Seriously? A ‘CYA’ letter to Congress to insulate the FBI for a sloppy investigation?

FBI Director James Comey has been under intense criticism from Tea-Publicans and the conservative media entertainment complex for his conclusion at the end of the Hillary Clinton email investigation that, in his judgment, “no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.” FBI Statement. All the wingnuts have been falsely accusing the FBI of a “coverup” ever since because they did not get their lifelong dream of prosecuting Hillary Clinton.

jamescomeyThen on Friday, FBI Director James Comey sent a “cover your ass” (CYA) letter to Congress to notify Congress that the FBI had missed some electronic devices belonging to Clinton aide Huma Abedin, despite having interviewed and deposed her and obtaining access to her emails in the Clinton email investigation, emails discovered in the course of investigating Abedin’s estranged husband, former congressman Anthony Weiner. This CYA letter is politically motivated to insulate the FBI from further criticism from wingnuts of a “coverup,” because Comey has been sensitized to this criticism. How could the FBI investigation have missed these emails? Answer: sloppy investigation.

What Director Comey did is unprecedented, and is a violation of Department of Justice protocol and longstanding practices. Jane Myer at The New Yorker explains:

On Friday, James Comey, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, acting independently of Attorney General Loretta Lynch, sent a letter to Congress saying that the F.B.I. had discovered e-mails that were “potentially relevant” to the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private server. Coming less than two weeks before the Presidential election, Comey’s decision to make public new evidence that may raise additional legal questions about Clinton was contrary to the views of the Attorney General, according to a well-informed Administration official. Lynch expressed her preference that Comey follow the department’s longstanding practice of not commenting on ongoing investigations, and not taking any action that could influence the outcome of an election, but he said that he felt compelled to do otherwise.

Comey’s decision is a striking break with the policies of the Department of Justice, according to current and former federal legal officials. Comey, who is a Republican appointee of President Obama, has a reputation for integrity and independence, but his latest action is stirring an extraordinary level of concern among legal authorities, who see it as potentially affecting the outcome of the Presidential and congressional elections.

“You don’t do this,” one former senior Justice Department official exclaimed. “It’s aberrational. It violates decades of practice.” The reason, according to the former official, who asked not to be identified because of ongoing cases involving the department, “is because it impugns the integrity and reputation of the candidate, even though there’s no finding by a court, or in this instance even an indictment.”

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According to the Administration official, Lynch asked Comey to follow Justice Department policies, but he said that he was obliged to break with them because he had promised to inform members of Congress if there were further developments in the case. He also felt that the impending election created a compelling need to inform the public, despite the tradition of acting with added discretion around elections. The Administration official said that Lynch and Justice Department officials are studying the situation, which he called unprecedented.

The worst part of this is that Comey’s vaguely worded letter has fueled uninformed hysterical media speculation during the final 10 days of an election. Greg Sargent of the Washington Post has the best summary I have seen so far as to how little is actually known by the media, the facts be damned. James Comey needs to clean up his mess. Here’s what we need to know.

There is a lot of new reporting out there this morning about the letter that FBI director James Comey sent to Members of Congress, notifying them about newly discovered emails that may be pertinent to the FBI’s previous investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server.

Those emails reportedly could number in the thousands and were discovered on a laptop used jointly by former Congressman Anthony Weiner and his wife, Huma Abedin, a top aide to Clinton, and were discovered in the course of an unrelated probe into Weiner’s sexting.

Unfortunately, the latest reporting is often contradictory and confusing. So here’s my best effort to sift through it.

Comey’s language is maddeningly opaque and cryptic. In his letter to lawmakers, Comey says that the new emails “appear to be pertinent” to the previous investigation into Clinton’s use of a private server. He also says the FBI is now seeking to “determine whether they contain classified information,” and “cannot yet assess whether the material may or may not be significant.” (Emphasis mine.)

But Comey’s own declaration that the new emails “appear to be pertinent” suggests that they are significant. Comey surely knew that news organizations would conclude as much, which is what they are now doing, with screaming headlines and with analysis claiming this could impact the presidential race.

Perversely, we are being told by news outlets that the new info may not be substantively significant, but it may be politically significant, which, you’d think, is an outcome Comey would have wanted to avoid.

Comey’s latest justification requires more explanation. Sari Horwitz reports that Comey sent a second letter to FBI employees yesterday to explain his decision to brief lawmakers, perhaps anticipating that his move would come under scalding criticism. [I take this as an admission by Comey that he knows he violated department protocol and practices.] In that second letter, Comey said that he felt it would be “misleading to the American people” if he did not let them know that he had turned up new emails, after having said in July that the investigation was completed, with no recommendation of charges. Yet in this letter, Comey also conceded: “given that we don’t know the significance of this newly discovered collection of emails, I don’t want to create a misleading impression.”

* * *

[O]ne thing seems inarguable: Comey had to know that releasing such a vaguely worded letter to lawmakers at this time would allow Republicans to argue that new evidence of Clinton’s criminality has been discovered. This is of course exactly what has happened. This risks “misleading” the American people, which Comey’s latest justification claims he wanted to avoid, and which Comey has now facilitated and enabled in a huge way. If he actually does want to avoid this, he should rectify the situation by providing more clarity right now.

