Saturday, January 27, 2018

Another Look at FBI Director Comey's Decision to Re-open the Clinton Email Investigation

by Nomad

One of the many as-yet unclear events of last year's election concerns former FBI director James Comey's decision to reopen a probe into Hillary Clinton days before the vote. 

After finding State Department emails on a computer belonging to former Rep. Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of Clinton's aide, Huma Abedin, on 28 October, Comey sent a letter to eight Congressional committees, informing them that the Clinton email probe was- at least, partially re-opened. 

Only 11 days before the election, the timing for the Clinton campaign could hardly have been worse. 
Comey's decision has been called "a mistake of world-historic proportions."
Given the consequences, it's not quite as inflated an exaggeration as it initially sounds. Together with probable Russia interference, this event helped put a man who was clearly unfit to be president in the White House. 

Clinton and Guiliani

Many people- including Clinton herself- believe to this day that this announcement just days before the election significantly affected the outcome. Polling internals related to the letter and macro-analytic polling data both seem to confirm that.

In an interview, Ms. Clinton was asked whether she believed that Comey had some kind of personal grudge against her. She said
“I have no idea. I know there had to be some pressure on him because Rudy Giuliani announced two days before that there was something big coming in two days."
To understand the dynamic at work, we have to go back at least two decades. The animosity between Giuliani and Clinton goes back to the time when they fought for the New York Senate seat.

In late April and May 2000, Giuliani's medical, romantic, marital, and political lives all collided in a stormy four-week period, culminating in his withdrawal from the race on May 19.
Clinton went on to win that year, marking the start of her own political career. It was a major humiliation for Guiliani and like Trump, Rudy doesn't forgive those who beat him.

Since that time, Giuliani has made every attempt to defame Hillary Clinton. For example, he accused her of not being available in the aftermath of the terror attack of 2001.
 “I was there that day, I don’t remember seeing Hillary Clinton there. I lost so many friends on Sept. 11, I think about it every day. Don’t tell me you belong to our very tight group of ‘never forget.’ Don’t tell me that.”
Unfortunately for Reproachful Rudy, a series of photos showing Clinton standing next to Giuliani at Ground Zero told a different story.
When it comes to Hillary Clinton, Giuliani has always been on "attack" mode, even if that meant slandering her with easily-refutable lies. 

It wasn't the first time that Guiliani's name came up as one of the operators in Comey email debacle. As Nomadic Politics reported back in August last year, the author of the infamous dossier, former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele came to the same general conclusion.

According to an interview with The Independent, he concluded that there was a "cabal" within the higher levels of the FBI, particularly in the New York field office. It was the reason why Steele decided to pass on the dossier to both British and American intelligence officials. He had concluded that if left to the FBI, it would never see the light of day.

Steele, furthermore, claimed that the chief leader of this effort to block the report as none-other-than Mr. Giuliani.
The New York office, in particular, appeared to be on a crusade against Ms Clinton. Some of its agents had a long working relationship with Rudy Giuliani, by then a member of the Trump campaign, since his days as public prosecutor and then Mayor of the city.
In addition to his personal relationships with the former agents of the New York Branch, Giuliani's connections to the FBI are deep and solid. His former law firm has long been general counsel to the FBI Agents Association (FBIAA), which represents 13,000 former and current agents.

More support for the theory comes from another source and it is a source that Republicans have endorsed. In December, the Justice Department released hundreds of text messages between two FBI officials, Peter Strzok and fellow FBI lawyer Lisa Page. Strzok, one of the FBI's top Russian counterintelligence experts, was removed from the Mueller investigation when questions about Strzok's possible bias emerged. 

Republicans have claimed that the exchange proved that the entire FBI investigation into Trump's Russian ties is a Clinton-orchestrated political smear. It's also related to a "deep state" theory along the lines of something Alex Jones would cook up.

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) claimed:
“Peter Strzok and Lisa Page believed that then-candidate Donald Trump was a threat to this country and appeared to be taking steps, as sworn members of law enforcement, to subvert the will of the American people.”
Ok, it's a far-fetched idea that two illicit love-birds could pose a threat to anybody. A phrase "deep state" conspiracy might sound scary but it takes planning at a higher level. Nevertheless, the idea plays well across the political spectrum.

There's something else buried in the text messages that had gone pretty much unnoticed: a few references to Comey's announcement, along with some hints at who might have been pulling the strings.


