Blockbuster report on internal FBI conflict over investigating Clinton machine

Is it a crisis yet?  The fate of a criminal probe into the activities of a possible president has been fought behind closed doors.  The nation’s premier investigative agency allegedly is riven by conflict over investigating Hillary Clinton’s email, the Clinton Foundation, and Anthony Weiner’s sexting. 

Devlin Barrett of the Wall Street Journal has apparently mined many sources at the FBI and the DoJ, along with other “people familiar with the matter,” and put together a remarkable piece that is providing a lot of new information.  Unfortunately, it is behind a pay wall, though I understand that the WSJ is offering very low initial subscription rates, as low as $4, which might be worth it even on a tight budget, considering the history unfolding before our eyes.

Barrett identifies a timeline for the Weiner email trove that begins:

... in early October when New York-based FBI officials notified Andrew McCabe, the bureau’s second-in-command, that while investigating Mr. Weiner for possibly sending sexually charged messages to a teenage minor, they had recovered a laptop. Many of the 650,000 emails on the computer, they said, were from the accounts of Ms. Abedin, according to people familiar with the matter.  The FBI lacked a warrant to read the emails, but they did examine the metadata, that showed “apparently … thousands” of them were from Hillary’s private email server.

This led to a dramatic meeting:

At a meeting early last week of senior Justice Department and FBI officials, a member of the department’s senior national-security staff asked for an update on the Weiner laptop, the people familiar with the matter said. At that point, officials realized that no one had acted to obtain a warrant, these people said.

Mr. McCabe then instructed the email investigators to talk to the Weiner investigators and see whether the laptop’s contents could be relevant to the Clinton email probe, these people said. After the investigators spoke, the agents agreed it was potentially relevant.

Mr. Comey was given an update, decided to go forward with the case and notified Congress on Friday, with explosive results. Senior Justice Department officials had warned the FBI that telling Congress would violate policies against overt actions that could affect an election, and some within the FBI have been unhappy at Mr. Comey’s repeated public statements on the probe, going back to his press conference on the subject in July.

Barrett does not venture into speculation, but I believe that Comey had no choice at that point, because the news would have leaked out.  Too many people knew of the discovery at this point (including, possibly, the NYPD, which may have gotten the Weiner probe going in the first place – we still don’t know).  Many journalists (including me) in touch with active and retired FBI agents have heard of the extreme disappointment of many within the FBI community with Comey’s damage to the Bureau’s reputation.

The meatiest reporting, however, covers the investigation of the Clinton Foundation, which Barrett characterizes as one of “several matters related, directly or indirectly, to Mrs. Clinton and her inner circle” (emphasis added).

New details show that senior law-enforcement officials repeatedly voiced skepticism of the strength of the evidence in a bureau investigation of the Clinton Foundation, sought to condense what was at times a sprawling cross-country effort, and, according to some people familiar with the matter, told agents to limit their pursuit of the case. The probe of the foundation began more than a year ago to determine whether financial crimes or influence peddling occurred related to the charity.

Unnamed FBI agents are characterized as “viewing FBI leadership as uninterested in probing the charity[.]”  My guess is that the “senior law enforcement officials” voicing skepticism might be from Loretta Lynch’s staff.  But they may include FBI officials.

It turns out that the investigation of the Clintons’ web of corruption has been bubbling up across the country, involving multiple FBI arms.  This scoop alone is enormously important.  It is very difficult to keep a lid on when so many locations and criminal specialties are involved.  There is a downside to having such a large web of criminal enterprises: lots of law enforcement agencies take notice in their respective domains. 

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.

Los Angeles agents had picked up information about the Clinton Foundation from an unrelated public-corruption case and had issued some subpoenas for bank records related to the foundation, these people said.

The Washington field office was probing financial relationships involving Mr. McAuliffe before he became a Clinton Foundation board member, these people said. Mr. McAuliffe has denied any wrongdoing, and his lawyer has said the probe is focused on whether he failed to register as an agent of a foreign entity.

Clinton Foundation officials have long denied any wrongdoing, saying it is a well-run charity that has done immense good.

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. (snip)

“That was one of the weirdest meetings I’ve ever been to,” one participant told others afterward, according to people familiar with the matter.

Half a year later, this happened, according to Barrett’s sources:

According to a person familiar with the probes, on Aug. 12, a senior Justice Department official called Mr. McCabe to voice his displeasure at finding that New York FBI agents were still openly pursuing the Clinton Foundation probe during the election season. Mr. McCabe said agents still had the authority to pursue the issue as long as they didn’t use overt methods requiring Justice Department approvals.

The Justice Department official was “very pissed off,” according to one person close to Mr. McCabe, and pressed him to explain why the FBI was still chasing a matter the department considered dormant. (snip)

“Are you telling me that I need to shut down a validly predicated investigation?” Mr. McCabe asked, according to people familiar with the conversation. After a pause, the official replied, “Of course not,” these people said.

Who was this unidentified but apparently male official?

There are conflicting views on McCabe’s role, to say the least.  But apparently the foundation investigation was not shut down, yet stymied when agents asked for help from a U.S. attorney.  When stonewalled by the Eastern District staff, they wanted to go to the Southern District, where Preet Bharara is in charge, and were rebuked by McCabe for shopping for a prosecutor.

I urge you to read the whole thing, even if it costs you a few bucks.  This is history unfolding before our eyes, and the whole thing is taking on an All the President's Men character in my eyes.  Anthony Weiner as Deep Throat?

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