Of course, it’s not clear how much the FBI actually knows about the current emails. Here’s what we don’t know:

We don’t know whether Clinton sent any of these emails. The Los Angeles Times reports that according to one official, “the emails were not to and from Clinton.” But the Washington Post reports something different: according to a law enforcement official, the “correspondence included emails between Abedin and Clinton.” That could simply mean emails were sent by Abedin to Clinton, and that Clinton didn’t send any. But we just don’t know.

Meanwhile, Kurt Eichenwald’s sources offer a fuller explanation: They say Abedin frequently printed out emails she had received that she thought Clinton should read, and in some cases printed out emails that Clinton had forwarded to her for that purpose. Abedin used several email accounts for this task, Eichenwald reports, and this is how the newly discovered ones ended up on the shared device. Eichenwald adds:

If the FBI determines that any of the documents that ended up on the shared device were classified, Abedin could be deemed to have mishandled them. In order to prove that was a criminal offense, however, investigators would have to establish that Abedin had intended to disclose the contents of those classified documents, or that she knew she was mishandling that information.

In this telling, the FBI may now be looking at whether Abedin improperly handled emails with classified info in them. But as has already been established, the FBI doesn’t even know yet whether they contain classified info. Eichenwald adds, however, that “none” of the newly found emails were sent from Abedin to Clinton, which would seem to suggest they were all emails Abedin had received from other sources that she wanted to print for Clinton to read.

What’s unclear to me is how even much of this is known. Pete Williams reported last night that the FBI will need to get a court order to even read the newly found emails. So it’s not clear how we know the little bit we have been told. But the reporting suggests that FBI officials who are leaking to the press do know more than they’ve publicly acknowledged.

Many of these emails may be duplicates. The Post report includes this:

Officials familiar with the inquiry said it was too early to assess the significance of the newly discovered emails. It is possible, they said, that some or all of the correspondence is duplicative of the emails that were already turned over and examined by the FBI.

Some or all of them could be duplicates. If so that would dovetail with the notion that the discovered emails do not contain new significance, which, again, Comey repeatedly conceded is a genuine possibility.

But we just don’t know. And by the way, the Trump campaign and the Clinton campaigns are both demanding to know more information about what Comey found, as is Judicial Watch, the conservative legal organization that has long pursued the Clintons. So this isn’t a partisan demand.

This is an absurd mess. Comey should do whatever he can to clean it up as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, if the FBI cannot get immediate access to the emails, he may not be able to. Which calls into question the original decision to release such a vaguely worded letter in the first place. Even if it was in some ways understandable, the current outcome it has produced surely is not.

12 responses to “Seriously? A ‘CYA’ letter to Congress to insulate the FBI for a sloppy investigation?

  1. For Sure Not Tom

    Trump does the same thing. Literally breaking the law to cover up his crimes.

    www. newsweek. com/2016/11/11/donald-trump-companies-destroyed-emails-documents-515120.html

    Conservatives, full of BS since 1980.

    BTW, the market dropped for a moment when the Weiner news came out, because all the smart conservatives know a Trump presidency will crush the economy.

    • “www. newsweek. com/2016/11/11/donald-trump-companies-destroyed-emails-documents-515120.html”

      Although I am not as smart as you, I will humbly offer my perspective on the two incidents which you are comparing:

      (1) “Donald Trumps Companies” are just that…companies he owns. It is very unlikely he runs the company and even less likely that Trump wrote many e-mails, memos or other documents related to operations of the company. Trump is not known for being that type of manager. So the odds are the decisions to shred were made by company personnel to cover their rear ends and it had very little to do with Trump.

      (2) “Hillary Clinton’s e-Mails” are just that…they are personal emails either written to her, or by her. The decision of what to do with these e-mails rested entirely with Hillary and whatever decisions were made were the result of Hillary’s trying to cover her rear end.

      That’s a BIG difference, Not Tom.

      “BTW, the market dropped for a moment when the Weiner news came out, because all the smart conservatives know a Trump presidency will crush the economy.”

      I read this to my Brokers and they got a good laugh. They agreed that the world is filled with market experts on why things happen. They thought that was was one of the funnier ones…Thanks for sharing it!

  2. Frances Perkins

    John , how about publishing the emails between you and the private prison industry so Arizonans can judge the industry’s influence on the appropriations process themselves. The right wing has had a Clinton investigation fetish for so long voters should reject the nonsense. Rush Limbaugh got rich. Newt brought impeachment, while he was a flaming hypocrite himself. Trump cheated on at least two wives, stiffed innumerable sub contractors, filed bankruptcy numerous times, played fast and loose on government subsidies for development but he is just an honest businessman. We should let the Trump do to the Country what he did to Atlantic City and Marla Maples?

