John Podesta: It's possible that "forces within the FBI" wanted Hillary Clinton to lose

Via WaPo. The grapes, they are sour.

I think there’s sort of two possibilities. There are at least forces within the FBI that wanted her to lose. I’m not sure they really understood the alternative, but they wanted her to lose. I think that’s one possibility. I think the other is it’s just become a cover-your-ass organization, and there was pressure coming up from underneath him, and he succumbed to that pressure. But he made a bad judgment, and I think virtually anybody who has opined on the topic — including Republicans who served in both Bush administrations and the Reagan administration — have said it was a terrible mistake of judgment. And I think it did terrible damage to us. If you look at the polling at that period time, that’s when the race began to tighten in that week.

He’s referring, I assume, not just to Comey’s infamous letter of October 28th announcing that they were reopening the email investigation but to the news that broke a few days before the election about FBI agents in New York investigating the Clinton Foundation. No doubt there were some FBI agents who preferred Trump to Clinton; in any organization you’re going to find splits in political opinion. How likely is it, though, that the FBI was gung ho to help elect someone president whose campaign they were (and allegedly still are) investigating for possible collusion with Russian intelligence? Remember, according to the timeline pieced together from the BBC and McClatchy, the CIA was tipped to potential connections between some of Trump’s aides and Russia as far back as last April. That information was passed along to an interagency task force, resulting in the FBI requesting a FISA order on October 15th to let them intercept the financial records of two Russian banks suspected of transferring money to the U.S. — two weeks before Comey wrote his fateful letter. None of that is strictly inconsistent with what Podesta says: It could be that the Russia investigation was kept close to the vest inside the Bureau such that the anti-Hillary “forces” within didn’t know about it. (Or maybe they did know and wanted Trump anyway.) But the fact that a blockbuster probe was ongoing that might have resulted in the Republican candidate being accused of foreign influence somewhat … complicates, shall we say, the narrative that the FBI was in the tank for Trump.

The “cover-your-ass” explanation Podesta offers is closer to the likely truth, but we’ve been through that before. The reason Comey felt obliged to issue that letter in October, I think, was because he’d already gone public about the Clinton email investigation months earlier in July, when he announced that there’d be no charges filed. And he went public at that time, breaking with Bureau tradition in not commenting publicly on investigations that don’t result in charges, likely for two reasons. One is that the Attorney General had effectively deputized him as the decisionmaker in the Clinton case when she recused herself after meeting with Bill Clinton on her airplane. Normally Comey would recommend filing or not filing charges and it would be up to Loretta Lynch to explain that to the public. In this case, it was all on him. The other reason, and this almost always conveniently gets overlooked in leftist retellings of the Comey saga, is that Comey did conclude that Clinton had violated the relevant statute. The law makes it a crime to handle classified material in a grossly negligent manner; Comey affirmed that Clinton and her team had been “extremely careless,” which is effectively the same thing. Under the circumstances, with a presidential candidate about to be let off scot free despite his judgment that she broke the law, the refusal to prosecute would have reeked of political corruption. So he called a presser and gave his neutral, non-political reason for declining to recommend charges: No one had ever been charged under the statute for displaying “mere” gross negligence, Comey noted. Prosecutors traditionally had demanded evidence of greater culpability, which meant it would be unfair to prosecute Clinton. In saying all of that on a public stage in July, he damaged Clinton’s polling for a few weeks but did her the enormous favor of absolving her of criminal liability, which allowed her to continue as Democratic nominee and to lead the race for most of the year. But having intervened publicly once before to discuss the case, he seemingly concluded that he had no choice but to intervene in October and update the public when new material came to light that might cause him to revisit his conclusions.

As for the last part of what Podesta says, that the race began to tighten only after Comey’s letter, that’s mostly true. In the RCP average, Trump’s numbers started to climb on literally the day after the letter was released. But was that purely a reaction to Comey or partly a reaction to the fact that we were entering the final 10 days of the election and late deciders were making up their minds, perhaps settling on the “change” candidate? WaPo’s well regarded tracking poll, for instance, found Trump climbing from a deep hole against Clinton to within two points over several days before Comey’s letter appeared. It may well be that, as Nate Silver has argued, Clinton would be president if not for Comey, but there’s no reason to believe that Trump’s late surge was entirely a reaction to the FBI letter. Trump was closing and Comey may have given a last, fateful nudge.

The key bit starts at the 10:27 mark.