“Lynch asked Comey to follow Justice Department policies, but he said that he was obliged to break with them”
Loretta Lynch’s Department of Justice just can’t seem to leave alone the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton for her private email server and its ramifications for national security. The “tarmac summit” between Lynch and Bill Clinton was grossly improper, leading FBI agents to suggest the meeting was to broker “an inside deal.” And now we are learning that “senior Justice officials” warned the FBI against Comey updating Congress regarding an email stash found while investigating Hillary’s top aide Huma Abedin’s disgraced husband Anthony Weiner.
Senior Justice Department officials warned the FBI that Director James B. Comey’s decision to notify Congress about renewing the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server was not consistent with long-standing practices of the department, according to officials familiar with the discussions.
The bureau told Justice Department officials that Comey intended to inform lawmakers of newly discovered emails. These officials told the FBI the department’s position “that we don’t comment on an ongoing investigation. And we don’t take steps that will be viewed as influencing an election,” said one Justice Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the high-level conversations.
“Director Comey understood our position. He heard it from Justice leadership,” the official said. “It was conveyed to the FBI, and Comey made an independent decision to alert the Hill. He is operating independently of the Justice Department. And he knows it.”
The implication that Comey has gone rogue is repeated by a former Justice official, as well.
Matthew Miller, a former Justice Department spokesman in the Obama administration, said the FBI rarely releases information about ongoing criminal investigations and does not release information about federal investigations this close to political elections.
“Comey’s behavior in this case from the beginning has been designed to protect his reputation for independence no matter the consequences to the public, to people under investigation or to the FBI’s own integrity,” Miller said.
Miller and other former officials pointed to a 2012 Justice Department memo saying that all employees have the responsibility to enforce the law in a “neutral and impartial manner,” which is “particularly important in an election year.”
Miller said he had been involved in cases related to elected officials in which the FBI waited until several days after an election to send subpoenas. “They know that if they even send a subpoena, let alone announce an investigation, that might leak and it might become public and it would unfairly influence the election when voters have no way to interpret the information,” Miller said.
Watch the report:
The outcry is not only that Comey has gone rogue, but that his action may influence an election. The DOJ, apparently, has gone to great lengths to not influence elections by withholding, even hiding, vital information from voters, information that may influence their vote (thus, as far as I can tell, thereby influencing elections).
The New Yorker provides an overview of how DOJ policy in this regard has been shaped.
Traditionally, the Justice Department has advised prosecutors and law enforcement to avoid any appearance of meddling in the outcome of elections, even if it means holding off on pressing cases. One former senior official recalled that Janet Reno, the Attorney General under Bill Clinton, “completely shut down” the prosecution of a politically sensitive criminal target prior to an election. “She was adamant—anything that could influence the election had to go dark,” the former official said.
Four years ago, then Attorney General Eric Holder formalized this practice in a memo to all Justice Department employees. The memo warned that, when handling political cases, officials “must be particularly sensitive to safeguarding the Department’s reputation for fairness, neutrality, and nonpartisanship.” To guard against unfair conduct, Holder wrote, employees facing questions about “the timing of charges or overt investigative steps near the time of a primary or general election” should consult with the Public Integrity Section of the Criminal Division.
The New Yorker also reports that it was Lynch herself who asked Comey not to update Congress on the additional emails.
According to the Administration official, Lynch asked Comey to follow Justice Department policies, but he said that he was obliged to break with them because he had promised to inform members of Congress if there were further developments in the case. He also felt that the impending election created a compelling need to inform the public, despite the tradition of acting with added discretion around elections. The Administration official said that Lynch and Justice Department officials are studying the situation, which he called unprecedented.
Given how careful Comey was in his language both to Congress and to FBI employees, it seems that he felt torn about his decision given how little he knows about the discovered emails and his belief that he had a duty to update Congress.
The New Yorker continues:
In a letter to F.B.I. employees sent soon after the letter to Congress, Comey tried to explain his unusual decisions. In the letter, which was obtained by the Washington Post, he acknowledged, “Of course, we don’t ordinarily tell Congress about ongoing investigations, but here I feel an obligation to do so given that I testified repeatedly in recent months that our investigation was completed. I also think it would be misleading to the American people were we not to supplement the record. At the same time, however, given that we don’t know the significance of this newly discovered collection of emails, I don’t want to create a misleading impression. In trying to strike that balance, in a brief letter and in the middle of an election season,” he noted, “there is significant risk of being misunderstood.”
“I don’t really blame Comey,” another former Justice Department official said. “But it’s troubling.” This official thought that Comey “didn’t want to look tainted. This new information comes to him, and he’s afraid if he doesn’t make it public until after the election he’ll be impeached. People will say he lied to Congress. But in the end he did the self-protective thing. Was it the right thing? Put it this way: it isn’t what previous Administrations have done.”
For her part, Hillary seems unconcerned about this new turn in the on-going email/server scandal having any influence on the election.
Real Clear Politics reports on a presser she held yesterday in which she declared that the email scandal was “already factored into what people think and now they are choosing a president.”
REPORTER: You have 11 days to go. What would you say to a voter who right now will be seeing you and hearing what you’re saying, saying I didn’t trust her before. I don’t trust her anymore right now. And they’re heading to the ballot box tomorrow.
HILLARY CLINTON: You know, I think people a long time ago made up their minds about the e-mails. I think that’s factored in to what people think and now they are choosing a president. So I would urge everybody to get out and vote early in all the states that have early voting because I think Americans want a president who can lead our country and get the economy working for everyone, not just those at the top and who can bring our country together. I offer that I can do that. And I’m very confident that the American people know that and we’re going to continue to discuss what’s at stake in this election because I believe that it’s one of the most consequential elections ever.
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