For much of 2015 and 2016, conservatives waited with bated breath to hear the FBI’s verdict on whether or not Hillary Clinton was guilty of any wrongdoing as related to her private email server she had set up at her house in Chappaqua, New York. There were many claims that she had both sent and received emails she knew were classified, and it eventually came out that she had erased at least 33,000 emails and instructed her staff to destroy equipment related to the case. Voters on both the Right and the Left wanted to know if the FBI under Director James Comey would find a “smoking gun” that would call for an indictment of the nation’s top Democrat.
On July 5 of last year, Comey made public his recommendation to the then-Attorney General under ex-President Obama, Loretta Lynch, that Clinton not be indicted for any offense related to the affair, despite acknowledging that Clinton had mishandled classified information in what he called an “extremely careless” manner.
But according to newly released transcripts provided by a federal watchdog agency, there may be a problem with the timing of all of this, since it appears that Comey may have written his recommendation for the non-indictment before he personally interviewed Clinton herself and her top aides in the case. In turn, this may support President Trump’s previous assertions that he had decided to fire Comey earlier this year specifically over the Clinton affair.
The federal watchdog agency in question, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), is an independent investigative department whose function it is to protect federal employees from being harmed by prohibited personnel practices. It interviewed two FBI higher-ups, Trisha Anderson, an FBI deputy general counsel of cyberlaw and national security, and Jim Rybicki, the former chief of staff for James Comey. Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and Chuck Grassley — the latter of whom chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee — have been looking into the case and claim that one of these two FBI officials said that Comey had decided to write a non-indictment recommendation as early as April of last year (hard copies of which began to be distributed as early as May, according to deputy general counsel Anderson).
The Clinton aides who had yet to be interviewed by Comey at the time included Hannah Reichert, an employee of the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, Bryan Pagliano, an IT consultant to Clinton and Cheryl Mills, an attorney for Clinton. This was besides Clinton herself and 14 additional key witnesses. (Clinton was ultimately interviewed for only a few hours just three days before Comey’s July 5 announcement of his decision to the media.)
The OSC transcripts, which have multiple redactions in them — making it difficult to tell which official made which statement — nonetheless present a timeline that shows investigative malpractice, say Graham and Grassley. Specifically, they may show that Comey’s actions could have violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits a government employee from attempting to use his or her position to influence an election.
According to Comey’s chief of staff Rybicki, a message Comey is alleged to have written asked “to say, you know, again knowing sort of where — knowing the direction the investigation is headed… what would be the most forward-leaning thing we could do, right, information that we could put out about it?” Comey then allegedly formulated a draft of the recommendation that was ultimately sent to Lynch.
“These [uninterviewed witnesses] had intimate and personal knowledge relating to Secretary Clinton’s non-government server, including helping her build and administer the device,” wrote the senators in a letter to incoming FBI Director Christopher Wray, who was appointed in June by President Trump. “Conclusion first, fact-gathering second — that’s no way to run an investigation. The FBI should be held to a higher standard than that, especially in a matter of such great public interest and controversy… The outcome of an investigation should not be prejudged while FBI agents are still hard at work trying to gather the facts.”
Graham and Grassley have requested that the FBI turn over all drafts of Comey’s statement closing the Clinton investigation as well as related records of internal bureau communications. Both senators have also questioned the “highly unusual immunity agreements” that the Department of Justice (DOJ) under Lynch made in June 2016 with attorney Mills and Heather Samuelson, an ex-Clinton staffer who worked for her. These agreements allowed for the destruction of Mills’ and Samuelson’s laptops after the DOJ examined them. They also prevented the FBI from looking at emails between Mills, Samuelson and Clinton after Clinton left the State Department.
The senators believe these agreements also prevented the FBI from looking at records related to conference calls Mills had with a man named Paul Combetta, an employee of Platte River Networks, the Denver, Colorado-based IT firm that Clinton used for archiving many of the emails on her server. Combetta admitted to destroying copies of Clinton’s emails using BleachBit software in August of 2014 after he had a conference call with Clinton’s legal team.
Combetta had initially invoked the Fifth Amendment in testimony to the House of Representatives regarding the deletion, but later agreed to cooperate with the FBI investigation into Clinton in exchange for immunity. It should be noted that Combetta was the first of all persons connected to the case to be granted immunity, with Samuelson, Milla, Pagliano and Clinton herself following, in that order.
If all of the above is true, it supports arguments that the decision to exonerate Clinton was “rigged” from the beginning and that much of the FBI investigation was merely political theater for voters designed to placate Republicans while Clinton was able to build up election delegates and topple rival Bernie Sanders.
After hearing about the senators’ letter to the FBI, presidential spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that these developments prove that “Jim Comey was not the right person to lead the FBI.” It should be recalled that on May 9, President Trump fired Comey, stating that he had lost confidence in the bureau director.