DOJ IG Report: What Happens Next?
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We'd like to turn now to one of the events that defined the 2016 presidential election, an issue that continues to infuriate the president and roil this country's politics. We're talking about the former FBI Director James Comey's handling of the investigation to Hillary Clinton's private email server that she used as secretary of state. You will remember that about a week and a half before the November election, then, Director Comey announced that he was re-opening an investigation into Clinton's use of that server. And then, just two days before Americans were set to vote, Comey told Congress that a new investigation was closed and that Clinton would not face any charges. Now, those decisions infuriated just about everybody. Trump and his supporters insisted then and now that there was a cover-up in an effort to help Clinton. Clinton and her supporters saw her poll numbers drop, and to this day, many of her supporters blame Comey.
The Justice Department's inspector general, Michael Horowitz, looked into this and other actions in advance of the 2016 election, and his much-anticipated report was released this week. As you might imagine, it's become a political instrument for people on all sides. We decided to consult Alberto Gonzales for his perspective on all this. He served in the administration of President George W. Bush as both White House counsel and attorney general. He served with all the key players in one form or another. He's now dean of the Belmont University School of Law. He's with us now from Nashville. Judge Gonzales, thanks so much for joining us.
ALBERTO GONZALES: Always a pleasure to be with you.
MARTIN: So let's walk through some of the main headlines. And, again, I have to say, it's a 500-page report, so we're not going to have time to discuss all of the - all of the issues in detail. So let's talk about some of the main issues. The report concludes that former Director Comey did nothing criminal and concludes that there was no political bias behind his investigation. But it does say that Comey was insubordinate for bypassing, then, Attorney General Loretta Lynch during certain aspects of the investigation. What's your reaction to that? In fact, when we spoke about this some time ago, you indicated that his decision went outside of norms and guidelines that had been laid out for just these kinds of politically sensitive cases.
GONZALES: Well I would have been surprised if they'd found otherwise. And you're right, I have commented and I think on your show that it was extremely unusual for Jim Comey, as the FBI director, to make that kind of pronouncement. It is the role of the FBI to investigate, to gather up evidence, and then you turn over that evidence to a prosecutor - and they are the ones who make a decision as to whether or not they believe there's enough there to sustain a prosecution. And so to have Jim Comey make that pronouncement in that press conference without a prosecutor by his side, I found to be extremely remarkable and unfortunate.
MARTIN: And as a person who knows him and has had your own clashes with him, I have to ask you why you think he took that course of action.
GONZALES: Well I think, I mean, he's made public pronouncements about believing that this was the best way to preserve the integrity of the investigation, to preserve the reputation of the FBI. But taking that on and failing to adhere to the protocols of the Department of Justice put Jim at great risk of criticism and of making a mistake. It is consistent with what I've observed in Jim Comey in the past, in other situations, where he believes he knows best and goes off on a course of action that sometimes have tragic results, and I think this is an example.
MARTIN: Now, of course, Democrats aren't the only ones who've blamed the FBI for their political troubles. Another issue in the report is the conduct of two FBI agents, Lisa Page and Peter Strzok. They were texting each other during the campaign. Those texts demonstrate an antipathy - I don't know what else to call it - to Donald Trump's candidacy. The IG report says that their politics didn't influence the investigation in any way, but President Trump and his supporters have been claiming that the FBI is biased against him.
In fact, the president was tweeting about this just this morning, saying the IG report totally destroys James Comey and all of his minions, including the great lovers Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who started the disgraceful witch hunt against so many innocent people. It will go down as a dark and dangerous period in American history. Again, this is the president tweeting about this this morning. What is your take on what went on with the two of them?
GONZALES: Well, it is very unfortunate. You know, I don't expect personnel within the Department of Justice to not have political views, and I certainly wouldn't expect them to give up their right to vote. I mean, that is their right as citizen. But I don't expect them - and they shouldn't be involved in having conversations, particularly with others within the department and particularly on a government email server.
It's just so dumb because we now have a situation where even though the inspector general has reached this conclusion that he doesn't believe their apparent bias ultimately affected the outcome of the investigation, it does give ammunition to those who believe that the investigation in connection with the Clinton email server and perhaps now the investigation with respect to the Mueller investigation is somehow rigged. And in the end, that's what's really unfortunate from my perspective. The constant attacks on the integrity of the Department of Justice and its work, to me, is very, very troubling.
MARTIN: So I do have to ask you as a person who headed that department, you know, what is your sense of it? I mean, the ongoing argument that the president is making is that there is a bias against him and antipathy toward him that is so deep that it couldn't possibly be fair.
GONZALES: Well, I - I don't think that's accurate. I think that for a large, large degree, the people who work at the Department of Justice understand what their obligation is and that is to pursue justice fairly and impartially. I think they are doing a good job on behalf of the American people. One of the things I do admire about Jeff Sessions, despite all the criticism from the president of the United States, direct criticism of a job that he's doing, and criticism people of his decision to recuse himself, you know, I think he is pursuing policies that the president campaigned on. Some of the policies people may not like.
But, you know, you have to admire a president who follows up with his campaign promises by carrying it forward. As president of the United States that's what he promised the American people when he was elected president. Bottom line, you know, the department's working the way it should. We've got some serious bumps we've got to get over, but I have confidence the department will be able to survive it and move forward.
MARTIN: That's Alberto Gonzales. He's dean of the Belmont University School of Law. He's a former attorney general of the United States. Judge Gonzales, thanks so much for speaking with us.
GONZALES: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.