The nation’s premiere law enforcement agency is supposed to be non-partisan and above politics. But it was anything but in the presidential election.
FBI Director James Comey’s letter to Congress, 11 days before the election, was the most visible manifestation of the agency’s interference.
Comey revealed that the agency was reopening the investigation into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s email server, violating long-standing Justice Department protocol and tradition.
Three days before the election he cleared her, again. By then, however, her campaign had suffered incalculable damage.
Seth Abramson, a University of New Hampshire professor and attorney has detailed the impact of the Comey letter on the election and concludes that it marked a critical pivot in Clinton’s support.
One-third of likely voters said the Comey letter made them “much less likely” to vote for Clinton, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll taken immediately after the letter was released. Of significance, 7 percent of those polled were Clinton supporters.
If only a fraction of those doubting Clinton voters changed their vote, it would have easily cost her the election. Clinton lost by just 77,143 combined votes in three states, Abramson noted in a HuffingtonPost article. Trump won by 0.7 percent or less in the three states that ultimately decided the contest.
But the FBI’s scandalous and possibly illegal behavior didn’t begin with Comey.
Behind the scenes, the FBI director was apparently trying to contain rogue anti-Clinton agents in the FBI’s New York City office who were allegedly colluding with NYPD investigators to torpedo Clinton.
The agents were reportedly frustrated by the FBI’s failure to recommend charges against Clinton in July, according to Abramson. Instead, Comey closed the case, saying no reasonable prosecutor would consider pursuing an indictment.
Meanwhile, NYPD investigators were trying to build a case against former Rep. Anthony Weiner for sexting with a 15-year-old girl. At the time, Weiner was married to Clinton’s top aide Huma Abeden.
During the course of the investigation, the NYPD discovered emails between Abeden and Clinton on a computer handed over by Weiner.
The discovery prompted Comey to write his letter, even though the FBI had not reviewed the emails and had not determined their relevance, if any, to Clinton’s email server investigation.
Abeden said yesterday in a federal court filing that neither she nor Weiner were served with FBI search warrants for the emails found on her estranged husband’s computer. If so, the FBI’s seizure of the emails was likely illegal.
Abeden said through her lawyer that she was unaware the emails were on the computer until Comey released his letter.
The case in question was filed by E. Randol Schoenberg, an L.A.-based genealogist and lawyer who specializes in investigating art stolen by the Nazis during World War II. He’s asked the court to make the search warrants and relevant documents public.
Abramson believes the FBI field office and the NYPD colluded to prevent Clinton’s election. The missing link tying the two together is Trump campaign adviser and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Ironically, Giuliani, who also served as U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, gave away his role in the conspiracy. He bragged during a radio interview with Lars Larson that FBI agents had leaked information to him about the Abeden emails.
He said FBI agents were intent on leaking the information, if Comey refused to make it public himself. Giuliani talked on Fox News about an “October surprise” that would sink Clinton’s campaign.
Giuliani knew about the “tremendous anger” among FBI agents over Comey’s decision not to seek a Clinton indictment, according to Abramson.
Jim Kallstrom, who headed the FBI New York field office in the 1990s, told Fox News that FBI agents working on the Clinton case had leaked information to him as well.
In fact, The Chicago Tribune reported that Comey wrote the letter to Congress to head off rogue agents who were planning to leak the information in clear violation of the law.
According to Abramson, Giuliani may have taken himself out of the running for a cabinet position because he didn’t want to be asked during confirmation proceedings about his role in the Comey letter.
Schoenberg said the point of his lawsuit is to determine whether “someone in the Manhattan orbit of then-candidate Donald Trump may have provided a false lead to the FBI” regarding the Abedin emails that could have led FBI agents to seek a search warrant.
The lawyer fingered Giuliani in an interview with the Jewish newspaper Haaretz. Schoenberg explained on his blog:
“If this is traced back to Donald Trump, it might be cause for impeachment. It deserves to be investigated fully and openly, and quickly because if a crime was committed in the course of the FBI investigation, it is the crime of the century.”
“FBI collusion with the Trump campaign and multifaceted Russian interference with the presidential election would amount to a bigger-than-Watergate scandal having turned the tide in the 2016 election,” Abramson wrote.
So far, the FBI has refused to turn over the search warrants, if they indeed exist, leading Abramson to question whether they are trying to cover up their collusion with the Trump campaign.
Abramson also questions why the FBI has pushed back on Russian interference in the presidential election.
“Many others besides me have noted that this is consistent with an anti-Clinton atmosphere among the FBI’s rank-and-file—an observation that of course is no longer controversial, given how often it’s been made by Trump’s closest advisers and Trump himself,” he wrote.
Unanswered questions also surround NYPD investigators, who first discovered the emails on Weiner’s computer and may have been feeding information to Giuliani.
Abramson questions whether the NYPD “accidentally or intentionally fed bad intel to the FBI to assist them in writing up their October 30th search warrant application.”
If so, it would partially explain the Bureau’s unwillingness to disclose the search warrant application to Weiner and Abedin, he reasons.
The timing of the Comey letter is also suspect since the FBI took possession of the computer in early October and immediately discovered the Abedin emails, Abramson writes.
“For 24 days, these FBI agents kept their discovery a secret from their own boss, FBI Director James Comey. They only informed him of their potentially history-altering discovery on Oct. 27th, less than two weeks before the general election,” he notes.
Yet, agents in the New York office apparently shared the information early on with agents who had investigated Clinton’s email server, according to press reports.
Comey felt compelled to write his letter to Congress on Oct. 28, although he could have sent it several weeks earlier if he’d been informed promptly by field agents.
One thing is certain, if he had sent it earlier, the letter would have had far less impact on the election, according to The Washington Post.
Abedin also said she would have gladly explained the emails to the FBI had they contacted her in early October when they were discovered. But they never reached out to her, even though she’d been cooperating fully with investigators.
Abramson sums up the scandal this way:
“Here, we have the president-elect’s close confidant having already (a) confessed on national television that the FBI illegally leaked information to him on a topic that may have swung a national election to his friend, Donald Trump, and (b) established that a core group of disgruntled agents within the FBI had a motive to act unprofessionally in a manner directly detrimental to Clinton’s White House ambitions. We then have unprofessional actions by this same group of FBI agents with no valid legal or law enforcement explanation, which actions demonstrably affected the presidential race, per hard data and innumerable media accounts of the Comey Letter and its after-effects.
It is important to remember that the Watergate investigation began with reports of minor political figures being involved in the break-in of Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate Hotel, Abramson notes.
It ended with the resignation of President Nixon two years later after two dogged reporters uncovered the full conspiracy. Will the news media be just as dogged now?