finding that former FBI director James Comey was ‘insubordinate’.

US President Donald Trump criticised James Comey again (Niall Carson/PA)
US President Donald Trump criticised James Comey again (Niall Carson/PA)

Former FBI director James Comey will “now officially go down as the worst leader, by far, in the history of the FBI”, Donald Trump has said.

“I did a great service to the people in firing him,” the US president tweeted.

It comes after the Justice Department’s internal watchdog released a 500-page report finding that Mr Comey was “insubordinate” when he denied agency protocols in his handling of the email investigation involving Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The inspector general also said politically charged text messages by some FBI employees about Mr Trump sullied the FBI’s reputation and “cast a cloud” over the probe.

Mr Trump’s supporters say the political bias leaked into the ongoing Russia probe, which includes an examination of whether the president tried to obstruct justice by firing Mr Comey.

“The IG Report is a total disaster for Comey, his minions and sadly, the FBI,” Mr Trump tweeted.

“Comey will now officially go down as the worst leader, by far, in the history of the FBI. I did a great service to the people in firing him.”

The Justice Department inspector general does not conclude that political preferences influenced Mr Comey or the Justice Department.

And while the president has criticised Mr Comey’s deputy, Andrew McCabe, because of Democratic political contributions to his wife, the Justice Department report said he was not required to recuse himself and had correctly flagged the issue inside the bureau.

“We 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,” the report says.

The report gave Mr Trump fresh ammunition for continued attacks on Mr Comey and for his defence that Mr Comey’s firing in May 2017 – an act now central to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether the president sought to obstruct justice – was wholly justified.

At the same time, it probably gave comfort to Clinton supporters who believe Mr Comey’s actions may have torpedoed her chance of becoming president.

The report branded Mr Comey as insubordinate for repeatedly breaking with Justice Department protocol in his handling of the email probe in the explosive final months of the 2016 presidential campaign.

It also sharply rebuked FBI officials who traded politically charged, anti-Trump text messages even as the investigation into the campaign was under way.

The report documents in painstaking detail one of the most consequential investigations in modern FBI history and reveals how the bureau, which for decades has endeavoured to stand apart from politics, came to be entangled in the 2016 presidential election.

It underscores efforts by FBI and Justice Department leaders to juggle developments in the Clinton investigation – she had used private email for government business while secretary of state – with a separate probe that was then unknown to the American public into potential co-ordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Mr Comey, whom Mr Trump fired shortly after taking office, bore the brunt of the report’s criticism.

It says the FBI director erred when he announced in July 2016 that Mrs Clinton had been “extremely careless” with classified material but would not be charged with any crime, and again months later when he told Congress just days before the election that the investigation into Mrs Clinton’s emails had been reopened.

Mr Comey concealed from the Justice Department his plans to make a public announcement until the morning he did so, even though such statements are normally handled by the Justice Department, if at all, the report says.

“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 says.

Though it says those mistakes were not politically motivated, Trump supporters seized on the report’s description of Mr Comey as “insubordinate”.

And they quickly focused on the report’s recounting of anti-Trump text messages from two FBI officials who worked on the Clinton probe and later the Russia case, including one in which an agent says “We’ll stop it”, with regard to a possible Trump victory.

The report suggests that text from Peter Strzok, who was later dropped from Mr Mueller’s team, “implies a willingness to take official action to impact the presidential candidate’s electoral prospects”.

It did not find evidence that those views seeped into the investigation.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the report “reaffirmed the president’s suspicions about Comey’s conduct and the political bias amongst some of the members of the FBI”.

FBI director Chris Wray told reporters the FBI accepted the report’s findings and was making changes, including requiring further training for FBI employees and re-emphasising the importance of objectivity.

In a New York Times opinion piece released after the report, Mr Comey said he disagreed with some conclusions but respected the watchdog’s work.

The report also notes that Mr Comey, despite chiding Mrs Clinton for mishandling government business, occasionally used personal email himself to discuss FBI matters.

“But my emails,” she said, reacting in a three-word tweet.

Press Association

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