The 500-page inspector general's report released Thursday reveals how unjustified secrecy and poor decisions helped ravage the credibility of both Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the FBI...
Yesterday’s Inspector General report on the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton contained plenty of bombshells, including a promise by lead FBI investigator Peter Strzok that “We’ll stop” Donald Trump from becoming president. The report reveals how unjustified secrecy and squirrelly decisions helped ravage the credibility of both Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the FBI. But few commentators are recognizing the vast peril to democracy posed by the sweeping prerogatives of federal agencies.
The FBI’s investigation of Clinton was spurred by her decision to set up a private server to handle her email during her four years as secretary of state. The server in her Chappaqua, N.Y. mansion was insecure and exposed emails with classified information to detection by foreign sources and others.
Clinton effectively exempted herself from the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The State Department ignored 17 FOIA requests for her emails prior to 2014 and insisted it required 75 years to disclose emails of Clinton's top aides. A federal judge and the State Department inspector general slammed the FOIA stonewalling.
Clinton’s private email server was not publicly disclosed until she received a congressional subpoena in 2015. A few months later, the FBI Counterintelligence Division opened a criminal investigation of the “potential unauthorized storage of classified information on an unauthorized system.”
The IG report gives the impression that the FBI treated Hillary Clinton and her coterie like royalty — or at least like personages worthy of endless deference. When Bleachbit software or hammers were used to destroy email evidence under congressional subpoena, the FBI treated it as a harmless error. The IG report “questioned whether the use of a subpoena or search warrant might have encouraged Clinton, her lawyers ... or others to search harder for the missing devices [containing email], or ensured that they were being honest that they could not find them.” Instead, FBI agents worked on “rapport building” with Clinton aides.
FBI investigators shrugged off brazen deceit. An unnamed FBI agent on the case responded to a fellow FBI agent who asked how an interview went with a witness who worked with the Clintons at their Chappaqua residence: “Awesome. Lied his a__ off. Went from never inside the scif [sensitive compartmented information facility] at res [residence], to looked in when it was being constructed, to removed the trash twice, to troubleshot the secure fax with HRC a couple times, to everytime there was a secure fax i did it with HRC. Ridic.” When his colleague replied that “would be funny if he was the only guy charged n this deal,” he replied, “aint noone gonna do s___” as far as filing charges.
Perhaps the most frequent phrase in the IG report is “According to the FD-302 ...” This refers to the memo an FBI agent writes after interviewing targets or witnesses in an investigation. Relying on Form 302s (instead of recordings interviews) maximizes the discretion of FBI officials, allowing them to frame issues or create a narrative or buttress charges of lying to a federal agent.
The FBI waited until the end of the investigation to interview Clinton and had decided to absolve her “absent a confession from Clinton,” the IG report noted. There was no recording and no transcript; instead, a 302 report allowed FBI Director James Comey to proceed with the preordained “not guilty” finding. Clinton had received numerous classified emails (some of which were marked with a (C)) on her private email server. The IG report notes, “According to the FD-302 from Clinton’s interview, Clinton told the FBI that she did not know what the ‘(C)’ meant and ‘speculated it was a reference to paragraphs ranked in alphabetical order.’”
The IG noted, “Witnesses told us, and contemporaneous emails show, that the FBI and Department officials who attended Clinton’s interview found that her claim that she did not understand the significance of the ‘(C)’ marking strained credulity. [FBI] Agent 1 stated, ‘I filed that in the bucket of hard to impossible to believe.’” Comey told IG investigators that “by her demeanor, she was credible and open and all that kind of stuff.” But a video recording of the showdown (especially the alphabet line) would have been invaluable to Americans who doubted Clinton and the FBI.
Anti-Trump texts spurred the IG to refer 5 FBI employees to the FBI for possible disciplinary penalties. One FBI agent labeled Trump supporters as “retarded” and declared “I’m with her” [Hillary Clinton]. Another FBI employee texted that “Trump’s supporters are all poor to middle class, uneducated, lazy POS.” One FBI lawyer texted that he was “devastated” by Trump’s election and declared “Viva la Resistance!” and “I never really liked the Republic anyway.” The same person became the “primary FBI attorney assigned to [Russian election interference] investigation beginning in early 2017,” the IG noted.
