Does the DOJ Inspector General Report Show Trump Was Right About Comey, Mueller, As He Claims?

The release of the Justice Department Inspector General's report Thursday offered a scathing rebuke of not only former FBI director James Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton private email scandal but also called into question the FBI's overall character and potential for political bias.

Despite the report's assertion that such bias could not be proven, President Donald Trump, his fellow Republicans, as well as his supporters, have pounced on some of its more damning revelations as perhaps reason to justify Comey's firing last year and, by extension, the very appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller to probe Russia's meddling in the 2016 election to lift Trump to the White House.

Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, called for Mueller's investigation to be suspended on Fox News hours after the IG report came out.

Legal experts, however, told Newsweek Friday that Mueller still stands on solid ground as his investigation carries on in its 13th month. The Clinton and Russia investigations were and are separate, they say, Mueller has shown nothing but credibility throughout the probe and Trump's original intent in Comey's firing remain in doubt.

Comey was fired in May 2017, according to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's memo, for his handling Hillary Clinton's private email server investigation and breaking from the law enforcement agency's long-running protocols. Those included his unprecedented July 2016 press conference, while circumventing then attorney general Loretta Lynch, and his re-opening of the Clinton probe weeks before the presidential election.

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James Comey (L) FBI Director nominee walks with outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller (R) to a ceremony annoucing Comey's nomination in the Rose Garden at the White House June 21, 2013 in Washington, DC. Comey, a former Justice Department official under President George W. Bush, would replace Mueller. Getty Images/Win McNamee/

The IG report fully spelled out Comey's breaks from FBI tradition, but his perceived missteps were already known in the public sphere. Thus, Trump's true intention for dismissing Comey remains a question for Mueller and his investigators.

"I don't think there's anything new about what we learned about Comey. But it certainly confirms the things that Rod Rosenstein wrote," Barbara McQuade, former federal prosecutor and University of Michigan law professor, told Newsweek. "The president can fire the FBI director for any reason or no reason, and [the Clinton probe] seems like a good reason. The question is: was that the real reason that Comey was fired? And I think that Robert Mueller will continue to investigate that. Because the question for obstruction of justice is whether the person had a corrupt purpose in what they were doing.

"Looking at the statement's to [NBC's] Lester Holt and the fact that he waited several months, had meetings with Jim Comey where he tried to cultivate a relationship even after all of this was publicly known, I think, suggests that that may not have been the reason. And so I think that's a matter for Robert Mueller to try and unearth," McQuade added.

Indeed, Trump's sit-down with Holt two days after Comey's dismissal stands in firm contrast to what the president, Rosenstein and Trump's supporters have claimed.

"And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said 'you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won,'" Trump said, while claiming he planned to fire Comey regardless of Rosenstein's recommendation.

Former federal prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega, who previously worked under Mueller, also challenged Trump's assertion that he was offended by DOJ violations as "laughable," and that Trump's own tweets and statements proved otherwise.

"…through his own mouth, and tweets, [Trump] has demonstrated for over a year that he fired Comey because of the Russian collusion investigation," De la Vega said in an email to Newsweek.

The IG report "rightly" took Comey to task, and while Rosenstein and Trump's claims citing public reports may have been proven largely true months later, the abrupt dismissal without a proper internal investigation was not justified, according to Andrew Wright, Savannah Law School and former associate counsel to the Obama administration told Newsweek.

Wright specifically pointed to former President Bill Clinton, who waited six months after a damning internal report before William Sessions was fired in 1993 for improper conduct while heading up the FBI.

"Just cause your paranoid doesn't mean they're not after you. Just because they turn out to be right once the formal evidence was done, that still doesn't justify firing him prematurely in that slipshod way," Wright said. "People are entitled to process. Andrew McCabe might have deserved to be fired too, but you don't do it because the president is tweeting at you to meet the deadline before his pension vests. That is independently damaging to rule of law."

Connecting, and muddying, Comey and Mueller is a tactic Trump employed in April after a different report tore down former FBI No. 2 McCabe. Trump claimed on Twitter, "McCabe is Comey!!" While asserting no collusion occurred.

But David Dorfman, Pace Law School professor, explained such an argument can be characterized as "fruit of the poison tree." He likened Comey to a police officer who might be fired for any reason, but any evidence the officer collected is not necessarily tainted.

"That's what Comey is, he's a cop," Dorfman said. "Let's say a cop starts an investigation, even runs an investigation, does a number of things that ultimately merit the cop being fired. Nevertheless, the information that the cop discovered and is in the pipeline, and now ends up another cop…inherits that information. As long as the actual evidence that being marshaled, garnered and analyzed is still good evidence, it's not tainted by the fact the cop who originally was working the case was fired or showed lack of good judgment."