In the ensuing days, the bureau scrambled to review the messages, and quickly determined that the new evidence did not change its original conclusions. But Clinton, as well as analysts including Nate Silver, have said that the October 28 announcement, coming so close to the election, doomed her chances in an election decided by tens of thousands of votes.
The IG report notes that the emails were actually discovered in late September, and says that given the political sensitivities, the FBI should have acted much faster to deal with the material. FBI leaders explained the lag to investigators, in part, by blaming staffing issues. Some members of the Clinton investigation had been transferred to work on the investigation into Russian interference in the election, they said. They also did not believe the new information was likely to be significant. The inspector general rejected these and other excuses by the FBI, but also concluded that political bias did not play a role in the slow reaction.
“We searched for evidence that the Weiner laptop was deliberately placed on the back-burner by others in the FBI to protect Clinton, but found no evidence in emails, text messages, instant messages, or documents that suggested an improper purpose,” the report states.
Ultimately, the delay likely hurt rather than helped Clinton. Because the FBI did not act sooner, it was not until late October, on the eve of the election, that Comey was faced with his decision about how to handle the documents.
“We found no evidence that Comey’s decision to send the October 28 letter was influenced by political preferences,” the report concludes. Instead, it said that Comey incorrectly engaged in “ad hoc decisionmaking based on his own views,” and failed to contact the attorney general and deputy attorney general for counsel on how to handle the incident. “Although we acknowledge that Comey faced a difficult situation with unattractive choices, in proceeding as he did, we concluded that Comey made a serious error of judgment.”
The IG report does not extensively relitigate the decision not to recommend charges against Clinton in July, and notes that its role is not to second-guess outcomes. Rather, investigators were focused on whether the decisions made by the department were reasonable and untainted by bias, they said.
Yet there are elements of the report that the president is sure to seize on. As Trump has suggested, the IG report states that by the time the FBI interviewed Hillary Clinton herself, it had already “concluded that the evidence did not support criminal charges (absent a confession or false statement by Clinton during the interview),” but adds that the questions that were asked of Clinton and the methods used to assess her credibility were appropriate.
The IG’s critiques of the way Comey handled the case are not new. Republicans, and especially Democrats, had similar complaints during the election and afterwards. When Trump fired Comey in May 2017, the White House released a memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that offered an abbreviated version of the IG’s rebukes of Comey’s conduct.