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Tipsheet

How 'Scared' Feds Torpedoed Their Own Probe of Foreign Interference in the Clinton Campaign

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File

Among other damning revelations in Special Counsel John Durham's report to Attorney General Merrick Garland, one section on the FBI and DOJ's "disparate treatment of candidates Clinton and Trump" confirms again how much fealty and deference was shown to Hillary Clinton while federal agents targeted and investigated Donald Trump, putting an even brighter light on the two-tiered system of justice often used by the federal government to benefit Democrats while harassing Republicans. 

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The Durham report explains that the investigation turned up "allegations involving possible attempted foreign election influence activities associated with entities related to Clinton, in addition to allegations related to Trump." However, as anyone who followed the 2016 election remembers, the allegations against only one candidate were turned into a massive and, we were told, disqualifying "scandal."

Durham wisely decided to pry into the subsequent "investigative activity" that followed such allegations and compared it to see whether it supported or "undercut allegations of institutional bias against either candidate." The results of that comparison, outlined at length by Durham's report, are damning:

Beginning in late 2014, before Clinton formally declared her presidential candidacy, the FBI learned from a well-placed CHS ("CHS-A") that a foreign government ("Foreign Government-2") was planning to send an individual ("Non-U.S. Person-I") to contribute to Clinton's anticipated presidential campaign, as a way to gain influence with Clinton should she win the presidency. The FBI's independent corroboration of this information is discussed in the Classified Appendix.

Upon receipt of this information and the predication it provided, Field Office-I sought to have one of two other better-positioned and higher-resourced field offices open a counterinteIIigence or public corruption investigation into these allegations, but Counterintelligence Division Executive Management directed Field Office-I to open a full counterintelligence investigation into the matter.

Field Office-I sought FISA coverage of Non-U.S. Person-I, almost immediately, in order to obtain access to his/her email accounts and to conduct a search of him/her as soon as he/she arrived in the United States. Although Field Office-I attempted to obtain expedited approval for the FISA authorization, the certified copy ofthe application was sent by 01 to the FBI Headquarters for final approval where it remained, according to Field Office-I SAC-I, "in limbo" for approximately four months. According to another agent, the application lingered because "everyone was 'super more careful'" and "scared with the big name [Clinton]" involved. "[T]hey were pretty 'tippy-toeing' around HRC because there was a chance she would be the next President." 

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Ah, so having the "big" Clinton name was enough to make FBI agents delay their normal investigative processes because they were "scared" of Hillary and thought she might be the next president. Surely concerns of going after a potential future president applied to all potential contenders? Of course not, especially if you're named Donald J. Trump — even when the fact pattern didn't support the FBI's actions. 

Durham's comparison makes it clear as day:

The use of defensive briefings in 2015 contrasts with the FBI's failure to provide a defensive briefing to the Trump campaign approximately one year later when Australia shared the information from Papadopoulos. Significant to the question of whether a defensive briefing was appropriate here - as it was determined to be just months earlier when a defensive briefing was given to Clinton via her lawyers - is the fact that Australia had specifically noted, "[i]t was unclear whether [Papadopoulos] or the Russians were referring to material acquired publicly of [sic] through other means." Further, the Office's investigation revealed that the FBI engaged in what were likely very limited discussions as to whether any such briefing was appropriate. Deputy Director McCabe informed the OIG that he did not remember participating in any discussions about providing a defensive briefing as an alternative to opening the full counterintelligence investigation. McCabe noted that, at the time Crossfire Hurricane was opened, the FBI had "[t]o do some work to have a better understanding of what [it had] before tak[ing] a step as overt as providing a defensive briefing because the ... briefing could ... eliminate ... or reduce your ability to get to the bottom of the threat.''  On the other hand, Assistant Director for Counterintelligence Priestap said that he discussed the issue of defensive briefings with others. He explained that the FBI provides defensive briefings when we obtain information indicating a foreign adversary is trying or will try to influence a specific U.S. person and when there is no indication that that specific U.S. person could be working with the adversary.

[W]e had no indication as to which person in the Trump campaign allegedly received the offer from the Russians....

....Because the possibility existed that someone on the Trump campaign could have taken the Russians up on their offer, I thought it was wise to open an investigation to look into the situation.

How these observations can be reconciled with the defensive briefings previously provided to Clinton and others is unclear. The FBI's decision to conduct defensive briefings in the investigation of Foreign Govemment-2's foreign influence efforts is curious given that defensive briefings could reduce the likelihood of success of any investigation into the foreign influence allegations and that candidates and public officials might then be less likely to interact with representatives of Foreign Govemment-2. The decision to provide defensive briefings to Clinton and others seems to conflict directly with McCabe's notion that providing "a defensive briefing [to the Trump campaign] ... could ... eliminate ... or reduce your ability to get to the bottom of the threat." 

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That is, the FBI provided a defensive briefing to the Clinton campaign, something the FBI admits can foul an investigation and prevent federal agents from getting to the bottom of threats, and which it delayed providing to the Trump campaign in a similar scenario.

In the situation involving Clinton, "the FBI went forward with defensive briefings in that investigation - an investigation predicated on the receipt of corroborated information - but failed to conduct defensive briefings to the Trump campaign, an investigation predicated on less certain information," the Durham report notes before again highlighting the two-tiered manner in which the FBI operated:

The FBI's and the Department's measured approach to these foreign influence allegations involving Clinton also stands in stark contrast to the speed with which the FBI undertook to include the Steele Report allegations in the FISA request it submitted to OI targeting Page. Indeed, as discussed below in Section IV.D. l.b.iii, the Crossfire Hurricane investigators received the initial Steele Reports on September 19, 2016 and within two days had included portions of those allegations in the draft Page FISA submission. As noted below, approximately one month later, on October 21, 2016, the FISC signed the initial authorization...

...The speed with which surveillance of a U.S. person associated with Trump's campaign was authorized - in the face of the unverified Steele Reports and in the absence of a defensive briefing being provided to then-candidate Trump - are difficult to explain compared to the FBI's and Department's actions nearly two years earlier when confronted with corroborated allegations of attempted foreign influence involving Clinton, who at the time was still an undeclared candidate for the presidency. 

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Durham's report goes on to provide exhaustive anecdotal and hard evidence obtained during his investigation showing disparate treatment between the Trump and Clinton campaigns, but it's glaringly clear, yet again, that the FBI and DOJ did not seek to blindly uphold the law and justice. 

Instead, federal law enforcement apparently allowed partisan concerns and the "big" Clinton name to cloud its decisions, scare agents into treating the investigations differently, and ultimately picking a political side in a presidential election cycle. 

Despite all the items outlined in Durham's report, Hillary Clinton was unable to win, partially explaining the shell shock expressed from those in the federal government who thought they did everything they could to protect Clinton while sending up as many official warning flares as they could about Trump. 

Revelations such as this also call into question the DOJ and FBI's ability to operate with any credibility in the present day, as investigations of Hunter Biden's taxes and classified documents kept by a range of current and former officials have appeared to be tinged with some of the same bias. 

Looking ahead to 2024, can anyone expect a fair handling or communication of any investigations, allegations, or actual wrongdoing that is yet to take place leading into another presidential election cycle? When the DOJ and FBI have managed to lose even CNN — which happily parroted debunked claims against Trump — they ought to know it's a full-blown crisis. 

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