Saturday, May 27, 2017

It rhymes

Jacob K. Javits Federal Building, Manhattan. The FBI Field Office is on the 23rd floor. Photo via Zimbio.

On James Comey and the Russian-produced Wasserman Schultz letter—
The Russian intelligence material related to a purported email exchange between then-Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and a Clinton campaign operative who suggested then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch would help quash the FBI’s investigation.
According to CNN, Comey used the purported emails in part to justify his decision to publicly announce that no charges would be brought against Clinton, in a remarkable address [on July 5] that also accused her of being “extremely careless” in how she handled classified information on her private server. Comey did not consult with Lynch beforehand, and the speech broke FBI protocol to never comment on closed cases where no charges are brought.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the purported emails originated from a dubiously sourced Russian intelligence document, the veracity of which was never confirmed by the FBI. Officials aware of Comey’s actions told CNN that he knew that the document was bogus, but still factored it into his handling of the case. (Talking Points Memo)
There's a weird little relationship—history not repeating itself but rhyming as they say—between that story and the one from the end of October where Comey sent a remarkable letter to House Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz to inform him "out of an abundance of caution" that the investigation wasn't in fact closed, and that the FBI was looking at some possibly fresh material, which turned out to be Anthony Weiner's laptop and emails to Hillary Clinton that Huma Abedin had downloaded there (apparently to make print copies for the boss because, sadly, Clinton, like Donald J. Trump, prefers paper)  (that beloved story is actually false; the emails were on Weiner's computer as an automatic backup arrangement with Abedin's phone; h/t Jesse in comments).

In both cases, Comey is said to be making these unusual public disclosures out of fear for his agency's and his own reputation.

(Longish read below the jump.)

In the July case, when he acted independently of his boss, Attorney General Lynch, to make the announcement that no charges would be brought (and divagated into an unnecessary and harmful denunciation of Clinton's "extreme carelessness"), it was because he thought that if Lynch herself made the announcement in the normal way and then the fake Wasserman Schulz letter were leaked to the public, the public would think the whole investigation had been fixed by Lynch:
Comey had little choice, these people have said, because he feared that if Lynch announced no charges against Clinton, and then the secret document leaked, the legitimacy of the entire case would be questioned.
Even though he knew it was a fake. (I'm not disposed to judge Comey harshly on that point; I think we've all learned in the last months that fake news can be very potent, and Bill Clinton's misbehavior in the tarmac schmooze with Loretta Lynch made this particular fake look more realistic.)

In the October case, when he divulged the existence of this new phase of the investigation, in contravention of the longstanding and firm Justice Department rules against public discussion of an ongoing investigation and against doing anything that could affect the outcome of an election, before he even knew whether there was anything significant in the new stuff (there wasn't, as he duly noted a week later on the eve of the election), it was because he thought if he "concealed" it and then the fact of the investigation were later leaked to the public, the FBI could be accused of... something awful:

although Mr. Comey told Congress this summer that the Clinton investigation was complete, he believed that if word of the new emails leaked out — and it was sure to leak out, he concluded — he risked being accused of misleading Congress and the public ahead of an election, colleagues said. (New York Times)
Before he sent the famous letter, Comey said, a junior member of his staff asked him, “Should you consider that what you’re about to do may help elect Donald Trump president?” Comey maintained that he shouldn’t. “Down that path lies the death of the FBI as an independent institution in America,” Comey told the [Senate Intelligence] committee. (Wired)
Even though it makes him "mildly nauseous" to think he might have indeed influenced the election, he's nobly prepared to undergo that discomfort to protect the FBI from criticism.

Now, in the October case we know exactly who the leak would have been coming from, thanks to the incontinent mouth of Rudolph Giuliani, and the reputation of the New York regional office of the FBI:
“[Agents] out in the field never want to give a case to D.C., because they believe headquarters is a hindrance to their investigations,” says [one retired F.B.I.] agent, who also notes there is a paranoia that politics might interfere at headquarters. New York has an especially dim view of Washington and a reputation for fierce independence. “There is a renegade quality to the New York F.B.I.,” says a former prosecutor, which, he claims, can take the form of agents leaking to the press to advance their own interests or to influence an investigation. “New York leaks like a sieve,” concurs another former prosecutor....
Comey chose Washington [for the investigation of Clinton's private server] because he wanted to be close enough to get daily updates, according to CNN, but he may also have been worried about leaks from New York. A former D.O.J. official says that, as early as 2015, a rumor was floating around that the F.B.I. agents in New York were cracking jokes about seeing Hillary Clinton in handcuffs. “It was widely understood that there was a faction in that office that couldn’t stand her and was out to get her,” this person says. (Vanity Fair)
It was New York, though, that had the investigation of the Weiner laptop, which was not originally about the handling of classified information but the former congressman's penis and its activities, and it was New York where Giuliani, as he told a radio audience on October 28, was suborning FBI agents (or former agents, as he said the following day) into giving the Trump campaign information on the Clinton investigation.

So there's no question who Comey feared might release the news of the Abedin email stash: it was people in or around the New York FBI field office. And his own conduct (sending the note to Chaffetz, who immediately tweeted a false report of what it said around the world) was a vain attempt to control the way the information came out.

What I want to know is who he thought was going to leak the bogus Wasserman Schultz letter in July?

What we know is:

1. that it was a document acquired by the FBI in March 2016—the month Paul Manafort joined the Trump campaign, Carter Page was named as a Trump foreign policy adviser, and Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III became chairman of Trump's national security policy advisory committee and told the American Council for Capital Formation that Russia and the U.S. ought to be friends, and the Russian Federation General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) in the form of Fancy Bear started exfiltrating data from the Democratic National Committee;

2. that they didn't find it circulating in some kind of open way, like the Russian-made bogus documents they were studying in the weeks just before the election, including a forged letter with Senator Tom Carper's letterhead warning that the vote itself might be hacked, of which Carper himself came across a copy and sent it to the FBI, and the seven-page electronic document with the logos of the Democratic polling firm the Benenson Strategy Group and the Clinton Foundation horrifyingly claiming that
poll ratings had plunged for Clinton and called for “severe strategy changes for November” that could include “staged civil unrest” and “radiological attack” with dirty bombs to disrupt the vote.
Like the Carper letter, it was not immediately clear where the fraudulent document had originated or how it had begun to circulate.
On Oct. 20, Roger Stone, a former Trump aide and Republican operative, linked to a copy of the document on Twitter with the tag, “If this is real: OMG!!”
    Oh hai Roger Stone, do you come here often? (He certainly spent a lot of time last year pushing blockbuster leaks that didn't always turn out to exist.)

    3. And I really don't think NSA got the document by hacking Fancy Bear.

    What I'm trying to say is, I think somebody in Russia must have wanted the fake Wasserman Schultz document to get to the FBI, and presumably the New York field office, maybe through some Russia-connected Trumper friend of the Bureau like Giuliani, whether so they could leak it properly ("Fox News has learned through two active FBI agents that Debbie..."—only they didn't do it because they saw it was bogus) or even use it the way it was eventually used in July, to pressure Comey, and that—the anti-Hillary faction within the Bureau and its evil friends and dirty activities—is what this is really all about.

    Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

    No comments: