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Justice Department leaves ‘unresolved’ recommendations from 2016 election probes

Watchdog made suggestions after FBI action on Clinton, Trump

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee for a hearing  in December. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee for a hearing in December. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call)

The Justice Department hasn’t resolved several recommendations from a 2018 internal probe into the FBI’s actions ahead of the 2016 presidential election, which included the mishandling of a probe into Hillary Clinton’s email server and controversial text messages between top employees about then-candidate Donald Trump, a new inspector general report states.

Almost two years ago, DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz dropped a 500-page report into a highly charged atmosphere in Congress after Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey prompted the appointment of Robert S. Mueller III as special counsel.

The 2018 report provided plenty of fodder for both political parties to air their wider concerns about the bureau’s behavior when it came to the election — as well as numerous recommendations for changes at the FBI.

Yet an inspector general report released Monday states that the Justice Department still has not resolved recommendations to address those as of March 31, about seven months away from the 2020 presidential election.

The 2018 report called it “extraordinary and insubordinate” for Comey to have deviated from DOJ policies and announce the results of the probe into Clinton in 2016 without consulting senior Justice Department leaders.

An inspector general recommendation — to make it explicit that investigating agencies cannot announce their recommended charging decisions without consulting with the attorney general or another high-ranking official and get approval — is listed as “unresolved” in Monday’s report.

So is another recommendation for the DOJ to consider “adopting a policy addressing the appropriateness of Department employees discussing the conduct of uncharged individuals in public statements.”

Unresolved means that an initial deadline for a response has passed and the DOJ has “not agreed to implement the recommendation or has not proposed actions that will address the recommendation.”

Comey also drew heavy criticism for his decision to tell Congress, just 11 days before the election, that the agency was reopening a criminal probe into Clinton’s use of personal email to improperly send classified information when she was secretary of State. Clinton would blame that action in part for her election loss.

The DOJ also has not resolved a recommendation to give guidance “to agents and prosecutors concerning the taking of overt investigative steps, indictments, public announcements, or other actions that could impact an election,” the Monday report states.

When the 2018 report was released, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee called out serious problems with the culture at FBI headquarters and pointed to text messages between Lisa Page, a top FBI lawyer, and Peter Strzok, who was overseeing the FBI’s investigation into links between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives.

Democrats focused on their view that the FBI’s actions harmed candidate Clinton and helped candidate Trump.

Two inspector general recommendations — to better retain text messages and to add a warning banner to all of the FBI’s mobile phones and devices to notify users they have reasonable expectation of privacy — are listed as “on hold/pending.”

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the unresolved status of those recommendations or whether they had taken steps to resolve them since April 1.

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