There has been a great deal of controversy surrounding the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.) over the last couple of years.
Much of that controversy involves what is becoming increasingly apparent partisan political activity by some in leadership positions in the nation’s leading law enforcement agency during the 2016 Presidential election process and its aftermath.
The key terms and the names of the players involved have been regularly splashed across news headlines. Fusion GPS, Russia meddling, deleted emails. Hillary Clinton, James Comey, Robert Mueller, Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Loretta Lynch, Andrew McCabe.
What is all the fuss about, and what is the truth? Who actually did what? Was anything illegal or improper done? If so, was it anything for Americans to truly be concerned about? Is this all just political gamesmanship?
In the news today, McCabe has “stepped down” as deputy director at the FBI. Per a report from Kelly Cohen at the Washington Examiner this afternoon, this move appears to be “tied to a forthcoming watchdog report on how the agency handled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server.“
That email investigation began to develop some time around October 1, 2016. With the Presidential election just over a month away, according to a May 2017 piece by Peter Elkind at ProPublica: “agents sifting through files on a laptop belonging to the former congressman Anthony Weiner, as part of a sex-crimes investigation, had stumbled across emails sent by Clinton when she was secretary of state.“
Per Elkind, over the next few weeks as the investigation into Weiner’s alleged relationship with a 15-year old girl unfolded “the agents concluded that the laptop contained thousands of Clinton messages.“
This was problematic for a number of reasons. The FBI under Comey had already been looking into Clinton’s email practices for more than a year.
During her tenure as Secretary of State under President Barack Obama, Clinton had used her private home email server to send out official communications. More than 2,000 of these emails contained information that was classified at the time, or would be acknowledged as such later. Comey identified 65 of the emails as “secret”, and another 22 as containing “top secret” information.
Anyone who understands computers and the Internet can understand why the use of a private email server by someone like the Secretary of State is a dangerous practice.
Without the protection of government-based servers, the emails could easily be intercepted by hackers. This could potentially send devastating classified information into the hands of those who would do our nation harm.
Hackers from Russia and Serbia were known by the Clinton team to both have awareness of the email server vulnerabilities, as well as to have actually made hacking attempts during 2011 and 2012.
As more information was revealed over time, the FBI finally began an investigation in 2015. The purpose was to determine whether Clinton and/or her aides had jeopardized national security. If so, to determine who could be held responsible for such actions.
The controversy deepened when it was revealed that Clinton had directed that some 30,000 emails should be deleted.
“They had nothing to do with work,” Clinton said per Mike Levine per ABC News. “I didn’t see any reason to keep them … no one wants their personal emails made public, and I think most people understand that and respect that privacy.“
However, the FBI was able to recover some of those emails, determining that roughly 17,000 of the deleted messages did indeed contain work-related information. Can you just imagine that the name and candidate here was “Trump” instead of “Clinton”, having denied and then found to have been wrong or lied?
Enter Lynch, the first African-American woman to serve as Attorney General of the United States. An Obama appointee, she was being briefed on the investigation by Comey. She directed Comey that he should describe the investigation as a less formal “matter” instead. It was later revealed by the New York Times that Lynch had stated she would “protect” Clinton.
On June 27, 2016, Lynch was spotted on the tarmac at a Phoenix airport holding a half-hour conversation with former President Bill Clinton. Lynch’s apparent efforts to downplay the investigation coupled with this clandestine tarmac meeting led Comey to publicly announce results of the investigation.
Announcements regarding the ongoing email investigation into Clinton were used as key campaign fuel by the Trump campaign in the closing days of the election process. When Trump emerged victorious, many in the Clinton campaign blamed the FBI and Comey. Clinton herself specifically blamed the late Comey announcement on her defeat.
However, it turned out that the new President-elect wasn’t all that happy with Comey either. This was due to the ongoing investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and the Russians.
With knowledge of the attempts to hack the private Clinton email server have come allegations from some that there was collusion between the Russians and the team of Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign.
The Clinton campaign and the DNC helped to fund a dossier put together by Fusion GPS, a Washington-based research and strategic intelligence firm, which attempted to detail Trump’s ties to the Russians during the 2016 election.
According to a January 2017 piece by Peter Stone and Greg Gordon for McClatchy, investigators from five different agencies have been looking into possible ties with the Trump campaign:
“One of the allegations involves whether a system for routinely paying thousands of Russian-American pensioners may have been used to pay some email hackers in the United States or to supply money to intermediaries who would then pay the hackers, the two sources said.“
For his part, the President has stated that he does indeed believe that the Russians were involved in hacking attempts. However, he has termed any allegation that he or his campaign were involved with the Russians in such a way as a “political witch hunt” and a “complete and total fabrication.” He has also repeatedly termed the Fusion GPS dossier as “fake news“, and challenged his political opponents to show otherwise.
