How Rogue Agents at the FBI Influenced the Election

The one word Trump and his enablers want everyone to take from the Department of Justice Inspector General’s report on the Clinton email investigation is “bias.” They are totally unconcerned about the major finding in the report, which was that the decision to not charge Clinton was “based on the prosecutors’ assessment of the facts, the law, and past Department practice,” not bias.

Instead, what they want to focus on is the purported anti-Trump bias of FBI agent Peter Strzok.

Strzok has now agreed to testify before any committee in Congress and his lawyer said this about the claims that he was biased.

He said there was “no question” that Strzok regrets sending anti-Trump messages, but added: “I think what he was doing is expressing his political opinions in what he thought was a private text conversation, and he regrets that this has been weaponized by people with political motivations to try to discredit the Mueller investigation.”…

“The kind of drumbeat — the repeated assertion of bias and the investigation was infected by anti-Trump bias — it’s completely illogical because the only thing that Pete and the FBI’s actions or inactions did throughout this period of time benefited Trump and hurt Hillary’s electoral chances,” Goelman said.

What Strzok might not want you to know (due to loyalty to the FBI) is that there was, in fact, bias involved in the Clinton investigation. It’s just that it was anti-Clinton rather than anti-Trump bias. Josh Marshall has been on this story for the last few days, even though it is getting very little national attention.

We’ve been hearing rumors about anti-Clinton bias in the FBI’s New York field office for months now. But in testimony to the IG, here is what former Attorney General Loretta Lynch reported about a conversation she had with Comey right after he sent a letter to Congress announcing that the email investigation had been re-opened when it was discovered that Anthony Weiner’s laptop contained Clinton emails.

And then I said, now, we’ve got to talk about the New York office in general. And he said yes. And I said we both work with them. We both know them. We both, you know, think highly of them. I said, but this has become a problem. And he said, and he said to me that it had become clear to him, he didn’t say over the course of what investigation or whatever, he said it’s clear to me that there is a cadre of senior people in New York who have a deep and visceral hatred of Secretary Clinton. And he said it is, it is deep. It’s, and he said, he said it was surprising to him or stunning to him.

The IG report has an entire chapter devoted to the problem of FBI agents leaking to the press. As evidence of that,  Rep. Devin Nunes admitted last week that he was the recipient of those leaks.

As Marshall documents, an FBI agent in the New York office discovered the Clinton emails on Weiner’s laptop on September 26th or 27th. Nunes says that he was told about the find in “late September.” That means that the agents who told him weren’t whistle-blowers, but leakers. We also know that the same information was leaked to Rudy Giuliani, who was then an advisor to the Trump campaign, and that he discussed the information on Fox News.

In the end, the whole thing was a load of nonsense because, “the Federal Bureau of Investigation determined that almost every email discovered in a laptop used primarily by the husband of an aide to Hillary Clinton was a duplicate of previously produced documents or personal emails.”

Marshall makes the point that all of this goes beyond just bias.

It further seems clear that fear of such leaks was a major or even the primary reason why James Comey sent his letter to Congress on October 28th, 2016. In other words, there was not just bias – Comey himself reportedly called it a “deep and visceral hatred of Secretary Clinton”. That bias lead to specific and repeated actions which at least violated FBI regulations and possibly violated the law. Those violations triggered a chain of events which likely changed the outcome of the election. That is a very big deal.

We know a fair amount about how this bias at the FBI’s New York office worked from reporting by Devlin Barrett and Christopher Matthews in the Wall Street Journal on November 2, 2016, less than a week before the election. Instead of emails, that story focused on the fact that this same FBI office was intent on investigating the Clinton Foundation after being spurred on by the insinuations published in Peter Schweizer’s book Clinton Cash.

When presented with the case, FBI officials, public integrity prosecutors and the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division weren’t impressed with the evidence and basically told the New York agents to “stand down.”

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

As prosecutors rebuffed their requests to proceed more overtly, those Justice Department officials became more annoyed that the investigators didn’t seem to understand or care about the instructions issued by their own bosses and prosecutors to act discreetly.

That aligns with what Lynch told the IG about her conversation with Comey in regards to the email investigation.

…But he was saying [bias] did exist, and it was hard to manage because these were agents that were very, very senior, or had even had timed out and were staying on, and therefore did not really feel under pressure from headquarters or anything to that effect.

The picture this paints is of a group of very senior FBI agents in the New York field office who went rogue with their “deep and visceral hatred of Secretary Clinton” by leaking information to congressional Republicans and being insubordinate when told to “stand down” on investigations that had no merit. That is the story behind the decision by James Comey to go public with the fact that the email investigation had been re-opened, a move that might have given Donald Trump the presidency.

This story could get lost in light of the Mueller probe and the investigation of the business practices of Michael Cohen and his client Donald Trump that is being conducted by U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. That doesn’t make it any less important.

The problem is that Trump and his enablers have muddied the water about FBI bias in their battle against that institution as a means to undermine the Mueller probe. Career professionals like Comey and Strzok are on the defense to protect the FBI from these attacks and are unlikely to air this dirty laundry. But rather than fall back on their heels in defense, Democrats need to go on offense and get to the bottom of this story. It wasn’t just the Russians who influenced the election.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.