The Obama administration tossed President-elect Donald Trump yet another live political hand grenade yesterday in the latest of its parting gifts, as the Justice Department’s inspector general announced an investigation into FBI Director James Comey’s handling of Hillary Clinton’s email probe — a query the incoming White House will have a hard time squashing.
It could put the Trump administration in the awkward position of deciding whether to act against Comey — whose actions have been credited with boosting Trump’s win.
“The only way for the new (attorney general) to shut down the investigation would be for the AG to claim that by shutting (it) down … he would ‘prevent a significant impairment to the national interests of the United States,'” said David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor. “It strains logic to think that he would kill the IG’s investigation.”
DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz announced he’ll investigate the FBI’s handling of the Clinton case, including Comey’s public announcement in July that no one would be prosecuted in the email investigation, as well as a controversial decision to publicize the existence of new information just 11 days before the election.
“It’s one of many actions that are taking place now toward the end of this presidency — you’re seeing executive orders being rescinded, you’re seeing executive orders being entered into,” said Weinstein. “It’s a product of the last days of an administration.”
Many Clinton supporters believe Comey’s announcement is most responsible — more than any one Trump strength or Clinton weakness — for the billionaire’s victory in November.
The IG could recommend stronger or clearer policies about publicizing information about cases so close to an election or even disciplinary action against Comey himself.
While the Trump administration might be hard-pressed to stop the investigation, leaving it stuck with a monthslong cloud hanging over the beginning of Trump’s term, the ultimate decision of whether to punish Comey would rest with Trump’s attorney general, likely to be Alabama U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions.
Comey was appointed by President Obama to a 10-year term that expires in 2023. The president has the power to fire the FBI director — it last happened in the first year of President Bill Clinton’s first term.
The IG will also look at whether FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe should have recused himself from the Clinton case. McCabe’s wife took nearly $500,000 from the PAC of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a key Clinton ally, when she ran for state Senate in 2015.
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