  3. Sen. John Kavanagh

    According to the Wall Street Journal today:

    “Metadata found on the laptop used by former Rep. Anthony Weiner and his estranged wife Huma Abedin, a close Clinton aide, suggests there may be thousands of emails sent to or from the private server that Mrs. Clinton used while she was secretary of state, according to people familiar with the matter. It will take weeks, at a minimum, to determine whether those messages are work-related from the time Ms. Abedin served with Mrs. Clinton at the State Department; how many are duplicates of emails already reviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and whether they include either classified information or important new evidence in the Clinton email probe.”

    And Huma told the FBI that she had turned over to them all devices she used that might have Clinton emails. How could she forget a device with thousands of emails? Another coverup but this one may get Huma arrested for lying to the FBI, which is a crime.

    Between this and the Clinton Foundation scandals, will it be a Trump/Kaine race by the end of the week?

    • “Another coverup but this one may get Huma arrested for lying to the FBI, which is a crime.”

      If that happen it will be rather typical…someone connected with the Clintons goes to jail, but never the Clintons.

      “Between this and the Clinton Foundation scandals, will it be a Trump/Kaine race by the end of the week?”

      Of course it will…democrats don’t care what Hillary does. She will get their support no matter what. There is nothing Hillary could do that would make her supporters stop supporting her. What matters is winning, not the content of her character.

  4. Director Comey clearly violated protocol and went against the advice of the Attorney General AND his own FBI advisors for POLITICAL PURPOSES. HE MISUSED his office and violated his oath to the Constitution and the American people. There is NO EXCUSE. The emails if they were sent to or from Sec. Clinton’s assistant are most likely duplicates of those already looked at from the Secretary’s server. According to experts in the field a simple electronic review could have been done in less than an HOUR, but Director Comey did not do that. He had to have known this was a career ending maneuver, therefore he has likely already arranged for his parachute. There is no telling whether such a blatantly partisan act is the result of requirements for obtaining that parachute. But it is UNPRECIDENTED and against OVER 30 years of FBI POLICY.

    • I think you have it about 180-degrees out…it wasn’t Comey who went political. I feel reasonably confident that AG Lynch spent a good deal of time telling him what would happen to him if re-opened the e-mail investigation. In re-opening the investigation, Comey burned all his bridges behind him. He knew that. You don’t cross the Clinton Machine without paying a steep price.

      After his first decision not to pursue Clinton, significant numbers of his Special Agents were angry at him for “selling out”. The investigation, from their perspective as investigators, demanded more action be taken. They felt his action was pure politics and did NOT reflect well on the FBI. I think Comey remembered he was a law man and not a political flumky and his concience (something most democrats don’t particularly worry about) made him reconsider. But whatever his reasons, he has done the right thing.

      But don’t be alarmed, as I have said before, NOTHING he could find in those e-mails will change any democrat’s mind or vote. If the e-mails proved Hillary had given secrets to the Chinese and Russians, democrats would still vote for her. democrats just don’t care. Winning is what matters…not morals, not integrity, not honesty, nothing else…just winning!

  5. “…it impugns the integrity and reputation of the candidate…”

    Are we talking about Hillary Clinton here? What “integrity and reputation” does she have left. Her supporters overlook all the evidence she has no integrity and ignore her reputation for duplicity, double speak and outright lying. She has nothing left to “impugn”.

    The truth is that nothing will come of this because the Clinton Machine won’t let that happen. There will be no affect on the voting because Hillary’s voters don’t care what is in the e-mails. If the e-mails proved Hillary ran the biggest drug ring in the western hemisphere, they wouldn’t care. democrats care about winning and nothing more. And this is HILLARY, for gosh sakes…she is THE icon of the democrat party. She HAS to win, no matter what…so, AzBM, don’t sweat the situation about the FBI and the e-mails, everything will remain the same.

    • Accusations and innuendo are not evidence.

      • Senator John Kavanagh

        Really, Craig? They were good enough in the post after this for you to link Trump to anti-Semitic graffiti. Looks like the Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s chickens are coming home to roost again.

        • For Sure Not Tom

          Hey clown, you asked if Obama was responsible for Baltimore on that other post, and the answer is no.

          How about you waddle over there and reply to my post?

          And get your stories straight, is Obama a Muslim or a Jeremiah Wright style Christian?

          I think Francis Perkins is right, lets see your emails, because the only difference I can see between you and crooked Hillary is that she’s better at it than you because she’s smarter than you.

      • That is true.

        Isn’t it odd, though, that everywhere Hillary goes, personal crisis and scandals follow her? And she is always caught lying when she is forced to revise previously made statements as new information comes out? Have you ever noticed how much documentation just “diappears” with her having no knowledge of what happened. And always, the first instinct of a Clinton is to lie, regardless of what the issue is.

        Don’t worry, she is going to be elected, regardless of how corrupt she is. Unfortunately, you know there are oodles more scandals waiting, both old and new, and her ego will put her in a position where she will get caught in some big lie. At that point, it will be interesting to see if there winds up being 2 impeached Presidents in the Clinton Family.

        Of course, if by some fluke, Trump is elected, we’ll see the same thing with him. Something stupid will happen and he will be impeached and – because he is Trump – he might just be removed from office.

        This is a weird election…