As we all know by now, with two weeks to go before Election Day, Hillary Clinton was well on her way to a solid victory. That changed on October 27, when FBI director James Comey saw fit to alert Congress about new developments in the investigation of Hillary’s email server. Since then, we have learned that in the time leading up to that letter, FBI agents engaged in unprofessional and outright criminal behavior–apparently in a fit of pique over Hillary not being indicted in July. It now appears that Donald Trump owes his upset victory at least in part to a conspiracy among rogue agents who felt that they had to take the law into their own hands.
Well, the dark matter surrounding that letter is about to be placed under the hot lights. On Thursday afternoon, Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz announced the launch of a wide-ranging review of the FBI and Justice Department’s actions during the 2016 campaign cycle. The first item on the review’s agenda?
“Allegations that Department or FBI policies or procedures were not followed in connection with, or in actions leading up to or related to, the FBI Director’s public announcement on July 5, 2016, and the Director’s letters to Congress on October 28 and November 6, 2016, and that certain underlying investigative decisions were based on improper considerations…”
There are a lot of people who should be very afraid at this statement–and have lawyers on speed dial. For starters, the FBI agents who discovered an email exchange between Hillary and Weiner’s estranged wife, Huma Abedin–one of Hillary’s longtime aides. If you’ll recall, they supposedly discovered this exchange on October 3, and almost certainly knew they couldn’t look at them unless Comey obtained a warrant. But it took them three weeks to tell Comey about this discovery.
However, they somehow found the time to tell some of the agents working the email server case. Those agents, in turn, leaked the information to two of Trump’s close confidants, Rudy Giuliani and Jim Kallstrom–both of whom are on record as having had discussions with active agents and discussing those contacts with the press. These are two men who knew damn well what they were doing. Remember, Giuliani is a former U. S. Attorney and a former head of the DOJ’s Criminal Division, and Kallstrom was the former head of the FBI in New York City.
So you have two Trump confidants knowing about a politically explosive investigation before the FBI director knew about it. Calling this “improper” is being extremely kind to it. I’d call it criminal.
Seth Abramson, an English professor at the University of New Hampshire and a former public defender, came to the same conclusion. Abramson, who until Thursday was the only third party to take a deep dive into this sordid affair, told me that he is certain Horowitz’ investigation will “ultimately look at Giuliani and the New York field office more so than Comey,” in part because “that’s where the Hatch Act violations were”–at least the ones that we know about.
However, Comey may have some explaining of his own to do. After all, he wasn’t willing to join in a formal warning that Russia was trying to diddle with the election because–wait for it–it was too close to Election Day to make such a statement. And yet, this is the same FBI director who rushed pell-mell to Capitol Hill to tell Congress about these new findings despite being warned not to do so by his bosses at the Justice Department. The kindest explanation for this is that Comey was grossly incompetent–and when that’s the best-case scenario, that can’t be good.
Needless to say, the Hillary campaign was overjoyed at this. Watch their reaction, via CNN.
But wait, there’s more. When Comey sent his letter to Congress, he hadn’t taken the critical step of actually getting a warrant for the emails in question. That warrant wasn’t sought until October 30. But Abedin claims that she never got a copy–a staggering breach of procedure, at best. The warrant was filed under seal, even though the entire nation knew about it. When the FBI refused to comply with an FOIA request for the probable cause behind that warrant, Los Angeles attorney E. Randol Schoenberg was forced to sue the FBI in order to find out.
The warrant was unsealed on December 19, and revealed the strongest evidence to date that Hillary had been the victim of a criminal act. Apparently the “probable cause” for that warrant was the mere fact that Abedin and Hillary exchanged emails. No evidence that Hillary willfully mishandled classified data–just the fact that she and Abedin were emailing back and forth. Legal experts slammed the warrant as a railroad job at best and a Fourth Amendment violation at worst.
It also turns out that the agents stripped out a number of dates that would have revealed that the FBI had those emails before they claimed to have found them. Those dates would have also revealed that the emails were duplicates of emails that the FBI already had–something that, according to Abramson, would have been obvious to both Comey and the FBI forensics unit. Moreover, the FBI didn’t really need a warrant for those emails, since by then Weiner and Abedin were cooperating witnesses.
Horowitz will also consider other issues in his review. For instance, he will look into whether FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe should have recused himself from any Hillary-related investigation due to his wife, Jill, running for the Virginia state senate. He will also review whether Justice Department official Peter Kadzik leaked information about a congressional hearing to the Hillary campaign.
However, Comey, Giuliani, Kallstrom, and the agents who worked on the Weiner and email server investigations have by far the most to fear. In the absence of something we haven’t heard or seen, they’d better have lawyers on speed dial. The Trump team should also be very afraid as well. If it turns out that there was funny business on the FBI’s part, it would prove beyond any doubt that this election was irrevocably tainted by interference on both the foreign and domestic fronts. And if that were the case, there would be no defensible reason for Trump or Pence to stay on.
(featured image courtesy DonkeyHotey, available under a Creative Commons BY-SA license)