Trump Is Using the FBI to Go After His Opponents. How Will the Media Respond?

Donald Trump said a lot of shocking things during the 2016 election. But this one is up near the top of the list.

What you have is a candidate for President of the United States demonstrating that he is ignorant of the independence of an Attorney General while threatening to prosecute and jail his political opponent.

Now that he’s in the White House, Trump doesn’t have to rely on a special prosecutor because he has an Attorney General who said this about Clinton:

During the campaign, Trump supporter Jeff Sessions, then an Alabama senator and now the attorney general, suggested that Clinton used her high position as secretary of state to “extort” international governments for her family’s foundation.

“The fundamental thing is you can not be secretary of state of the United States of America and use that position to extort or seek contributions to your private foundation,” he told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota on “New Day” in 2016. “That is a fundamental violation of law and that does appear to have happened.”

This Attorney General has already found Hillary Clinton guilty before he bothers with an investigation or trial. So this shouldn’t surprise us:

The FBI has been quietly investigating the Clinton Foundation for months, reviving a probe that was dialed back during the 2016 election amid tensions between Justice Department prosecutors and FBI agents about the politically charged case, according to people familiar with the matter.

The investigation is being run out of the FBI’s field office in Little Rock, where the foundation has offices in the William J. Clinton Presidential Center, the people said. Agents are trying to determine if any donations made to the foundation were linked to official acts when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state from 2009 to 2013, these people said.

The way this is all being portrayed by the Washington Post is pretty disgraceful.

The Clinton Foundation probe dates back to 2015, when FBI agents in Los Angeles, New York, Little Rock and Washington, D.C., began looking at a variety of different figures who had made donations to the charity, based largely on news accounts, according to people familiar with the matter. In 2016, Justice Department prosecutors rejected a request from FBI agents to expand and intensify the foundation investigation, these people said.

Let’s take a minute to unpack these two sentences. The “news accounts” on which the FBI investigation was based started with the story planted in the New York Times by Steve Bannon, which was, in turn, based on Peter Schwizer’s book Clinton Cash. That is the same one the Berkman Klein Center highlighted in a report titled, “Dynamics of Network Propaganda: Clinton Foundation Case Study.” Nowhere does the Washington Post indicate that these news accounts have been totally debunked.

On two occasions, this report notes that the FBI investigation into the Clinton Foundation was “dialed back” in 2016 amid disagreements between the agents involved and the Justice Department. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal at the time, it was the New York office of the FBI that was intent on pursuing the investigation after the release of Clinton Cash. Here is how things broke down:

The public-integrity prosecutors weren’t impressed with the FBI presentation, people familiar with the discussion said. “The message was, ‘We’re done here,’” a person familiar with the matter said.

Justice Department officials became increasingly frustrated that the agents seemed to be disregarding or disobeying their instructions.

Following the February meeting, officials at Justice Department headquarters sent a message to all the offices involved to “stand down,’’ a person familiar with the matter said.

You might recall that one of the explanations for why Comey sent his letter about re-opening the investigation into Clinton’s emails to Congress was that he feared there would be leaks about it from within the FBI. There was talk of “rogue agents” in the New York office who were known to be hostile to Clinton. The Guardian even reported that its sources described the FBI as a “Trumpland,” where agents have “deep antipathy” toward Clinton.

When it comes to re-opening this investigation into the Clinton Foundation, Hillary’s spokesman Nick Merrill responded harshly and accurately.

Let’s call this what it is: A sham. This is a philanthropy that does life-changing work, which Republicans have tried to turn into a political football. It began with a long-debunked project spearheaded by (former Trump adviser) Steve Bannon during the presidential campaign. It continues with Jeff Sessions doing Trump’s bidding by heeding his calls to meddle with a department that is supposed to function independently. The goal is to distract from the indictments, guilty pleas, and accusations of treason from Trump’s own people at the expense of our justice system’s integrity. It’s disgraceful, and should be concerning to all Americans.

As we demonstrated here at the Washington Monthly, every time a question arose about the Clinton Foundation in the media, investigations proved that they had done nothing illegal or unethical. Here is Paul Glastris:

Thanks to the publishing of these investigations—most of which took many months of dogged effort to produce—we now have a tremendous amount of granular information about the Clinton Foundation’s relationship with the State Department and with the federal government generally. In virtually every case we know of, it’s clear that Hillary and her staff behaved appropriately.

To the extent that the media gives this investigation any credibility, it will simply be repeating the horrific mistakes they made on coverage of the Clintons during the election. Even worse, they will be reinforcing the acceptability of a POTUS corrupting federal law enforcement by using it to go after his political opponents. As shocking as it is to have a president who would do that, it would be even worse to have a media that condones it.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.