Carrie Johnson | KUER 90.1

Carrie Johnson

Updated at 7:51 p.m. ET

A Justice Department watchdog on Thursday criticized former FBI Director James Comey for violating long-standing department guidelines and mishandling the Hillary Clinton email investigation in 2016.

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Democrats and Republicans who have led the Justice Department's criminal division are writing to Congress to push for a vote on the Trump administration's nominee for the post.

The five former government officials are urging senators to advance the nomination of Brian Benczkowski, whom they praise for his "professional experience, temperament and integrity." The officials said Benczkowski respects the Justice Department and "will work hard to protect the independence and integrity of this important institution."

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This week, the Senate is on track to confirm six more federal appeals court judges. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that he wants to make that a lasting contribution to the country.

Solicitor General Noel Francisco is a familiar face in conservative legal circles. But he could be about to enter a new and uncomfortable period in the national spotlight if he becomes the chief overseer of the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

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Updated at 4:44 p.m. ET

The Justice Department inspector general has asked prosecutors in Washington, D.C., to examine whether former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe should face criminal charges.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz has referred McCabe to the U.S. Attorney's Office for Washington, D.C., according to a source familiar with the matter. The source asked not to be identified as discussing the sensitive ongoing case.

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In a new interview, fired FBI Director James Comey tells NPR that holding the job in 2016 felt like a 500-year flood. And there was no manual to tell him how to operate in it.

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Nearly a year after President Trump fired James Comey, the former FBI director is out with a new memoir, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, And Leadership. Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep and NPR Justice Correspondent Carrie Johnson talked to Comey about his book, his role in shaping the outcome of the 2016 election and where the FBI's credibility stands. Here's the full transcript of their conversation.

In an interview with NPR's Morning Edition, fired FBI Director James Comey defended his controversial decisions during the 2016 campaign and asserted that the reputation of his agency — which operates under near daily siege from the president and his allies — "would be worse today had we not picked the least bad alternatives."

"I saw this as a 500-year flood, and so where is the manual? What do I do?" he said.

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Right now, a report from justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. She has been looking into why conspiracy theories continue to flourish about the murder of Martin Luther King.

A legal defense fund for fired FBI official Andrew McCabe has more than tripled its financial goals and will soon close up shop, a spokeswoman said Monday.

McCabe's "GoFundMe" page has collected more than $537,000 from nearly 13,000 donors since it was established last week.

The former FBI deputy director was fired in March, only hours before his full law enforcement pension was set to vest on his 50th birthday.

In a statement, McCabe called the outpouring "simply overwhelming."

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Updated at 3:45 p.m. ET

A conservative group funded by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch is turning its attention to a new front: promoting federal judges at the grass-roots level. Americans for Prosperity is willing to spend nearly $1 million to confirm judges this year. Those lifetime appointments could reshape the courts for a generation.

"The fact of the matter is that so much of what affects us in our daily lives plays out in the courtroom," said Sarah Field, the group's new vice president for judicial strategy.

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort pleaded not guilty to conspiracy, tax and bank fraud charges in an Alexandria, Va., federal courtroom Thursday afternoon.

Judge T.S. Ellis set a trial date for July 10.

Manafort faces a separate federal trial on Sept. 17 on other charges also brought by special counsel Robert Mueller's office in a Washington, D.C., case.

The man leading the Justice Department's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election has been keeping busy.

Special counsel Robert Mueller has been on the job for about nine months. But he has already charged 19 people with wrongdoing — and won guilty pleas from the president's former campaign vice chairman and his former national security adviser.

Scholars who focus on politically charged investigations that may lead into the White House have been taking note.

One of President Trump's picks for a seat on the body that sets policy used to punish 70,000 federal criminals every year has publicly called to abolish that agency, the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and has a history of making racially charged remarks about crime.

William G. Otis is a former federal prosecutor in Virginia, special counsel to former President George H.W. Bush and an adviser at the Drug Enforcement Administration. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center.

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The Senate Judiciary Committee has voted 16-5 to advance a bill that would ease mandatory minimum sentences for some drug criminals, but its prospects on the Senate floor are uncertain after opposition from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and at least one big law enforcement group.

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The nation's top spymaster delivered a warning today.

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One year ago this week, Jeff Sessions stood beaming in the Oval Office as he awaited his swearing-in as the 84th attorney general of the United States.

On that day last February, President Trump signed executive orders on violent crime and gangs, pledging that a "new era of justice begins." And, in the year that followed, Sessions has managed to transform the Justice Department, particularly in the areas of civil rights, immigration and drugs.

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President Trump has been asked many times whether he was thinking of firing the lawyer leading the investigation into Russia's election interference, and usually the president's answer goes like this.

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