NYT: Former AG Loretta Lynch Tried To Play Down The True Nature Of FBI's Criminal Probe Into Clinton Emails

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Apr 23, 2017 11:47 AM
NYT: Former AG Loretta Lynch Tried To Play Down The True Nature Of FBI's Criminal Probe Into Clinton Emails

Love him. Hate him. It really doesn’t matter to FBI Director James Comey. Mr. Comey, the head of the nation’s largest domestic law enforcement and intelligence agency, has been in the crosshairs of both the Democratic and Republican parties. Democrats think he tilted the election; Hillary Clinton certainty thinks so. And Republicans felt he was negligent in declining to file charges against the former first lady for mishandling classified information back in July of 2016. In that damning press conference, where he detailed the conclusion of the criminal investigation, Comey indicted the judgment of Mrs. Clinton, her staff, and the State Department for carelessness regarding handling sensitive government documents. Then came the infamous congressional letter later that fall, which said that new emails were discovered, and that the FBI would review them. We later found out these new Clinton emails were on the laptop of former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY), who shared the device with top Clinton aide Huma Abedin. Weiner was under investigation stemming from lewd interactions with an underage girl. In all, the FBI director found himself in a no-win situation. He would be accused of playing politics no matter what he did—but worked diligently to insulate the Bureau as much as he could from such accusations.

In a lengthy New York Times piece, the publication charted the history of Mr. Comey’s actions, which placed the FBI in the eye of the 2016 election. We also found out that the Obama Justice Department tried to water down the language, like calling the investigation a “matter,” and playing down the fact that the FBI’s investigation was a criminal one [emphasis mine]:

The Justice Department knew a criminal investigation was underway, but officials said they were being technically accurate about the nature of the referral. Some at the F.B.I. suspected that Democratic appointees were playing semantic games to help Mrs. Clinton, who immediately seized on the statement to play down the issue. “It is not a criminal investigation,” she said, incorrectly. “It is a security review.”

In September of that year, as Mr. Comey prepared for his first public questions about the case at congressional hearings and press briefings, he went across the street to the Justice Department to meet with Ms. Lynch and her staff.

Both had been federal prosecutors in New York — Mr. Comey in the Manhattan limelight, Ms. Lynch in the lower-wattage Brooklyn office. The 6-foot-8 Mr. Comey commanded a room and the spotlight. Ms. Lynch, 5 feet tall, was known for being cautious and relentlessly on message. In her five months as attorney general, she had shown no sign of changing her style.

At the meeting, everyone agreed that Mr. Comey should not reveal details about the Clinton investigation. But Ms. Lynch told him to be even more circumspect: Do not even call it an investigation, she said, according to three people who attended the meeting. Call it a “matter.”

Ms. Lynch reasoned that the word “investigation” would raise other questions: What charges were being investigated? Who was the target? But most important, she believed that the department should stick by its policy of not confirming investigations.

It was a by-the-book decision. But Mr. Comey and other F.B.I. officials regarded it as disingenuous in an investigation that was so widely known. And Mr. Comey was concerned that a Democratic attorney general was asking him to be misleading and line up his talking points with Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, according to people who spoke with him afterward.

As the meeting broke up, George Z. Toscas, a national security prosecutor, ribbed Mr. Comey. “I guess you’re the Federal Bureau of Matters now,” Mr. Toscas said, according to two people who were there.

Despite his concerns, Mr. Comey avoided calling it an investigation. “I am confident we have the resources and the personnel assigned to the matter,” Mr. Comey told reporters days after the meeting.

The Times added the following in their piece:

  1. That intelligence services were able to see what was taken by the Russians and found a document from a Democratic operative who had confidence Lynch wouldn’t let the email inquiry go too far; Comey saw this as a threat to the FBI’s credibility, especially if it was leaked by the Russians at the conclusion of their investigation. While they all thought Clinton and her team were careless, they couldn't prove that she knowingly mishandle classified information in the same manner as Gen. David Petraeus.
  2. The danger from the document’s contents regarding Lynch and this investigation was magnified when the attorney general met with former President Bill Clinton on the tarmac at an airport in Phoenix. Clinton boarded Lynch’s plan where the two talked for about 20-30 minutes. The damage was done. Lynch said they discussed golf and their grandchildren. No one would ever take that at face value.
  3. Comey’s July presser irked DOJ lawyers, who felt they should have been consulted. FBI said the harsh criticism towards Clinton was to show that a Democratic Justice Department wasn’t giving their own a pass. At this point, Comey successfully navigated the FBI through the stormy political waters of the 2016 election, concluding the email investigation way ahead of Election Day.
  4. With the DNC server hacked and the infiltration of the email account belonging to Clinton campaign chair John Podesta (allegedly executed by hackers with ties to Russia), the FBI felt that our old Cold War adversary was trying to sway the election. It was around this time that the FBI was briefed about the unverified dossier compiled by a former M16 agent. Comey wanted to write an op-ed about this interference in some major newspaper, which the Obama administration rejected. They felt it would undermine the legitimacy of the results. Then-CIA Director John Brennan briefed former Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) on the matter, which prompted the former Senate Minority Leader to send a letter to Comey saying that he knows the FBI director has documents on this matter. That prompted a Democratic dog pile; with Democrats demanding that Comey release what he knows concerning Russian interference. Still, the investigation was just beginning and Comey kept his mouth shut.
  5. By October, the Obama White House wanted to make a public statement about the interference. Comey balked. The intervening time between when he wanted to inform the public and this point had passed, as the Russian activities were becoming the main topic of discussion. So close to the election, the optics of playing politics would not be appropriate and could damage the reputation of the FBI. Only after he was summoned to testify before the House Intelligence Committee looking into possible links between the Trump campaign  and Russia did Comey admit that the FBI had launched an investigation regarding collusion between the two parties.

