More: FBI agent dismissed from Russiagate probe for bias altered language in Comey’s clearing of Hillary Clinton
Without knowing that Peter Strzok was later kicked off the Russia investigation for sending anti-Trump texts, you might raise an eyebrow at this and shrug it off.
But with even Mueller troubled by perceptions of an agenda, every move Strzok made on matters related to Trump and Clinton is now under the microscope.
Question: What’s the difference between “grossly negligent” and “extremely careless”? Colloquially, not much. They’re essentially synonyms. But legally?
Electronic records show Peter Strzok, who led the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server as the No. 2 official in the counterintelligence division, changed Comey’s earlier draft language describing Clinton’s actions as “grossly negligent” to “extremely careless,” the source said.
The drafting process was a team effort, CNN is told, with a handful of people reviewing the language as edits were made, according to another US official familiar with the matter…
CNN has also learned that Strzok was the FBI official who signed the document officially opening an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, according to sources familiar with the matter. As the No. 2 official in counterintelligence, Strzok was considered to be one of the bureau’s top experts on Russia.
Why might Strzok be nervous about Comey using the phrase “grossly negligent”? Because, under federal law, that’s the precise legal standard for criminal culpability in mishandling classified information. 18 U.S.C. 793(f):
(f) Whoever, being entrusted with or having lawful possession or control of any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, note, or information, relating to the national defense, (1) through gross negligence permits the same to be removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of his trust, or to be lost, stolen, abstracted, or destroyed, or (2) having knowledge that the same has been illegally removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of its trust, or lost, or stolen, abstracted, or destroyed, and fails to make prompt report of such loss, theft, abstraction, or destruction to his superior officer—
Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.
If Comey had gone out there at his press conference and accused Hillary of having been “grossly negligent,” he’d be explicitly saying that she was guilty. Evidently that made Strzok and other FBI personnel nervous so they switched it to “extremely careless” — a synonym, yes, but one that would let Hillary defenders argue that Comey technically didn’t claim that she’d broken the law. He said she was guilty of something like gross negligence, but if a lawman wanted to accuse her of having violated the statute, he knew the magic words to use. And he didn’t. The charitable interpretation of that is that Strzok and the Bureau were nervous about Comey’s reasoning in giving Hillary a pass on grounds that it’d be unfair to prosecute her for gross negligence under the law when no one else had been prosecuted under that standard in the past. So they tweaked the language to make it slightly less clear that Comey was giving her a pass.
The less charitable interpretation is that Strzok was a Clinton fan, or at least an anti-Trumper, and wanted to do what he could to minimize the political blow to her from Comey’s announcement. Replacing “grossly negligent” with a less charged term was a small way of doing that.
That DOJ IG report on the FBI’s handling of Emailgate should be a humdinger!