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Analysis: No, Bret Baier's Scoop on FBI Hillary Investigations Hasn't Been 'Debunked'

Fox News anchor Bret Baier opened his nightly news hour on Wednesday by reporting several startling revelations, joining his colleague Brit Hume later in the evening to walk through the new information provided to him by two FBI sources with "intimate knowledge" of the relevant state of affairs. Thursday morning, I posted this useful summary of Baier's report, furnished by Real Clear Politics. Click through for the the five key points, each of which we will re-evaluate below. Clinton defenders and Fox critics quickly declared this information "debunked" and "made up," largely drawing on reporting from NBC's Pete Williams, whose own sources quasi-deny the existence of an ongoing FBI probe into the Clinton Foundation:

Appearing on MSNBC’s MTP Daily [on Thursday], NBC News’ justice correspondent Pete Williams refuted much of the reporting from Wall Street Journal and Fox News regarding a likely indictment regarding an FBI investigation into the Clinton Foundation. Fox’s Bret Baier later backed off slightly, saying the indictment comment was “inartfully answered.” Speaking to host Chuck Todd, Williams claimed that via his own law enforcement sources, there doesn’t actually appear to be much of an investigation, let alone one that will result in indictments...“There really isn’t one,” Williams answered Todd regarding the status of the investigation. “Few want to call it an investigation. That’s a term of art in the FBI. There was an initial inquiry that was opened a couple months ago based largely on media reports and a book called Clinton Cash.”

I say "quasi-deny" because Williams couches his language with a number of softening caveats. There isn't "really" an active probe, he says, adding that "few" would characterize the inquiry as an investigation. What's really going on here?  Based on publicly-available reporting, the truth seems clear -- if slightly complex.  There is quite obviously a deep and smoldering rift between a group of FBI agents and some of their bosses, both at the bureau and DOJ.  That's why lefty media outlets are publishing whispers about the FBI being in the tank for Trump and trying to take down Hillary, and why righty outlets like Townhall are pointing out the overwhelmingly left-leaning political donations among DOJ officials (as well as potential appearances of impropriety and conflicts of interest).  These competing narratives are clashing.  Hard.  These sharp disagreements bubbled over into that buzzy Wall Street Journal piece late last week, with CNN later confirming that some FBI sources are angry with the higher-ups' management of these cases.

On one side, you have agents working the Clinton cases who furiously allege that higher-ups are deliberately hamstringing and undermining their work, due to political considerations.  On the other, you have officials who think those agents are overzealous, and that their case -- particularly regarding the Clinton Foundation inquiry/investigation -- is thin.  That critique prompted another counter-leak, pointing to audio recordings that some say underscore the need for a more rigorous investigation.  The response they reportedly received: Keep digging for something more solid, and then maybe we'll talk.  As many Republicans quote Baier's original report about dual investigations and looming indictments, and many Democrats claim the whole story is bunk, let's revisit the aforementioned five points:

(1) The Clinton Foundation probe is real, expansive, and has been active for more than a year.  Line agents seem to fully believe this, griping that their bosses won't approve essential tools for them to kick the probe into high gear.  Several news outlets have referred to the Clinton Foundation inquiry in the present tense, while the New York Times suggests that it has been effectively tabled until after the election.  Whether there is an "active investigation" or an "inquiry" in a holding pattern may be a matter of perspective and semantics.  It does appear that Mrs. Clinton was incorrect when she flatly denied earlier this year that the FBI was probing her family's controversial charitable organization.

(2) Despite reports of an unusual side deal, top Hillary aides' personal computers that factored into the FBI's email investigation were not destroyed, and in fact are still being exploited.  I have seen no reporting that contradicts this new information.  Baier's sources say those devices are still intact at the bureau's DC field office. 

(3) Agents working on the reinitiated email probe have discovered new, non-duplicate emails from Clinton's server on Huma Abedin and Anthony Weiner's personal computer.  CBS News confirms this important detail, which may highlight why FBI Director James Comey decided to re-engage the dormant investigation (though not before doing due diligence to make sure there was some substance to the new alleged evidence, according to the Washington Post):

The FBI has found emails related to Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state on the laptop belonging to the estranged husband of Huma Abedin, Anthony Weiner, according to a U.S. official. These emails, CBS News’ Andres Triay reports, are not duplicates of emails found on Secretary Clinton’s private server. At this point, however, it remains to be seen whether these emails are significant to the FBI’s investigation into Clinton. It is also not known how many relevant emails there are.

(4) Barring DOJ "obstruction," Clinton Foundation-related indictments are "likely," Baier's FBI sources say. This appears to be the most problematic element of the report.  Baier himself clarified his wording, acknowledging that the FBI doesn't have the power to make decisions on indictments.  Williams' sources emphatically deny that prosecutions are forthcoming.  It seems to me that this may have been a case of wish-casting by frustrated FBI agents, projecting or hyping what they believe should happen in the final resolution of this affair.  See the clip below for more clarity.

(5) FBI analysts believe with near certainty that at least five foreign intelligence agencies penetrated Mrs. Clinton's unsecure server, which contained thousands of classified emails -- some extremely sensitive. This conclusion merely echoes what a number of top Obama administration and US intelligence officials have been publicly stating with a high degree of certainty for months.  If the FBI has this nailed down, it blows up yet another Clinton talking point about her national security-endangering server.  Baier says that although investigators are working under the operating belief that her server was hacked, no "digital fingerprints" have verified that assumption beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Bottom line: A long-simmering grudge match within the halls of the FBI and the Justice Department is spilling into public view via a string of escalating leaks on both sides.  Journalists are reporting what their well-connected sources tell them, which is why Williams and Baier can both be correct here.  It was the Special Report host's phrasing on the indictments point that has resulted in politically-interested parties pretending that his entire scoop has been "disproven."  It has not.  A number of its central elements have either been left undisputed, or confirmed by rival news sources.  Taking a step back, it appears as though the FBI's reopened email probe is turning up new and relevant evidence, that some form of FBI inquiry into the Clinton Foundation is open (to one extent or another), and that sharp disagreements exist within the federal law enforcement community about how all of this ought to be resolved.  I'll leave you with Baier's updated report from this morning -- in which he stands by the bulk of his reporting and sourcing, but apologizes for the "mistake" of describing the 'indictment' piece the way he did:

UPDATE - If you're keeping score of the Left's narratives, a senior Justice Department official handing his buddy John Podesta "heads-up" tip-offs about the email imbroglio over private email isn't a big deal. But FBI sources possibly, allegedly leaking information to the Trump campaign is an 'alarming' example of collusion.

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