Comey’s letter to Congress in the fall, where he said the FBI would review the emails found on Weiner’s laptop, stunned almost everyone, Clintonites, Democrats, DOJ lawyers, and fellow agents. It would thrust the FBI back into position where they could be accused again of playing politics:

“In my mind at the time, Clinton is likely to win,” Mr. Steinbach said. “It’s pretty apparent. So what happens after the election, in November or December? How do we say to the American public: ‘Hey, we found some things that might be problematic. But we didn’t tell you about it before you voted’? The damage to our organization would have been irreparable.”

[…]

When Ms. Lynch was told [about the plan to send Congress a letter], she was both stunned and confused. While the Justice Department’s rules on “election year sensitivities” do not expressly forbid making comments close to an election, administrations of both parties have interpreted them as a broad prohibition against anything that may influence a political outcome.

Ms. Lynch understood Mr. Comey’s predicament, but not his hurry. In a series of phone calls, her aides told Mr. Comey’s deputies that there was no need to tell Congress anything until agents knew what the emails contained.

Either Ms. Lynch or Ms. Yates could have ordered Mr. Comey not to send the letter, but their aides argued against it. If Ms. Lynch issued the order and Mr. Comey obeyed, she risked the same fate that Mr. Comey feared: accusations of political interference and favoritism by a Democratic attorney general.

The Times added that Lynch never called Comey prior to the congressional letter. When it was made public, the calls to have his head served on a platter were loud.

In all, the detailed history of what Comey did during these frenetic months once again confirmed that Comey was a) an independent leader; b) going to do what he felt was right for the FBI; and c) going ignore the political ramifications of those decisions. It wouldn’t be the first time. Comey’s claim to fame as a deputy attorney general was preventing then-Attorney General John Ashcroft from reauthorizing an intelligence program that was ruled unconstitutional under the Bush administration.

The Russian collusion allegations have yet to bear fruit. Senate Democrats have admitted that their investigation into possible collision might not find a smoking gun. Over at the House side, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), ranking member of the intelligence committee (and Democratic attack dog), said that there is no definitive proof of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. As for the interference, well, the election wasn’t hacked in the sense that many on the Left think (i.e. messing with vote tallies), instead it was a concerted effort by state-funded media outlets and social media trolls. None of which had an impact in swaying the election and fake news played no pivotal role either.

Clinton seems incapable of accepting responsibility for her shortfalls and weaknesses as a candidate, her inability to connect with voters, her failure to win over the Obama coalition, and her campaign’s lack of outreach to white working class voters and absence of an economic message. It seems that Comey, Russia, Wikileaks, and misogyny are the real reasons why she lost. That’s utterly pathetic (and wrong).

It also appears that Comey really didn’t stand in the way of the investigation, and that he shouldn’t be viewed as a “dirty cop” for not pressing charges against Clinton. On this rumor mill, conservatives should just move on since Clinton was defeated in November. Lady Macbeth is gone. She’s not going to run for office again—and she’ll never be president. That’s the most important part.

The other key aspect is that this is entirely Clinton’s fault. If she didn’t want Comey and the FBI involved in the 2016 election, then why did you set up an unauthorized and unsecured email server to conduct all official business as secretary of state? Why didn’t you preserve all your emails, as clearly stated in the 2009 regulation from the National Archives and Records Administration? Hillary, this wasn’t that hard—and you blew it. Comey would never have been a major (and reluctant) 2016 player if you just, you know, followed the rules. Your various explanations for the email setup were marred for being half-truths or outright lies.

Another eye raising portion of this saga, though one that isn’t entirely surprising, is that Lynch tried to obfuscate the true nature of the investigation. To the point, where even language was being polished to sound less ominous. It still didn't change the fact that this was a criminal investigation into whether the former first lady mishandled classified information. Conservatives have long accused the DOJ under Obama’s first attorney general, Eric Holder, to be a politicized wing of the Obama White House. Lynch’s meeting with the FBI over this Clinton email “matter” seems to add some weight to that allegation.

(H/T Mark Hemingway/Weekly Standard)