The IG report deals briefly with a kerfuffle over the FOIA release of Clinton Foundation documents a week before the 2016 election. Regrettably, the IG overlooked FBI’s horrendous record on FOIA compliance, spurring bitter complaints even from its former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. A federal judge slammed the agency for claiming it would require 17 years to fulfill a FOIA request on surveillance of antiwar activists in the 1960s. The FBI also makes ludicrous redactions to FOIA releases — such as deleting the names of Clark Kent and Lois Lane from a theatrical adaptation of Superman because disclosing them would “constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
The IG report illustrates the vast sway that federal agencies sometimes seek over what Americans are permitted to know about candidates and their government. Unfortunately, this coroner’s inquest into 2016 chicaneries will do nothing to prevent covert federal meddling from tilting future elections.
And as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wisely warned in 2012 that “lack of transparency eats away like a cancer at the trust people should have in their government.”
In a separate note, Jim Bovard expounds on the fact that a politically weaponized FBI is nothing new, but plenty dangerous...
In reality, the FBI has been politically weaponized for almost a century.
The FBI was in the forefront of the notorious Red Scare raids of 1919 and 1920. Attorney General Mitchell Palmer reportedly hoped that arresting nearly 10,000 suspected radicals and immigrants would propel his presidential campaign. Federal Judge Anderson condemned Palmer’s crackdown for creating a “spy system” that “destroys trust and confidence and propagates hate.” He said, “A mob is a mob whether made up of government officials acting under instructions from the Department of Justice, or of criminals, loafers, and the vicious classes.”
After the Palmer raids debacle, the FBI turned its attention to U.S. senators, “breaking into their offices and homes, intercepting their mail, and tapping their telephones,” as Timothy Weiner noted in his 2012 book, “Enemies: The History of the FBI”. After the FBI’s political espionage was exposed, Attorney General Harlan Fiske Stone, warned in 1924, “A secret police system may become a menace to free government and free institutions because it carries with it the possibility of abuses of power which are not always quickly comprehended or understood.” Stone fired the FBI chief, creating an opening for J. Edgar Hoover, who would head the FBI for the next 48 years. Hoover pledged to cease the abuses but the outrages mushroomed.
In the 1948 presidential campaign, Hoover brazenly championed Republican candidate Thomas Dewey, leaking allegations that Truman was part of a corrupt Kansas City political machine.
In 1952, Hoover sought to undermine Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson by spreading rumors that he was a closet homosexual.
In 1964, the FBI illegally wiretapped Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater’s presidential headquarters and plane and conducted background checks on his campaign staff for evidence of homosexual activity. The FBI also conducted an extensive surveillance operation at the 1964 Democratic National Convention to prevent embarrassing challenges to President Lyndon Johnson.
From 1956 to 1971, the FBI carried out “a secret war against those citizens it considers threats to the established order,” a 1976 Senate report noted. The FBI’s Operation COINTELPRO involved thousands of covert operations to incite street warfare between violent groups, to get people fired, to portray innocent people as government informants, to destroy activists’ marriages, and to cripple or destroy left-wing, black, communist, white racist, and anti-war organizations. Even feminists were eventually added to the target list. Senate investigators warned, “(The) FBI intelligence system developed to a point where no one inside or outside the bureau was willing or able to tell the difference between legitimate national security or law enforcement information and purely political intelligence.”
Hoover served as FBI boss until his death in 1972. A New York Timesobituary noted, “The more awesome Mr. Hoover's power grew, the more plainly he would state, for the record, that there was nothing ‘political’ about it, that the FBI was simply a ‘fact-finding agency’ that ‘never makes recommendations or draws conclusions.’" This was the myth that allowed a federal agency to accumulate vast power which it continues to covertly exercise. The FBI pirouettes as the saintliest institution in Washington while its leaders dish dirt to their political or media favorites.
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The first step to reining in the FBI is to open the agency’s files. Oversight is often a mirage thanks to FBI spurning of congressional subpoenas and other information demands. Federal judges have been riled by FBI false testimony and withholding of evidence in major court cases ranging from Ruby Ridge, Waco, Orlando Pulse Massacre, and Bundy Ranch showdown. The FBI has perennially exempted itself from the Freedom of Information Act.
It has been more than 40 years since a Senate committee had the gumption and the sway to reveal the stunning details and breadth of FBI misconduct. It is time for another independent investigation with the courage and the clout to compel full disclosure from the most powerful domestic government agency. Investigators should receive all the crowbars they need to pry open FBI records.
In the coming weeks, we will be assured that a few firings and perhaps a few indictments is all that is needed to put the FBI on a straight and narrow path. But the Founding Fathers never intended a secret police force to be an independent fourth branch of the federal government. As James Madison warned in 1788, “Wherever the real power in a Government lies, there is the danger of oppression.”