Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz told lawmakers on Monday that he is not confident that FBI agent Peter Strzok was unbiased during the bureau's investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server.
Horowitz defended his report on the Clinton email probe, which he released last week, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. The IG report in part discussed controversial text messages between Strzok and his lover, FBI lawyer Lisa Page. Strzok said "we'll stop" Donald Trump from becoming president in one message and called Trump supporters "retarded."
The report has damaged the FBI's public image and trustworthiness, and many observers, including Trump and members of Congress, have taken the report's findings as an indication that the FBI made mistakes during the investigation.
Earlier in his remarks, Horowitz said his report did not find evidence that FBI decisions directly resulted from bias, but he highlighted the damage their mistakes caused.
Specifically, Horowitz said he could not have confidence that the FBI was free from bias when it prioritized investigating Russian involvement in the election over the contents of former Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner's laptop.
"We found the FBI's explanations for its failures to take immediate action after discovering the Weiner laptop in October 2016 to be unpersuasive, and we did not have confidence that the decision of deputy assistant director Strzok to prioritize the Russia investigation over following up on the Weiner laptop was free from bias in light of his text messages," he said.
Weiner was married to top Clinton aide Huma Abedin, and during a separate investigation into his sex crimes, the FBI obtained a laptop containing emails from Clinton.
Horowitz also targeted former FBI Director James Comey for opprobrium, saying that his departures from established procedure at various points harmed the FBI's image.
We also found that in key moments, then-FBI Director Comey clearly departed from FBI and department norms, and his decisions negatively impacted the perception of the FBI and the Justice Department as fair administrators of justice. Director Comey concealed from the attorney general his decision to make a unilateral announcement about the reasons for his recommendation not to prosecute former Secretary Clinton. His July 5th statement included inappropriate commentary about uncharged conduct, announced his views on what a "reasonable prosecutor" would do, and served to confuse rather than clarify public understanding of his recommendation. In late October he again acted without adequately consulting department leadership and contrary to important department norms when he sent a letter to Congress announcing renewed investigative activity days before the election.
Horowitz defended established practice in the Justice Department, saying that the situation Comey faced was not so unique as to warrant defying norms.
"No policy or practice is perfect, of course, but at the same time, neither is any individual's ability to make judgments under pressure, or in what may seem like unique circumstances," Horowitz said. "When leaders and officials adhere to bedrock principles and values, the public has greater confidence in the fairness and rightness of their decisions."
"By contrast, the public's trust is negatively impacted when law enforcement officials make statements reflecting bias, when leaders abandon institutional norms and the organizational hierarchy in favor of their own ad hoc judgments," he added.