In yet another aftershock from the chaotic US presidential campaign, the US Justice Department’s internal watchdog on Thursday opened an investigation into the department’s and the FBI’s actions before the election, including whether FBI Director James Comey followed established policies in the email investigation of Hillary Clinton, who lost the presidential election to the Republican Donald Trump.
Members of Clinton’s Democratic Party have blamed Comey’s handling of the inquiry into her use of a private email server, and his late-October public letter about the case, as one reason for her loss in the presidential election to the Republican Donald Trump.
Workers are now putting final touches on preparations for next week’s Inauguration Day, when Trump will formally take charge as the president of the US, and the new probe will not change the election results. But it revives questions of whether the FBI took actions that might have influenced the outcome.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department’s internal watchdog, will direct the investigation, which comes in response to requests from members of Congress and the public.
Also read: Hillary Clinton blames FBI for losing the race to White House, says probe into emails did the damage
Comey said he was pleased about the review and the FBI would cooperate fully with the inspector general.
“I hope very much he is able to share his conclusions and observations with the public because everyone will benefit from thoughtful evaluation and transparency regarding this matter,” he said in a statement.
One part of the review will concern Comey’s news conference last July in which he said the FBI would not recommend charges against Clinton for her use of a private email system during her tenure as secretary of state. Trump repeatedly criticised that practice, contending it put national security secrets at risk.
Trump also declared at raucous rallies during the campaign that he would seek a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton and that she would be in jail if he were elected. But he said after the election that he did not intend to seek a new investigation of her.
Comey, during his announcement in the summer, broke protocol when he chastised Clinton and her aides as “extremely careless” in their email practices. It’s highly unusual for federal law enforcement officials to discuss a criminal case that ends without charges being filed.
Comey reignited the email controversy on October 28 when he informed the US Congress that agents would be reviewing a cache of emails between Clinton aide Huma Abedin and Clinton for any new evidence related to Clinton’s handling of sensitive State Department material.
That move boiled in the campaign for nine days, before Comey announced on November 6 – two days before Election Day – that the inquiry had found no new evidence of wrongdoing.
Clinton and her aides have said the disclosure of the “new” emails, found on a laptop belonging to former New York Representative Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of a close Clinton aide, hurt the candidate in several battleground states. Trump won the election in part with narrow victories in Democratic-leaning states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Comey’s statements prompted outrage from Clinton and other Democrats who said they needlessly placed her under fresh suspicion when the FBI didn’t even know whether the emails were relevant.
Asked about the new investigation, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch told The Associated Press in Baltimore that “we let them conduct their review before we make any statement about that.” She added that “obviously everyone’s going to await the results of that.”