What's Next After Inspector General Report
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
President Trump says on Twitter that he did a great service to the people in firing James Comey. That's Trump's response to the former FBI director who's been criticized in a new report from the Justice Department's inspector general. This report focuses on the way that Comey and others handled the investigation of Hillary Clinton's emails. While it criticized Comey, it also found no evidence of political motivation.
Here to talk more about the report is NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Hi there, Carrie.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: What stands out to you when you read that 500 pages?
JOHNSON: Well, really, the conclusion that Jim Comey, the former FBI director, was insubordinate and usurped the role of the attorney general by saying he would not charge Hillary Clinton with a crime. Of course, that's the Justice Department's job, not the FBI's job.
INSKEEP: Can we just remember also, Comey called this press conference - didn't just put out a statement but called this press conference and - was he told not to by his boss or just didn't ask permission? How did that come down?
JOHNSON: In fact, Steve, the inspector general found that Comey waited to the last minute to inform the Justice Department he was going to do this so they wouldn't overrule him, which is kind of a bold move. And in fact, the report - it also has some criticism for the former Attorney General Loretta Lynch for not cutting short her infamous meeting with Bill Clinton on the airport tarmac in 2016, which gave rise to allegations of impropriety. No actual impropriety - it just looked bad.
But Steve, really the most serious stuff in this report are text messages between people at the FBI which cast doubt on the credibility of the bureau generally, the inspector general found, because these people were texting bad things about Donald Trump and often nice things about Hillary Clinton.
INSKEEP: OK. Just one thing about James Comey because you've covered him for so long, Carrie Johnson - he made this decision not to inform his superiors until the last minute, essentially because he did not trust President Obama's political appointees at the Justice Department to steer him straight. He wanted to make sure the FBI was independent. That's been the explanation he's given. Has he kind of assumed all along that some kind of rebuke like this would be coming; he accepted that as the price of looking independent?
JOHNSON: Yeah, I think Comey has concluded that he thinks he had tough choices but ultimately did the right thing. And I think a large part of the book tour that Comey participated in earlier this year was trying to explain to the public why he did what he did, even though a lot of people still don't agree with the guy.
INSKEEP: Including, apparently, the inspector general of the Justice Department. So is anybody going to get in trouble here?
JOHNSON: Well, in fact, the inspector general has referred five people at the FBI who were sending this political commentary via text message and instant message for possible internal discipline. That process can take a while. But the FBI says that it is going to hold people to account if they broke the rules. The new FBI director Chris Wray, who replaced Comey, says he's disappointed. But he says the report did not impugn the integrity of the entire workforce. And Wray told reporters yesterday it could have been a lot worse.
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CHRISTOPHER WRAY: This report did not find any evidence of political bias or improper considerations actually impacting the investigation under review.
INSKEEP: How much has this affected the reputation and the morale in the FBI, this several yearslong series of events?
JOHNSON: It's been really bad over at the bureau. Of course, they've already had a shake-up. Comey has been fired. Last year - earlier this year, the deputy director, Andy McCabe, was fired at the last minute before he intended to collect his federal pension. He's now under investigation by the U.S. Attorneys Office in D.C. for allegedly misleading investigators as part of this IG probe. Things are rough over there, but the new FBI director Chris Wray says the FBI continues to do its work, that applications to the honors program are up. And he's convinced that people are putting their nose to the grindstone and getting the job done.
INSKEEP: Just very briefly, there's a court hearing today relating to Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman. What's happening?
JOHNSON: Yeah. Manafort got slapped with new obstruction of justice charges last week. Prosecutors are saying the judge should revoke his bail, potentially, and lock him up. So Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, if the judge agrees, could be sent to jail and spend the rest of the time before his trials in lockup, a remarkable turn of events possibly coming later today.
INSKEEP: The investigation continues even as the investigators are investigated.
NPR's Carrie Johnson, thanks very much.
JOHNSON: My pleasure.
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