The Inspector General's Hillary Report
The Department of Justice inspector general’s report is out, and the spin doctors are working overtime, led by the sanctimonious, self-serving, “I did nothing wrong” op-ed in The New York Times by James Comey. The Times chimed in itself with the view that the IG produced a nothingburger, and certainly nothing in it would imply Robert Mueller’s Russia probe was compromised. The report had nothing to do with Mueller’s investigation; the revelations about actions related to that will follow. Trump joined the party, claiming that the IG totally vindicated him. Where he got that I’m not sure, but stay tuned for round two. Even a New York congressman waded in by concluding that because the IG didn’t dispute Comey’s conclusion not to prosecute Hillary, the IG obviously agreed that Hillary was innocent. The fact that the IG never opines on judgement calls and prosecutorial matters, preferring just to call balls and strikes, was apparently lost in translation.
After trying to avoid the spin, several things struck me about the report. As predicted, it was mostly about procedural FBI and Justice matters. Agents and officials were called out for bad judgment, insubordination, and poor leadership. But except for the few instances where there was blatant lying to FBI investigators or Congress (where the potential for criminal referrals exists), the consequences are more likely to result in early retirement, strong letters, and possible transfers to the FBI Oshkosh branch office to supervise employment background checks for Interior Department clerks. In some sense, I guess that does qualify as a nothingburger.
My 25-year Wall Street career was in mergers and acquisitions, much of it in the hyperactive late ‘70s to late '90s era of hostile tender offers, leveraged buyouts and junk bonds, and typically involving publicly traded companies. A golden rule was never to put anything you didn’t absolutely have to in writing, and revealing anything about a pending deal, no matter how insignificant, was a fireable offense. As with all professionals, everyone had their personal biases and beliefs, but they were never allowed to impact anything anyone did on the deals — another fireable offense. I am utterly stunned by the fact that so many FBI personnel thought it was perfectly fine to put extraordinary statements of bias and personal opinion in writing while on the job. I realize we now live in a social media world, but really? As already noted, everyone has their own personal beliefs, but particularly true of law enforcement, those beliefs must be checked at the door. The prevailing modus operandi of those involved in the Hillary Clinton investigation not only didn’t check their biases at the door, they paid extra to get them in.
The IG concluded that there was no evidence that “political bias” influenced the investigation, but that’s only because the IG defined political bias in such a way that no one could have met the standard. You needed a memo saying something like, “Hey, this 'I hate Trump’ stuff? It’s all because we are politically biased!” The IG cited “personal” bias (“we will stop this,” “this” being the Trump presidency), but that wasn’t deemed to have risen to the level of compromising the investigation. The cumulative effect of the texts and emails make this conclusion look silly and most likely was the result of the IG bowing to editing pressure from those in the crosshairs. The current FBI head strongly cited the IG’s conclusion that there was no political bias in the FBI, and then announced that he was ordering everyone to attend seminars on — you guessed it — political bias.
But what law-enforcement culture could possibly signal to those involved that it was okay to put these obvious examples of bias in writing? One former FBI agent opined that it was the modified FBI role after 9/11 that led to this. The just-the-facts bureau that once investigated federal crimes was transformed into an intelligence agency, which elevated analysis, probability, and what-ifs above hard-fact investigations of crimes committed. And as with all intel, it has the potential to be politicized. Organizations follow their leaders, and as the Obama administration rewarded and fostered the politicization of its agencies (the IRS attack on conservative groups was Exhibit A), the FBI and Justice Department followed suit. Managers more sensitive to political whims than down-the-fairway law enforcement took positions of leadership and attracted like-minded folks. Skewing investigations to serve a political end became the norm, and rather than pure political bias, it was more ambition and doing the bidding of the ones at the top for career enhancement that mattered.
How else do you explain the fact that Comey, the FBI guy in charge of the Hillary investigation into her use of a private server for official government business, even involving classified information, was using a private email for government business at the same time? Can there be a more blatant conflict? Well, maybe — if you consider the meeting between the head of the Justice Department and the husband of the target just days before the target was exonerated. But better yet, what about the overt obstruction of justice by President Obama when he went on TV and stated that he was sure there was no intent on the part of Hillary to damage national security in using her private server? Perhaps it’s no surprise that Comey used identical language in clearing her. The fact that Obama lied to CBS News in saying that he found out about Hillary’s private server through media reports is small ball compared to the obstruction tactic.
But there it is in the IG report that 13 “government officials” corresponded with Hillary via her private server, at times involving classified information, and one of those was Obama under an assumed name. Further, the IG notes that “foreign actors” (likely “Russians”) may have accessed Hillary’s sever, particularly when she was traveling in Russia. The truth is that if Hillary had been charged, there would have been no choice but to also charge Obama with being willfully complicit (at a minimum, the Hillary defense would have screamed it), and no one was going to go there. Once this fact became known, the fix was in.
The IG comes down hard on Comey for taking matters into his own hands, but why did he so radically deviate from Justice Department and FBI protocols? True, the tarmac meeting caused Lynch to sort of back off, but she only said she would rely on FBI conclusions, not fully recuse herself. Comey, however, saw his opening and he ran with it, unilaterally playing judge and jury and neglecting to inform anyone else at Justice for fear they would stop him. Believing that Hillary would certainly be the next president, he went public with details on her case that were pretty much already in the public domain and then cleared her, hopefully gaining the undying gratitude of his next boss. The “oops” in the equation was that he also promised under oath to tell Congress if anything popped up to cause him to reopen the case.
When the Anthony Weiner laptop full of classified Hillary emails appeared, the FBI tried to sit on it and run out the clock until election time, but an FBI agent in the New York office spilled the beans, and Comey had no choice but to disclose the new information. Comey and his crew reviewed the docs in record time and cleared Hillary yet again, but the damage from the association with a known pervert had already been done. Who knows if this was a determining factor in the election, but it could not have been positive for Hillary and earned Comey the unique status of incurring the wrath of both parties. His best move was getting his book published and sales in the bank before the IG report nailed him and his base deserted him.
I suspect that the IG report on the Russia probe will be far more devastating to those involved than this one. The Hillary investigation was more about law-enforcement political animals in top positions reading the DC tea leaves about what might advance their careers under President Hillary, and acting accordingly. Trump animus was on display, to be sure, but it was not the main event — only further written evidence of how those involved at the top were doing the bidding of the current and likely future administrations. The FBI rank and file are appalled, but at least they don’t have to live under the same conditions for another four to eight years. Thankfully, neither do we.
It’s undeniable that some animus toward Trump drove much of the communications among key investigators, but whether that was “political bias” or not is beside the point. The entire cadre was certain that Hillary was going to win, and career-enhancement opportunities via cooking the political books drove the train. This is a glimpse of what life would have been like under a Clinton administration. Institutionalized corruption would have been rewarded, and the politicization of government agencies for personal benefit would have been the norm. It is the height of irony that these very actions, particularly by Comey, the guy to be the main beneficiary, turned out (at least in part) to have contributed to Hillary’s demise. The email scandal was a known quantity, so Comey’s rendition of uncharged crimes probably did little to sway anyone. But the association with the name Weiner so close to the election might have. Oh, what a tangled web.