Ryan J. Reilly, writing for the Huffington Post, noted that
[O]ne previously unreported Strzok-Page exchange, from the eve of Election Day, does even more to undercut the GOP’s “deep state” narrative. In it, the two FBI employees discuss James Kallstrom, a former bureau official who headed the FBI’s New York field office a couple of decades ago. During the 2016 campaign, he endorsed Trump, called the Clintons an “organized crime family” and was making the rounds on TV airing what he said were complaints from within the bureau about then-FBI Director James Comey’s management of the Clinton probe.
So who was this Kallstrom?

From 2002 to 2007,  this Marine Corps Captain and Vietnam War veteran served as the Senior Advisor to the Governor of New York for Counter-Terrorism. The job entailed overseeing all matters relating to counter-terrorism and security for the State of New York. In this capacity, Mr. Kallstrom was responsible for Counter-Terrorism Planning and Operations for the State of New York. 
Following 9/11, when Guiliani was mayor of New York City, Kallstrom was the state's point of contact with the White House Office of Homeland Security.

Before his retirement after 25 years, Kallstrom was also a former boss of the F.B.I.’s New York field office under former director Louis Freeh, who just happened to be a running buddy of Giuliani. There's no question of Kallstrom's closeness to Giuliani. In his own words:  
“When I was a young agent, he was a young prosecutor. We’ve known each other for 40 years.”
It was a tight-knit group who had proved to be capable of keeping each other's secrets. In other words, when it came to a director of a deep state rogue group within the FBI, Kallstrom might be as good a candidate as you'd find.

Stab in the Back and a Slap in the Face

There's also no doubt about how Kallstrom felt about Hillary Clinton. There are countless examples of his inflammatory remarks during the campaign. From calling the Clinton Foundation a "cesspool" and the Clintons "a crime family" and Hillary was, he claimed,"a “pathological liar.”  The investigation into her emails, Kallstrom said, was "never a real investigation."
“God forbid we put someone like that in the White House.”
(Instead, the pussy-grabbing, porn-star snuggling Donald Trump became the 45th president.Yah!)

Immediately after Comey's announcement in July that the Clinton email investigation was dead in the water, (that no malice- a key to any successful prosecution- was not evident) both Kallstrom and Guiliani toured conservative media.  It was, they said, "almost a slap in the face to the F.B.I.’s integrity.”

Kallstrom went even further by also pointing the finger of blame directly at FBI director (as well as other FBI department heads) were responsible for holding back the investigation, not the rest of the bureau.
As our source reported
By late September, Kallstrom was telling the Daily Beast that he had talked to hundreds of people, “including a lot of retired agents and a few on the job” who were “basically disgusted” and felt they had been “stabbed in the back.”
Was this true or was it true only for his comrades at the New York branch?  Kallstrom alleged that the FBI rank and file were "furious with what had been going on" and that he knew this "for a fact.”
If you take that phrase literally, it is quite self-incriminating. A retired FBI chief is implying that he was in contact with disgruntled FBI employees and was now leaking what he allegedly discovered.

By November, the "FBI in disarray" was now spilling over into the mainstream media outlets. On  2 November 2016, CNN published a front-page article with the title “Turmoil in the FBI.” The report was based on interviews with more than a dozen anonymous government officials close to the FBI’s Clinton email investigation. According to that CNN report,
“infighting among some agents and officials has exposed some parts of the storied [FBI] to be buffeted by some of the same bitter [political] divisions as the rest of American society.”
CNN also noted the source of the greatest friction:
“Some of the sharpest divides have emerged between some agents in the FBI’s New York field office, the bureau’s largest and highest-profile, and officials at FBI headquarters in Washington and at the Justice Department. Some rank-and-file agents interpreted cautious steps taken by the Justice Department and FBI headquarters as being done for political reasons or to protect a powerful political figure [Clinton]. At headquarters, some have viewed the actions and complaints of some agents in the field as driven by the common desire of investigators to get a big case or, perhaps worst, because of partisan views.
Exactly as Christopher Steele and others had deduced. To fully understand the dynamic, you have to go back to the long-standing antipathy between the New York FBI branch and the bureau's Washington headquarters.

Deep State, Empire State

Insiders say that much of the criticism about Comey's handling of the Clinton email affair seemed to be emerging from the FBI field office in New York.  Conservative websites, particularly True Pundit, claimed to have sources inside the New York office. (The pro-Trump True Pundit is generally classified as a purveyor of fake news.)

