A media report that the Justice Department's watchdog has prepared a draft assessment that chastises James Comey for defying authority is putting the former FBI boss' leadership style under the microscope.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz has been exploring the DOJ's and FBI's actions during the 2016 presidential campaign, including whether Comey exceeded his authority in July 2016 when he publicly discussed the Hillary Clinton email investigation and recommended against charges.
That decision angered Democrats because the responsibility for the criminal case ultimately rested with his boss at the time, former Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
Comey has since explained that Lynch's infamous June 2016 Phoenix tarmac meeting with former President Bill Clinton during the probe, as well as other non-public and unconfirmed intelligence that may have suggested Lynch would short-circuit the investigation, led him to go public with the FBI's findings that Hillary Clinton had been "extremely careless."
A source cited by ABC News claimed the report by the DOJ watchdog specifically called Comey "insubordinate," with much of the criticism centering on the way he handled the reopening of the Clinton email probe in the days leading up to Election Day in 2016. Fox News has not confirmed the ABC report.
Horowitz's report also takes aim at Lynch, according to ABC News. Comey has testified before Congress that Lynch advised him to call the criminal probe of Clinton a "matter," rather than an investigation. Comey said that language concerned him.
The DOJ IG's reported rebuke of Comey, whom President Trump has called an "untruthful slime ball" after firing him last year, contradicts the by-the-book, responsible image Comey has carefully cultivated since leaving office.
On Oct. 28, 2016, Comey publicly notified Congress that the investigation would be reopened because new emails had been discovered that might contain classified information.
Comey was said to have ignored at least one superior in the Justice Department who said that commenting publicly on the ongoing investigation would violate policy, in addition to impermissibly interfering with the presidential campaign so close to Election Day, sources told ABC News.
The reported criticisms in the draft DOJ assessment would echo the scathing critique laid out against Comey in a memo by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein last year, before Trump decided to fire him.
In the memo to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Rosenstein was particularly critical of Comey's unilateral decision to hold a press conference in July 2016, in which he announced that Hillary Clinton had been "extremely careless" in handling classified information but that "no reasonable prosecutor" would pursue the case.
“It is not the function of the Director to make such an announcement,” Rosenstein wrote, saying that Comey should have simply referred the case to prosecutors without staging a dramatic, analysis-filled press conference.
Rosenstein also faulted Comey for publicly reopening the Clinton email probe in October, citing several DOJ officials who called the move "inappropriate."
In his recently released book, "A Higher Loyalty," Comey called for "ethical leadership" in Washington, even as several commentators questioned whether he had lived up to that standard.
Horowitz's final report is expected to be released soon. The watchdog's review had broad bipartisan support when it began in January 2017.