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How will the FBI adjust after the Clinton email probe report?

Thursday’s report from the Justice Department's internal watchdog goes into detail about how the department and the F.B.I. handled the Hillary Clinton email investigation. What does it mean for the bureau’s reputation and what changes might occur in the aftermath? Judy Woodruff gets analysis from former Justice Department officials John Carlin and Thomas Dupree.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we have reported, the report from the Justice Department’s internal watchdog runs all of 500 pages, and goes into detail about how the department and the FBI handled the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation.

    Here to dissect its conclusions are John Carlin. He was the chief of staff under former FBI Director Robert Mueller and the Justice Department’s top national security official under former Attorney General Loretta Lynch. And Thomas Dupree, he served as a Justice Department official as well under former Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

    And, gentleman, we welcome you to the program.

    We have been waiting for this report for months.

    John Carlin, to you first.

    So, on the one hand, the report says that James Comey was insubordinate, he exercised serious error in judgment, but then it goes on to say there was no evidence of bias in what he did.

    What are we to make of this?

  • John Carlin:

    I think report is quite clear that after over a yearlong investigation, 500 pages, what the inspector general found was that the Justice Department, FBI, and career prosecutors made their decisions for the right reasons.

    And it said quite clearly no evidence that the prosecutors were affected by any bias or any other improper consideration.

    That’s the most important takeaway when it comes to vital institutions like the Justice Department and the bureau.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is that how you see it, Thomas Dupree, that that’s the most important thing, even though the finding of insubordination, error in judgment?

  • Thomas Dupree:

    Yes, to me, there are a number of important things here.

    One is, look, it’s a sad day for FBI, in the sense that former senior officials have been found to have engaged in misconduct. There is also evidence of bias in the lower ranks.

    Now, I think the inspector general was very careful and cautious in saying that he saw no evidence of that bias seeping in to influence investigatory decisions. So, but, at the end of the day, from my perspective, this is the report — or a report that has a little bit of something for everyone in it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, let’s come back to that, though.

    When the report says no evidence that bias influenced the final outcome of the investigation, but that bias may have existed, may well have existed in the minds of some of the people involved in the work, how do we square that circle?

  • Thomas Dupree:

    Yes, it’s a very tough circle to square.

    And I think what’s going on here is that there clearly was evidence that people were involved in this investigation who had very strong political beliefs that they were not able to separate from their work.

    What the inspector general seems to have found is that there were other non-biased fireworks who were involved in these decisions, and so, in effect, they purged the taint that would have arisen from these particular people’s motivations.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    There is, John Carlin an on the one hand/on the other hand aspect to this, saying, yes, all this was going on, but ultimately the people doing the work based their final assessment on the facts, the law, and so forth.

    So it’s asking us to believe the best, rather than the worst, isn’t it?

  • John Carlin:

    Well, I don’t think it’s just asking us. It’s showing that, after a thorough investigation, that that’s what the inspector general found happened.

    So it’s the final conclusion that we’re going to have on what happened in this case. And it fits with the people that I got to know over the years, including working with Tom in the prior administration of President Bush, which is, the Department of Justice, FBI agents and career prosecutors are chockful of people that may think about politics a little bit on the side, but that’s not what gets them up in the morning.

    What gets them up in the morning is protecting our country against a variety of threats, from terrorists, to nation states, to crooks. And when push comes to shove, they put away those other considerations and they do their job. And that’s what the inspector general found among all the career folks making the decisions in this case.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you still have, Thomas Dupree, Hillary Clinton, the people around her, saying, wait a minute, what happened with that July news conference in 2016, and then the October announcement by James Comey that there is evidence that voters minds were changed. We don’t know if it ultimately changed the outcome. They believe that it did.

  • Thomas Dupree:

    Well, and I think — that’s right.

    And I think that inspector general’s report, to some extent, vindicates their criticism that this was a deviation from the norm. That’s the drum that the Clinton supporters have been beating all this time, to say that, clearly, Comey made a decision to go outside the ordinary chain of command and basically act as a one-man band in making these announcements and deviating from typical DOJ procedure.

    So I think there is something in the inspector general’s report that does vindicate those concerns. I’m not certain that the inspector general would then take the additional step to say and, therefore, the election results would have been different, but it certainly underscores that Comey was really going outside ordinary DOJ practice in doing what he did.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    John Carlin, if a set of circumstances like this were to present themselves to the FBI again, what would be done differently?

  • John Carlin:

    See, that’s a great question.

    And it was good to hear the current director address it today, which is, to Tom’s point, you shouldn’t go outside what had been longstanding norms. And one thing they suggest is making those norms rules.

    So, number one, as everyone has watched “Law & Order” knows, it’s the investigators who investigate the case and then the prosecutors who try them in court. You shouldn’t have the investigative agency announcing the results as to whether or not there should be a prosecution. You shouldn’t mention — and there’s a specific recommendation about this.

    Be very careful about mentioning any uncharged conduct, because basically the rule is, if you can’t charge them as a prosecutor, your job is done, and at that point you keep your mouth shut, because it’s not our job to issue opinions about what we think about behavior. Either we can move it in a court of law or we can’t.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tom Dupree, we heard Christopher Wray. I just heard a part of his news conference, which has happened less than an hour ago.

    But he talked about holding people accountable in the department, and he said systems are going to change, something to that effect. Should more people be held accountable here?

  • Thomas Dupree:

    I think there are people who should be held accountable who have not yet been held accountable.

    In my view, the real problem here is that you had at least some FBI officials who clearly were not able to separate their personal political beliefs from their job. You can’t have that.

    I think one of the real tragedies of this whole situation is that I think it has really undercut Americans’ faith in the impartiality of law enforcement, which, in my view, is a tragedy.

    John and I both served in the Department of Justice. And certainly on my behalf — and I suspect John feels the same way — these are honest patriots who are serving our country. And it is not a hotbed of crazed political activists.

    But I worry that many Americans in the country today are starting to doubt the impartiality of our law enforcement agencies.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, that’s my final question to both of you is, how much damage is now the done to the FBI, to the Department of Justice in reality and in perception?

  • John Carlin:

    I hope this is the beginning of the healing, and not more damage, because what this report shows is, despite judgment calls that were wrong, I think, certainly in hindsight were wrong, in terms of announcements were made, that, at the end of the day, the career prosecutors did what they’re supposed to do.

    They looked at the facts, the law, according to the report, and past Department of Justice practice. They applied that, and they reached a conclusion based on the merits. That’s the FBI and Justice Department we know, and these guidelines should help for getting them back in the mix in the future.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just quickly, how much damage done?

  • Thomas Dupree:

    I think it’s pretty significant damage, but I think it can be repaired.

    I that — I would implore my fellow Republicans to have faith in our law enforcement agencies. I think that, everyone out there, there are bad apples, to be sure, but, by and large, the FBI is an agency of great integrity, and it deserves respect.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thomas Dupree, John Carlin, we thank you both.

  • Thomas Dupree:

    Thank you.

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