The reopening of the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe had upended election season — and more. According to the Wall Street Journal, feuds at the FBI and the Department of Justice have ripped apart both entities, and James Comey’s public statements in both July and last week have exacerbated them. However, it’s not just the e-mail probe that has fueled those feuds, and at least one of the players in them may have been misunderstood:
The new investigative effort, disclosed by FBI Director James Comey on Friday, shows a bureau at times in sharp internal disagreement over matters related to the Clintons, and how to handle those matters fairly and carefully in the middle of a national election campaign. Even as the probe of Mrs. Clinton’s email use wound down in July, internal disagreements within the bureau and the Justice Department surrounding the Clintons’ family philanthropy heated up, according to people familiar with the matter. …
New details show that senior law-enforcement officials repeatedly voiced skepticism of the strength of the evidence in a bureau investigation of the Clinton Foundation, sought to condense what was at times a sprawling cross-country effort, and, according to some people familiar with the matter, told agents to limit their pursuit of the case. The probe of the foundation began more than a year ago to determine whether financial crimes or influence peddling occurred related to the charity.
Some investigators grew frustrated, viewing FBI leadership as uninterested in probing the charity, these people said. Others involved disagreed sharply, defending FBI bosses and saying Mr. McCabe in particular was caught between an increasingly acrimonious fight for control between the Justice Department and FBI agents pursuing the Clinton Foundation case.
Readers will recall that Andrew McCabe rose in February to the #2 spot in the FBI and took command of the e-mail probe. The WSJ reported last week that McCabe’s wife Jill ran for office in Virginia and received nearly a half-million dollars from the PAC of Terry McAuliffe — former political advisor to the Clintons and a member of their foundation board. The McCabes claimed that nothing untoward had occurred, and the FBI later said that McCabe’s direct involvement in the e-mail probe came after Jill McCabe’s campaign had concluded.
In this new WSJ telling, though, McCabe appears to be pushing to keep the probes open. It was McCabe who ordered agents on the dormant e-mail probe to connect with investigators working the Anthony Weiner investigation after McCabe heard about the laptop. But perhaps more interestingly, McCabe reportedly faced down a “senior Justice Department official” who wanted another Clinton probe shut down — the investigation into the Clinton Foundation:
The Justice Department official was “very pissed off,” according to one person close to Mr. McCabe, and pressed him to explain why the FBI was still chasing a matter the department considered dormant. Others said the Justice Department was simply trying to make sure FBI agents were following longstanding policy not to make overt investigative moves that could be seen as trying to influence an election. Those rules discourage investigators from making any such moves before a primary or general election, and, at a minimum, checking with anticorruption prosecutors before doing so.
“Are you telling me that I need to shut down a validly predicated investigation?” Mr. McCabe asked, according to people familiar with the conversation. After a pause, the official replied, “Of course not,” these people said.
“Of course not” in this instance means I can’t say that on the record. Why? Because it could be considered obstruction of justice if in fact any wrongdoing did get uncovered. At the very least, this shows that the DoJ didn’t want the matter pursued and put pressure on the FBI to stop what McCabe reportedly described as “a validly predicated investigation,” which itself is very strong evidence of politicization at the DoJ.
It would be very, very interesting to know whether this “senior Justice Department official” was a career official or a political appointee. Given the WSJ’s reporting in this article — which takes pains at time to note skepticism from “career” prosecutors — the impression left is that this was a high-ranking political appointee. Furthermore, it seems unlikely that a career prosecutor would get on the phone with the FBI’s second-highest executive to demand why his agency wasn’t dropping an investigation into a former Cabinet official of the current administration. That would have to come from the top of the DoJ, or very near it.
That’s not to say that all of the feuding described in the article took place between the FBI and the DoJ. Investigators on both cases got frustrated with McCabe too, who seemed to want to walk a tightrope between all sides. A few sources claimed McCabe did issue a “stand down” order, while others deny it. Investigators on the foundation case wanted a look at the e-mails earlier in the case (before they appeared on Weiner’s laptop), but when federal prosecutors denied them permission, McCabe forbade them from taking the request to a different prosecutor.
Now, of course, that particular problem has been resolved — and that’s what makes Weiner’s laptop so potentially damaging to the Clintons. Investigators on the foundation public-corruption case couldn’t look at the e-mails produced under immunity agreements because access to those were limited to just the scope of the classified-info probe. If Huma Abedin left all of the e-mails on that laptop, they’re all fair game to the FBI under their new warrant. That might solve some of the feuding inside the FBI … but it might spark an open war between the bureau and the DoJ.