Trump's new red herring: IG report on Clinton email probe proves Comey "witch hunt"

Don't let Trump use the Inspector General's new report on Department of Justice distract from Russia probe

By Lisa Gilbert

Published June 14, 2018 6:29PM (EDT)

James Comey; Donald Trump (AP/Getty/Salon)
James Comey; Donald Trump (AP/Getty/Salon)

President Donald Trump heated up the Twittersphere with his latest red herring on Thursday, triggered by the release of Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General's report strongly criticizing former FBI Director James Comey’s handling of the Hilary Clinton email investigation. The president held up the report as the latest “proof” that the DOJ and the FBI have been involved in a “witch hunt” to take him down, rather than an investigation into foreign election interference and obstruction of justice. IG Michael Horowitz concluded that Comey “deviated” from FBI and DOJ procedures in handling the probe into Clinton, damaging the law enforcement agencies image of impartiality even though he wasn’t motivated by political bias.

But while the Clinton email probe clearly deserved this oversight, we cannot let the facts in that situation color our understanding of the current one, as the Trump team cranks up its outrage machine yet again.

Comey is one of the most important voices in the obstruction case against Trump. That is indisputably the reason that this report is being used to undermine Comey’s credibility and to double down on the president’s long-standing claim that the former FBI director’s mishandling of the Clinton investigation was the basis for his termination. The idea that Trump became outraged at the handling of a situation that helped him in his pursuit of the presidency remains laughable.

That said, even if we believed Trump’s claim when he first said it, he let that genie out of the bottle long ago when he revealed to NBC’s Lester Holt that he fired Comey because of the “Russia thing.” Add Trump’s admission in the Oval Office to the Russian ambassador that firing Comey relieved “great pressure” related to Russia, and we’ve got the truth from the president’s own mouth.

Today’s IG report on the DOJ cannot and should not erase those facts. Additionally, while there is an important critique that can be made of Comey’s departure from the DOJ’s policies in his handling of the Clinton case information, as the report states, there is no evidence to suggest Comey was motivated by “political bias.” Comey’s choice to make public statements considered harmful to the campaign of Trump’s general election rival highlights the ridiculousness of any claims that the “deep state” FBI is out to get Trump or his associates.

When it comes to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, Comey’s clear, time-pegged, memos remain a strong record of his work as FBI chief under Trump, and his concerns with his commander’s requests are a valuable addition to the special counsel’s thinking, as well as important corroboration of the facts. Regardless of any critique of his choice to release information in the Clinton email probe, there is no reason to think that he lacked candor or clarity as he made those decisions, nor that there is any pattern of such behavior.  

The smears of the special counsel’s investigation from Trump and his proxies has been ceaseless and dangerous for our democracy. The revelations in today’s report show (once again), that none of the claims hold water. There is no conspiracy. There is no witch hunt. The IG’s report shows us the value of an independent DOJ and FBI, and the findings show us Horowitz’s concerns with the handling of a Clinton email probe, with no reason to think that those concerns make Comey’s memos unreliable, nor his insights into the issues of obstruction of justice less credible.

We must not allow the administration to bastardize this unrelated IG report into yet another attack on the Mueller investigation.  It is a separate probe, and much as the FBI investigation was allowed to play out, the Russia investigation must be allowed to as well.

Mueller is running the Trump-Russia investigation. He wasn’t connected to the Clinton investigation and didn’t join the Russia probe until after Comey was gone. In addition, the Russia probe is getting results no matter which way you look at it-- with 23 indictments, five guilty pleas and one prison sentence in a single year. And of course, this includes Trump’s deputy campaign chairman, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the United States.

The public deserves the truth. We are sick of red herrings and distractions, and to protect the rule of law, justice and democracy. The Russia investigation must be allowed to continue.

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Lisa Gilbert

Lisa Gilbert is vice president of legislative affairs for Public Citizen.

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Clinton Email Saga Doj Ig Donald Trump Inspector General James Comey