Friday Jan 13, 2017
WASHINGTON: The inspector general of the US Justice Department said Thursday that it will review allegations surrounding actions by the department and the FBI taken ahead of the November elections, including FBI announcements that Democrats say badly damaged Hillary Clinton's candidacy.
The surprise announcement comes just eight days before Clinton's successful rival, Donald Trump, takes the oath of office as US president, and even as he faces continuing suggestions that Russian interference might also have helped his cause.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz said that he was initiating the review after requests from "numerous chairmen and ranking members of congressional oversight committees, various organisations and members of the public."
Presidential spokesman Josh Earnest said the White House had nothing to do with the new inquiry.
"I can tell you that the White House was not involved in that decision," he said Thursday.
Horowitz said in a statement that his office would examine five separate allegations.
They include complaints that announcements by FBI Director James Comey -- including the sensational 11th-hour revelation that the FBI was reopening an inquiry into Clinton after some of her emails were found on the computer of an aide's husband caught up in sexting scandals -- were "based on improper considerations."
The IG will investigate allegations that Justice Department and FBI employees improperly disclosed "nonpublic information" and that the FBI release of certain documents in late October and early November was "influenced by improper considerations."
The inspector general will also examine whether an assistant attorney general improperly disclosed nonpublic information to the Clinton campaign.
Democrats, but also many Republicans, severely castigated Comey for his pre-election announcements about Clinton's emails.
While Comey announced November 6 -- a mere 48 hours before the election -- that a quick examination of the emails had found nothing problematic, the political damage had already been done, Democrats said.
Comey had announced in July that he was recommending that no charges be brought against Clinton for her use of a private email server while secretary of state, though he said she had been "extremely negligent."
Republicans were furious with Comey for that finding, but their fury quickly turned to praise when, in a surprise October 28 letter to Congress, he raised the possibility of reopening the inquiry.
The inspector general's office is charged with investigating possible abuses or violations by the Justice Department and the FBI, which operates under the department's jurisdiction. The office is independent; its head is appointed directly by the US president.
"This administration has assiduously protected inspectors general," Earnest said, "so we wouldn't weigh in publicly or privately on any sort of investigative decision that is made."