The Vanity Fair piece underscores the importance of that particular office. According to one unnamed agent:
“There are the [56] field offices, there’s [headquarters in] Washington, and then there’s [the field office in] New York.”
By most accounts, there is a kind of antipathy between the agents in the field, especially in New York and the leadership in Washington. New York has an especially dim view of Washington and a reputation for fierce independence.
“There is a renegade quality to the New York F.B.I.,” says a former prosecutor, which, he claims, can take the form of agents leaking to the press to advance their own interests or to influence an investigation. “New York leaks like a sieve,” concurs another former prosecutor.
It is hard not to see a deep-state mentality in all this, exactly the same things the right-wingers, including President Trump, have been accusing the left of.

 From the sound of it, the New York FBI branch was leading something like a mutiny against its own director. Said one source:
Some factions within the F.B.I. were not in Comey’s corner—particularly New York. One agent even heard about a petition to have Comey removed. “All of a sudden people who thought he was the best guy ever were saying he should resign.”
According to the VF piece, not everybody was impressed with Kallstrom and his performances on Fox News. One former prosecutor who was familiar with Kallstrom bluntly described him as "full of shit.”

Rudolph's Remarkable Prognostication

All of this talk would have been relegated to speculation and partisan innuendo if not for the fact that Giuliani let the cat out of the bag.  On 26 October, a day before Comey had even been briefed about the email discovery, and two days before Comey informed Congress, Giuliani appeared on Fox News and made a mysterious announcement. Referring to some kind of October surprise, he said:
“I think he’s [Donald Trump] got a surprise or two that you’re going to hear about in the next few days. I mean, I’m talking about some pretty big surprises.”
Pressed for specifics, he said: 
“We’ve got a couple of things up our sleeve that should turn this thing around.”
On 4 November, Guiliani soon found himself in a tight spot when CNN's Wolf Blitzer pointed out that he had said in a previous interview that he- Guiliani- was in contact with former agents "and a few active agents, who obviously don't want to identify themselves." 
 So, the next logical question was: Which active agents were leaking this information?

When confronted Guiliani did what he had done in the past. He denied something he had clearly said only a week earlier. He insisted that he had not received a tip from someone currently in the FBI. Everybody, he explained, that he talked to was a former FBI agent.
Obviously, that is not what he had actually claimed.

On 30 October, Kallstrom too appeared on Fox News with the intent to promote the importance of the email discovery.  He told Jeanine Pirro that "something big is going to happen" in the Clinton email investigation.
People are asking me what is this about. I think something big is going to happen. I don’t know what it is. It’s just my gut feeling.
Somewhat surprisingly, Pirro herself suggests the New York branch would be doing the leaking.
Obviously, Kallstrom would not confirm nor deny this. One thing is clear from the hints dropped by both Guiliani and Kallstrom: somebody inside the bureau was leaking information about an highly-classified, extremely sensitive ongoing investigation and they were doing to ensure maximum damage to the Clinton campaign.

Princely Lies

There's another name that has come to light as a  leaker of fake news: former Blackwater CEO and an informal adviser to Trump,  Erik Prince. Prince gave an interview to Breitbart News Daily on November 4—less than 24 hours before Comey announced there was nothing new to be found in the newly-found emails.

In contrast, Prince claimed that the emails contained "really damning criminal information, including money laundering" and sex scandals involving  Bill Clinton and convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. (Epstein, you might recall, was the host of a party at which, it was alleged in a court filing, that Trump raped a minor.)

Claiming to know the contents of Clinton's emails, Prince provided quite specific - yet entirely untrue- details.
“There is all kinds of criminal culpability through all the emails they’ve seen of that 650,000, including money laundering, underage sex, pay-for-play, and, of course, plenty of proof of inappropriate handling, sending/receiving of classified information, up to SAP level Special Access Programs.”
In actuality, there was no evidence of any new information in any of the emails. And Prince added:
If Hillary Clinton is elected president, Prince said, we will have a constitutional crisis that we have not seen since, I believe, 1860.
Prince isn't talking about a constitutional crisis in the sense of a Supreme Court decision. He is referring, of course, to an armed rebellion against the Federal government, the Civil War.

As Daily Kos pointed out, Prince openly admitted that he knew about the emails before Comey did. And that would make three close advisors to Trump that apparently knew- or claimed they knew- what was in the emails before the FBI director did.

A Private, Clandestine Network

So what did Prince have to gain from this litany of lies and threats? We had to wait until December 2017 to learn the answer. Prince reportedly lobbied his contacts inside the Trump administration to provide the CIA with a private network of intelligence contractors. 

