Was Comey effectively extorted by NYC-based FBI agents? And did those agents illegally look at some of those emails without the prerequisite court order?
Most Democrats were outraged. “Mr. Comey said he was duty bound to inform Congress,” Bob Kerrey, the former senator and governor, told me. “Quite the opposite is the case. He was duty bound to make an announcement after he completes his examination of the emails.“
Indeed, he broke with the longstanding F.B.I. policy of not commenting on ongoing investigations.
— Comey, Clinton and This Steaming Mess, Frank Bruni, New York Times, today
Bob Kerrey is exactly right, and I’ve posted two posts making that point, the second of them urging Newsweek to retract its representation yesterday that the law required Comey to do what he did, because Comey had told Congress under oath last summer that the FBI investigation was closed—a claim that is utter nonsense.
In response to the first of my posts, reader BillB, in replying to a comment by reader BKrasting, described what I believe amounts to a bizarre decision by some FBI agents involved in the Weiner investigation to effectively extort Comey into disclosing the discovery of the emails (which may be duplicates of ones already investigated).
Here’s what BillB wrote to me in the comments thread to the second of my posts:
BillB / October 29, 2016 4:25 pm
You are absolutely right. I’ll just resubmit what I put in your previous posting in response to bkrasting:
“Would you have preferred that the head of the FBI deliberately break the law?”
Broken what law? Name the law or you are just blowing smoke. There is no law requiring the FBI director to release preliminary information on an investigation it hasn’t even done yet.
Are the emails from or to Clinton? He doesn’t know because he hasn’t seem them yet. Are they related to any other investigation that the FBI has done? He doesn’t know because he hasn’t seen them yet.
The responsible thing to do was to wait until he had a determination of their relevance before making a public announcement. He is not withholding anything because at this point he doesn’t even know what he is holding. It may be absolutely nothing.
But Clinton is correct. At this point Comey has muddied the waters and the only way he can fix it is to immediately tell the public everything he knows and everything he does not know.
The back story to this is management incompetence. The New York FBI office is upset at the DC office because they pulled off and replaced the local FBI agents in the investigation of the Eric Garner case because they were refusing to aggressively pursue the case.
In retaliation, the New York agents were threatening to prematurely leak the email information in defiance of FBI protocol. Comey fell prey to the blackmail and felt that he had to get ahead of the leakers to preserve his credibility with Republicans in Congress. Comey was just covering his own ass. The fact that he can’t control his own office indicates gross incompetence.
Beverly Mann / October 29, 2016 4:34 pm
That in itself is a BIG story. But since when does the FBI director make a premature or otherwise inappropriate announcement about a pending investigation because FBI agents are threatening to do so themselves?
This was an appallingly inappropriate use of the FBI itself–of the agency itself and its investigatory powers–in the service of a political goal.
If Comey was effectively extorted, that strikes me as itself a criminal act.
BillB / October 29, 2016 4:58 pm
I don’t think there is any criminality involved. In any large government or private corporation the saying is that “Information is power.” And people will trade that information as a lever to further their own political interests within the organization. It happens all the time and it isn’t criminal.
But it is despicable. It is evidence that Comey is an incompetent leader. It is evidence that, contrary to Comey’s claims of acting out of ethical imperative, he was simply acting in his own self-interest to preserve his Republican credibility and cover up his own lack of leadership to control his staff.
I dunno. This wasn’t trading information within an organization. This was threatening to reveal to the public information that Comey himself already knew—raw, preliminary information obtained through a nascent FBI investigation—unless Comey himself made it public, in order to impact an election for president and for control of Congress.
Sure sounds to me like misuse of information obtained in an incomplete FBI investigation.
It also appears that these agents may have looked at some of the emails without the prerequisite court order as required by the Fourth Amendment. Descriptions of the nature of the emails have now been leaked, according to Greg Sargent this morning, who also questioned how this information was known to FBI agents when apparently no search warrant had yet been issued as of early this morning.