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Report says I erred; that’s good for FBI

The Department of Justice’s independent watchdog, the inspector general, has released a report that is critical of my decisions as FBI director during the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email account.

The report concludes that I was wrong to announce the FBI’s completion of the investigation without coordinating with the attorney general and that I was wrong to inform Congress in late October that we had reopened the investigation.

In both situations, the inspector general’s team concludes, I should have adhered to established norms, which they see as mandating both deference to the attorney general on the public announcement and silence about an investigation so close to an election.

I do not agree with all of the inspector general’s conclusions, but I respect the work of his office and salute its professionalism. All of our leaders need to understand that accountability and transparency are essential to the functioning of our democracy, even when it involves criticism. This is how the process is supposed to work.

This report is important for two reasons.

First, the inspector general’s team went through the FBI’s work with a microscope and found no evidence that bias or improper motivation affected the investigation, which I know was done competently, honestly and independently.

The report also resoundingly demonstrates that there was no prosecutable case against Clinton, as we had concluded. Although that probably will not stop some from continuing to claim the opposite is true, this independent assessment will be useful to thoughtful people and an important contribution to the historical record.

Second, this report is vital in shedding light for future leaders on the nature and quality of our investigation and the decisions we made.

In 2016, my team faced an extraordinary situation – something I thought of as a 500-year flood – offering no good choices and presenting some of the hardest decisions I ever had to make. We knew that reasonable people might choose to do things differently and that a future independent reviewer might not see things the way we did. Yet I always believed that an inspector general report would be crucial to understanding and evaluating our actions.

As FBI director, I wanted a second set of eyes on the agonizing decisions we made during the 2016 election, knowing full well the inspector general’s office could draw different conclusions. I also was confident that even if it disagreed with our decisions, it would find the FBI team made them without regard for political favor or partisanship.

The inspector general’s office has now reached that very conclusion. Its detailed report should serve to both protect and build the reservoir of trust and credibility necessary for the Department of Justice and the FBI to remain strong and independent and to continue their good work for our country.

Our nation’s institutions of justice are up to the task of protecting the rule of law and defending truth and transparency. All of us should stand up and support them.

James Comey is the former director of the FBI.

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