According to an article in The Intercept (and subsequently reported by CNN and others), the plan was pitched to the White House as a means of countering “deep state” enemies in the intelligence community seeking to undermine Donald Trump’s presidency. If true, the plan proposed by Prince amounts to a privatized coup d'├ętat.
The creation of such a program raises the possibility that the effort would be used to create an intelligence apparatus to justify the Trump administration’s political agenda.
Newsweek, picking up The Intercept article, added that the main justification for a privatized intelligence agency as Prince advocated would be to circumvent the “deep state."
Trump has repeatedly claimed, with no evidence, that such an underground group exists and has worked against him since he took office earlier this year. The proposal of a private, clandestine network appears rooted in distrust the current administration has for the intelligence community.
Naturally, Prince (and presumably investors) would stand to make a fortune in the unlikely event such an arrangement came into being.  

Prince, in his defense, claimed The Intercept report was 100% false. A spokesman for Prince said that the Intercept article targeted Erik "using his high profile as a click-bait to promote its own website and indulge the fantasies of its reporters with no care or regard for the facts."
Reviewing the things Prince said about Clinton, that's a fairly ironic statement.  

The Catastrophic Decision

In any case, between Kallstrom, Guiliani and Prince we see enough of a pattern to understand the kind of pressure Comey was under. He later testified before Congress that he knew the decision to re-open the Clinton investigation would be “disastrous for me personally.” but that “concealment would have been catastrophic." 

According to an internal memo Comey sent to the F.B.I. staff at the time of his decision, Comey believed it was "an obligation" to update Congress, presumably in an effort to be fair in the face of mounting criticism from within and from outside the agency.
Although he noted that "we don’t know the significance of this newly discovered collection of emails,” he thought it would be “misleading to the American people were we not to supplement the record.”

Not surprisingly, all hell broke loose. What on earth was Comey thinking? was the question on most people's lips. Could he not see how this could be interpreted by both sides? Was he insane?

In theory, Comey was backed into a corner- very likely by rogue elements in the New York offices under the direction of Guiliani and Kallstrom.

If it had come out that Comey and the FBI in Washington had kept silent about new information regarding Clinton's emails, Trump's supporters would have used this to legally dispute the election results. At the time, Trump was claiming that the election was illegitimate and could refuse to recognize the outcome.

During the time the New York branch was allegedly sitting on the emails, Giuliani had been claiming that Democrats were planning to steal an extremely close election.

But most of all, the F.B.I. appeared to be worried that, if it came out that they had kept silent, knowing what he knew, it would give credence to claims, the election results were illegitimate.  

Purposeful Foot-Dragging? 

According to Huffington Post article, there was another role that the New York branch played in the incident.
We know that the rank-and-file FBI who discovered the “new” Clinton emails on Anthony Wiener’s computer on October 3rd—well over a month before Election Day—did not follow any of their internal protocols in reviewing them.
Instead, they allegedly sat on the evidence. According to reports, Comey had been briefed about the emails on 27 October- a day before he sent letters to Congress. Yet, Weiner's computer and electronic devices had been seized by the New York FBI branch on October 3, 2016. Who made the decision not to inform the FBI director?

The pro-Trump agents apparently failed to verify that the emails were, in fact, duplicates which had already been examined before Comey's July decision.
We know that these agents waited an astonishing 24 days to inform their boss, Director Comey, that the emails even existed, though Comey had the authority to draft a search warrant for the emails (or, alternately, determine them, via a quick review, to be duplicates) immediately—which determination and/or warrant would have led to the issue of the emails being settled a full month before Election Day.
Two days before the election, on November 6, Comey informed Congress that, after reviewing the emails, the FBI had not changed its original conclusion that Clinton should not face charges over her handling of classified information.

By then, of course, it was too late. The damage had been done. His decision to try to put to rest any further debate before Clinton won the election- as she was expected to do- created fury on both sides.
As the Vanity Fair article notes:
Just days before her defeat, an open letter circulated among former federal prosecutors and Justice Department officials accusing Comey of unprecedented actions that had left them “astonished and perplexed”—as well as angry. “In our network, we are sad,” says the former Southern District attorney. “He was an American hero. Now who knows how he will go down in history?”
That's a question we will probably not know the answer to for another decade or so. The story of Comey's decision is definitely a work in progress.
*   *    *

The greatest irony is that Trump's stated reason for firing Comey was the mishandling of Clinton's emails. That was something candidate Trump claimed at the time before abruptly contradicting himself and acknowledged that he had fired Comey to stall or stop the Russia investigation.
In his testimony before Congress, Comey was blunt about the excuses the administration offered for his firing.

For now, we can only speculate what went on behind the scenes. The puzzle pieces must range in the hundreds or thousands.

Undoubtedly, there are many more pieces we have not yet heard. We can, however, assume- with some certainty- that the more complete story is being carefully cataloged in the Mueller report.

For that, we must somehow remain a little more patient.