Then-FBI Director James Comey began writing a statement exonerating Hillary Clinton in the investigation into the former Secretary of State’s private email use before interviewing key witnesses, including Clinton herself and two Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“Conclusion first, fact-gathering second—that’s no way to run an investigation,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Chairman Chuck Grassley wrote this week in a letter to the FBI. “The FBI should be held to a higher standard than that, especially in a matter of such great public interest and controversy.”
Grassley and Graham said they discovered Comey’s draft “exoneration statement” after reading transcripts of interviews with top Comey aides.
“According to the unredacted portions of the transcripts, it appears that in April or early May of 2016, Mr. Comey had already decided he would issue a statement exonerating Secretary Clinton,” the senators said.
They added, “That was long before FBI agents finished their work. Mr. Comey even circulated an early draft statement to select members of senior FBI leadership. The outcome of an investigation should not be prejudged while FBI agents are still hard at work trying to gather the facts.”
Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate in 2016, was investigated by the FBI for utilizing a private email address and server for classified information while serving as secretary of state.
In July of 2016, Comey famously called Clinton’s email arrangement “extremely careless” though he chose to not recommend criminal charges.
In a news release on Thursday, the senators said Comey began drafting his statement in April or May 2016, before the FBI interviewed 17 key witnesses, like Clinton herself and other top aides.
The statement came before the FBI entering into an immunity agreement with top Clinton aides Heather Samuelson and Cheryl Mills.
The transcripts are from interviews done by the Office of Special Counsel, which interviewed Trisha Anderson, the principal deputy general counsel of national security and cyberlaw and James Rybicki, Comey’s chief of staff, the senators said.
“It is unclear whether the FBI agents actually investigating the case were aware that Mr. Comey had already decided on the investigation’s outcome while their work was ongoing,” the senators wrote.
In the letter to FBI Director Chris Wray, sent on Wednesday, the two senators said they have asked for all records relating to the premature drafting of the statement.
In May, Comey was fired as FBI director by President Trump amid tensions over the Russia investigation.