WASHINGTON — The FBI is determined to not repeat any of the mistakes identified in a harshly critical watchdog report on the handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, Director Chris Wray said Monday at a congressional hearing.
Wray said the FBI accepts the findings of the Justice Department inspector general report and has begun making changes, including about how the FBI handles especially sensitive investigations. The bureau is also reinforcing for employees the need to avoid the appearance of political bias, a key point of criticism in last week’s report.
“We’re going to learn from the report and be better as a result,” Wray said.
The report blasted FBI actions during the 2016 investigation into whether Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, had mishandled classified information on her private email server when she was secretary of state.
It said anti-Donald Trump text messages exchanged by FBI employees who worked on the investigation cast a cloud on the agency’s handling of the probe and damaged its reputation. It also said that fired FBI Director James Comey repeatedly broke from protocol, including when he publicly announced his recommendation against charging Clinton and when he bucked the judgment of Justice Department bosses by alerting Congress months later that the investigation was being reopened because of newly discovered emails.
But the report found that the July 2016 decision to spare Clinton from criminal charges was not tainted by political bias or considerations.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who joined Wray at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Monday, said there are lessons to be learned from the 500-page report, including about respecting an institution’s hierarchy and norms.
“No rule, policy or practice is perfect,” Horowitz said. “But at the same time, neither is any individual’s ability to make judgments under pressure or what may seem like unique circumstances.”
The report was the culmination of a nearly 18-month investigation by the Justice Department’s internal watchdog into how the FBI handled one of the most consequential investigations in its history.
But Horowitz indicated that his work is not done: He confirmed that the office is investigating Comey’s handling of personal memos he maintained as FBI director, including one whose substance was shared with journalists by a close friend and law school professor. He’s also investigating the origins of the FBI investigation into Trump’s Republican presidential campaign, including whether surveillance was conducted under improper motivations.
The Republican committee chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, drew a contrast between what he said were aggressive actions taken during special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign and the “kid-glove treatment” that Grassley maintained had occurred during the Clinton investigation.
“The Justice Department faces a serious credibility problem because millions of Americans suspect that there is a double standard,” Grassley said. “They see a story of kid-glove treatment for one side and bare-knuckle tactics for the other. They see politics in that story.”
Horowitz said he was especially troubled by anti-Trump text messages between an FBI agent and an FBI lawyer who worked on the Clinton investigation and were both on Mueller’s team. In one August 2016 text, the agent, Peter Strzok, said, “We’ll stop it,” in reference to a possible Trump victory. The inspector general brought those texts to the attention of Mueller, and Strzok was dropped from the team last summer.