WASHINGTON (Circa) — Former Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had only three words to say in response to the Justice Department inspector general's report on the FBI's handling of her email investigation, "But my emails."
Clinton's tweet was at once a dig at her Republican critics' fixation on the email affair and a jab at former FBI Director James Comey, who used a private Gmail account to conduct official FBI business.
According to the inspector general's report, Comey used a personal email account "on numerous occasions" to conduct official business. Inspector General Michael Horowitz and his team dinged Comey saying the frequency of his behavior was "inconsistent with the DOJ Policy Statement" regarding the use of personal email for official business.
Clinton seized on this detail buried 400 pages into the report to troll the former FBI director who she still blames for her 2016 election loss. As recently as April, Clinton described Comey's decision to send a letter to Congress announcing the reopening of the investigation days before the election. as "the single event that changed people's votes."
The inspector general report listed five examples of Comey using his Gmail account for personal business between 2016 and 2017. Those included draft documents and public statements sent to his personal account from his unclassified FBI account. There was also an email with two attachments, one of which was a list of FBI employees listing their titles, office, appointment status, contact information and duty hours.
Asked if his use of private email was consistent with FBI regulations, Comey said in an interview with Horowitz's team, "I don't know. I think so."
That answer differed from what Comey told FBI agents in October 2016. In a conference, he warned agents "you'd be in huge trouble...if you used an unclassified personal email system to do our business," specifically business involving classified materials.
If there was a lesson from the three-year saga that originated with three email servers in Chappaqua, New York, James Comey apparently missed it, said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell.
"It is ironic," he noted. "The obvious lesson is, if you're a government official you should know what you should be communicating on and you should also know what is classified and what isn't."
Comey told the inspector general that he did not use his personal email or laptop for classified information. According to Comey's former chief of staff, James Rybicki, Comey began using the personal email account at about the time he became FBI director in 2013.
Clinton's jab at Comey was an attempt at a clever response to the IG report, O'Connell noted, "but it is proof that she still hasn't understood what the whole brouhaha was about, nor does she seem to care.
Comey may have defied DOJ policy by using a private email account, but there is a matter of degrees.
Throughout Clinton's tenure at the State Department, from 2009 through 2013, she "never" used an official State Department email account or device, choosing to conduct business from her @clintonemail.com domain.
Of the more than 30,000 work-related emails Clinton turned over to investigators, the FBI found at least three containing classified information. More than 31,000 emails were deemed "personal" and "wiped" from Clinton's server using BleachBit, commercial software used to prevent document recovery. The FBI was unable to review those files.
Clinton's mocking tweet about her emails elicited an equally wry response from Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., a tireless Clinton critic, who piled on, "But BleachBit."
Suspicions of Clinton's wrongdoing are not likely to be quelled by the IG report, which raised additional questions about the political bias of certain investigators and suggests the former secretary of state was treated differently than other subjects of an investigation. The IG report ultimately upheld Comey's July 5, 2016 determination that Clinton's conduct was "extremely careless" but "no reasonable prosecutor" would bring a case against her.
EVERYONE CLAIMS THEIR SIDE VINDICATED
Inspector General Horowitz spared no one in the far-reaching 500-plus page report.
James Comey may have gotten the brunt of the criticism, with IG concluding he was "insubordinate," violated FBI protocol and hurt the reputation of the bureau. But he was not the only one. Former Attorney General Lorette Lynch, former Obama-appointed officials at DOJ, FBI agents, including Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, members of the press and even Clinton were not spared for their misconduct.
Still, there is something in the report for everyone, O'Connell noted, "There's something for the Clinton team and there's obviously a lot for the Trump team."
Celebrating the IG's findings, Trump told reporters on Friday, "The report yesterday, maybe more importantly than anything, it totally exonerates me. There was no collusion. There was no obstruction. And if you read the report, you'll see that."
Some legal experts have suggested Trump fired Comey in an attempt to obstruct the FBI's ongoing investigation into his campaign and possible connections to the Russian government. Comey's dismissal in March 2017 resulted in the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller to lead an independent investigation into Trump and Russia.
In an interview on Fox News, Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani jumped on the point, saying, "This report is a complete and absolute explanation of why Comey had to be fired...So how can it be obstruction of justice?"
Trump's allies can also point to the anti-Trump political bias expressed by multiple agents, including anti-Trump text messages sent by Peter Strzok who went on to work on the FBI investigation of the Trump campaign.
Those biased text messages Strzok sent on his FBI device are "clearly the most damaging" part of the report, Chairman of the House intelligence committee Devin Nunes told Sinclair on Friday. He argued that those texts "go to the origination" of the FBI's investigation into President Trump and undermine its legitimacy.
Clinton supporters and Democrats have also used the report to claim a more bittersweet victory, pointing to the FBI's misconduct as the original sin that led to their candidate's loss in 2016.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. told reporters on Thursday, the FBI and DOJ's mishandling of the investigation "all accrued to the benefit of candidate Trump."
Even James Comey declared a partial victory. In an op-ed, he affirmed that "nothing in the inspector general’s report makes me think we did the wrong thing." Comey went on to argue that the internal review will ultimately benefit the institution whose reputation he was accused of marring.
"If a future FBI leadership team ever faces a similar situation," Comey wrote, "it will have the benefit of this important document."