In May of last year, the President fired Comey. There were conflicting reasons for the firing. But it appears that the President was frustrated that Comey would not publicly announce that the President himself was not the subject of any part of the investigation.
Following the Comey dismissal, former FBI Director Rober Mueller (2001-2013) was appointed as a special counsel to oversee the Russia election meddling investigation. That subsequently led to charges against Manafort, who helped the Trump campaign in the lead-up to the 2016 RNC and then briefly became the campaign chairman.
Manafort has been charged with conspiracy against the United States as well as to launder money in dealings with Russian contacts over a decade ago. Those charges have nothing to do with his work for the Trump campaign.
Two others formerly involved with the Trump team have also been caught up in the investigation’s web. Former national security advisor Michael Flynn was charged with lying to the FBI regarding talks with a Russian ambassador in late 2016.
A foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign, George Papadoplous, has pled guilty to making false statements to the FBI. This was in regards to interactions with Russian sources claiming to have “dirt” on Clinton.
Per Kaitlyn Schallhorn at Fox News, Manafort attended a meeting at Trump Tower that was also attended by Donald Trump Jr. Also present was Jared Kushner, who is married to the President’s daughter and close advisor, Ivanka Trump.
That meeting was with a Russian lawyer. The New York Times claimed that the meeting came because the lawyer stated she had damaging information on Clinton.
However, Trump Jr. has stated that instead, the lawyer “had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton.” This information seemed both vague and ambiguous, according to Trump Jr.
Officials at the FBI became embittered at Clinton and her campaign for publicly blaming them for her defeat. They have also been repeatedly antagonized by Trump, who sees the ongoing Russian collusion investigation as wasting both his administration’s time and energy as well as taxpayer dollars.
The following statement was made by Michael Steinbach, who retired as the FBI’s executive assistant director for national security in February 2017 per ProPublica:
“It’s a mess she (Clinton) helped create from start to finish, with start being when she elected to use a private server. Even if you were to assume the investigation influenced the election, her actions created the environment. You can second-guess how it played out. But our guiding principle was to protect the American people and the Constitution of the United States.“
There has also been bitter infighting at the FBI, with those aligned with President Trump facing off against those still loyal to the previous Obama administration.
It has come to light recently that two FBI agents who were romantically involved with one another, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, had exchanged text messages which revealed that they were against Trump.
In their texts, the two agents stated that they were working as part of a “secret society” to shield Clinton from any charges involving the email scandal. This has led to calls for a second special prosecutor in the matter per Susan Ferrechio with the National Examiner.
Whether you buy into Comey as a true independent or not, the fact is that as time goes on it becomes more and more apparent that political beliefs and loyalties are playing a key role in the activities of agents and supervisors within the rank and file of the FBI.
Just in the last few days, the existence of a memo came to light showing that key figures in both the FBI and Justice Department, apparent holdovers from the Obama administration, spied on the Trump campaign back in 2016. This was done to bolster Clinton’s campaign, and to ensure a continuation of their own role within those agencies.
That is a major problem. The American people must be able to rely upon their lead law enforcement agency to be non-partisan. Law enforcement must be above the political process when it acts.
The FBI is made up of human beings who will, of course, have their own political leanings. But the investigators and their leadership must have the integrity to go where the actual evidence of any investigation should lead, and resist the lure of those personal beliefs.
The Russians seem to have clearly made an attempt to infiltrate and effect the outcome of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. How they did that, and who, if anyone, helped them is a completely open question.
You will have your own theories based on your own political leanings. But you certainly have no facts to back them up. One fact that cannot be denied by anyone on either side of the political aisle is this: the Russians have absolutely helped to create a mess for the FBI and for that American political process.
Of course there is another side to that story as well. Aside from whatever Russian operative hacked emails from the outside, the Russians cannot have much success intervening in American affairs without the assistance of Americans themselves.
Greedy, lazy, immoral, and power-hungry American politicians, businesspersons, and others getting into bed with the Russians in order to affect the political process and/or enjoy some financial gain. That is the true problem at its base.
Last September, Christopher Wray was sworn-in as the eighth Director of the FBI. Following McCabe’s announcement today, the new Director stated “…I can assure you that I remain staunchly committed to doing this job, in every respect, ‘by the book.’ I will not be swayed by political or other pressure in my decision making.“
When Americans break the law and enter into relationships with foreign powers against our nation, we must be able to count on an impartial FBI and Justice Department to investigate and prosecute. We can only hope that Wray is not only good as his word, but also is able to spread that motto through his agency.