WASHINGTON The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday said it would probe a Federal Bureau of Investigation decision to announce it was reopening an inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s emails shortly before the November presidential election, a move she has blamed as a factor in her defeat.
The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General said its probe would focus in part on decisions leading up to public statements by FBI Director James Comey regarding the Clinton investigation and whether underlying investigative decisions may have been based on “improper considerations.”
Although the FBI ultimately decided not to refer Clinton’s case for prosecution, Comey aroused suspicion that may have diminished trust in Clinton among voters.
The FBI and the Justice Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The controversy involved Clinton’s use of a private email server for official correspondence when she was secretary of state under President Barack Obama, including for messages that were later determined to contain classified information.
Often leading crowds in chants of “lock her up!” during the election campaign, President-elect Donald Trump as a candidate repeatedly accused Clinton of illegal conduct over the emails. In a debate in October, he vowed she would “be in jail” over the matter if he became president, but he has since said he would not pursue prosecution.
Comey publicly announced the status of the agency’s investigation into Clinton’s emails two times in 2016.
In July, Comey held a press conference and testified before Congress to explain why the FBI had decided not to refer Clinton for prosecution, explaining that she was “extremely careless” but should not be charged with gross negligence or any other federal crime.
In October, less than two weeks before the Nov. 8 election, Comey said the FBI was resuming the investigation because of new emails found on the computer of disgraced former Representative Anthony Weiner, the husband of one of Clinton’s top aides.
On Nov. 6, Comey said the investigation into Weiner’s computer produced no new evidence that would incriminate Clinton.
Brian Fallon, Clinton’s spokesman, told MSNBC on Thursday that Comey’s actions “cried out for an independent review.”
It is the usual practice of prosecutors and law enforcement, including the FBI, not to disclose information about investigations that do not end in criminal charges.
Asked about the probe, the White House said the review, like any by a like any by a government inspector general, was an independent decision.
Trump, who will be sworn in Jan. 20, will not have the power to dismiss the probe. But it is within presidential authority to appoint or dismiss inspectors general for federal agencies.
Critics of Comey’s decisions also said he could be in violation of the Hatch Act, a 1939 law that bars government employees from interfering with U.S. elections.
The inspector general’s announcement said the review would not consider whether the FBI or the Department of Justice made right decisions in not charging Clinton.
(Reporting by Timothy Ahmann, additional reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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