On Friday, I addressed new reports that federal officials may be revisiting the Clinton email scandal -- writing that while serious questions remain about some of the curious irregularities surrounding the original investigation (which resulted in no charges), Democrats may have a point when they suggest that President Trump's ostentatious public demands for a new probe of 'Crooked Hillary' call into question the apolitical nature of the DOJ's decisions. Trump's critics are leveling the same accusation over the revelation that the Clinton Foundation is also receiving renewed legal scrutiny. In case you missed it last week, here are the basics of that development:
The officials, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, said the probe is examining whether the Clintons promised or performed any policy favors in return for largesse to their charitable efforts or whether donors made commitments of donations in hopes of securing government outcomes. The probe may also examine whether any tax-exempt assets were converted for personal or political use and whether the Foundation complied with applicable tax laws, the officials said. One witness recently interviewed by the FBI described the session to The Hill as “extremely professional and unquestionably thorough” and focused on questions about whether donors to Clinton charitable efforts received any favorable treatment from the Obama administration on a policy decision previously highlighted in media reports.
I don't think it's an unreasonable reaction to at least raise concerns over whether perhaps one politicized Justice Department has given way to a new politicized Justice Department, just with the partisanship reversed. Are law enforcement officials again being pressured to serve the political agenda of the party in power? That's a fair worry; the president has not been subtle. Conservatives who believe that President Obama and Loretta Lynch effectively rigged the system to protect Hillary through inappropriate public pronouncements and behind-the-scenes machinations shouldn't simply shrug off potential undue partisan influence just because the "right" sort of people are in the crosshairs this time. Conversely, I'm not sure it's fair to assume that the FBI or DOJ are simply catering to Trump's Twitter tantrums with their fresh interest in the Clinton Foundation's dealings. It's entirely possible that some investigators never forfeited or abandoned their conviction that something was criminally amiss within the Clintons' "charitable" juggernaut of cash and influence (we've learned of some very questionable practices and outcomes over the years), which one watchdog described as a "slush fund." Remember this detail, reported by CNN in the summer of 2016?
CNN: FBI wanted a Clinton Foundation investigation opened, but DOJ said no.— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) August 10, 2016
Excuse me? pic.twitter.com/rMF63RWhyv
That was in August of the election year. A few months later came this Wall Street Journal scoop:
Some investigators grew frustrated, viewing FBI leadership as uninterested in probing the charity, these people said. Others involved disagreed sharply, defending FBI bosses and saying Mr. McCabe in particular was caught between an increasingly acrimonious fight for control between the Justice Department and FBI agents pursuing the Clinton Foundation case...Early this year, four FBI field offices—New York, Los Angeles, Washington and Little Rock, Ark.—were collecting information about the Clinton Foundation to see if there was evidence of financial crimes or influence-peddling, according to people familiar with the matter...The FBI field office in New York had done the most work on the Clinton Foundation case and received help from the FBI field office in Little Rock, the people familiar with the matter said. In February, FBI officials made a presentation to the Justice Department, according to these people. By all accounts, the meeting didn’t go well. Some said that is because the FBI didn’t present compelling evidence to justify more aggressive pursuit of the Clinton Foundation, and that the career anticorruption prosecutors in the room simply believed it wasn’t a very strong case. Others said that from the start, the Justice Department officials were stern, icy and dismissive of the case.
Later in the story, a senior Obama-era DOJ official is quoted as being "very pissed off" that the FBI was pursuing the Clinton Foundation matter, with some agents alleging that they were given pretty obvious guidance to "stand down." And thus, a battle of narratives raged: Some federal investigators believed that Justice Department higher-ups were at least steering them away from a politically sensitive case, if not playing defense for the Democrats' presidential nominee. Others claimed that the nature of the prelimiary evidence against the Clintons was weak and didn't justify expanding the investigation. Were these decisions made by career professionals and guided solely by the strength of the case? Or did Team Obama use those excuses as a cover for raw partisan power plays with a great deal at stake in the election? I don't pretend to have any unique insights into the answers to those questions, but the American people deserve to know the truth. I'll leave you with two good pieces on the criminal referral letter sent by two Republican Senators to the Justice Department last week, suggesting that the foreign spy who was responsible for assembling the infamous and unverified Trump dossier (whose work was funded by the Clinton campaign and the DNC) lied to federal investigators:
Lots of heat and anger out there about the Steele investigation referral — but has anyone seen the classified memo? Anger is outstripping knowledge: https://t.co/0MWDQeXun7— David French (@DavidAFrench) January 5, 2018
Trump critics reacted to the Grassley/Graham letter with hair-on-fire outrage about "distractions" from the "real investigation." But if there's solid proof that Christopher Steele lied to the FBI (we don't know what's in the classified document that accompanied their missive), that's a crime. Related charges must be meted out equally and consistently; they cannot be reserved for Trump associates, while Democratic operatives get free passes.