I haven’t read all 500 pages of the DOJ Inspector General’s report on the FBI’s and DOJ’s handling of the Clinton email investigation, but I have tried to pick out some of the salient points. If I come across more items of interest, I may add updates to this post. Here are some observations:
1) It is important to remember that the IG has not looked into the FBI’s “Russia investigation,” including its continuance by Bob Mueller, and today’s report does not specifically address issues raised by the FBI’s and DOJ’s handling of that matter. However, some of the same people were involved in both investigations, and the IG has disclosed limited materials relating, at least in part, to the Russia investigation. At this point, they are some of the most interesting aspects of the report. But such disclosures are incidental and non-systematic. There could be a great deal more where they came from.
2) This text exchange between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page is rightfully being described as a bombshell:
August 8, 2016: In a text message on August 8, 2016, Page stated, “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” Strzok responded, “No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.”
There is really only one way to read Strzok’s reply: the FBI intended to stop Donald Trump from becoming President. But he tried to explain it:
When asked about this text message, Strzok stated that he did not specifically recall sending it, but that he believed that it was intended to reassure Page that Trump would not be elected, not to suggest that he would do something to impact the investigation. Strzok told the OIG that he did not take any steps to try to affect the outcome of the presidential election, in either the Midyear investigation or the Russia investigation. Strzok stated that had he—or the FBI in general—actually wanted to prevent Trump from being elected, they would not have maintained the confidentiality of the investigation into alleged collusion between Russia and members of the Trump campaign in the months before the election. Page similarly stated that, although she could not speak to what Strzok meant by that text message, the FBI’s decision to keep the Russia investigation confidential before the election shows that they did not take steps to impact the outcome of the election.
That might make sense, except that the FBI did not “maintain the confidentiality of the investigation into alleged collusion.” On the contrary, the “Russia investigation,” including the claim that the Trump campaign colluded with Russians, was the subject of countless leaks. To cite just one example, on November 1, 2018, NBC News headlined: “FBI Making Inquiry Into Ex-Trump Campaign Manager’s Foreign Ties.” The story–like most news stories nowadays, it seems–was based on leaks from “law enforcement and intelligence sources.”
It is reasonable to suspect that leaks about the FBI investigation from “law enforcement sources” were related to Peter Strzok’s determination to stop Trump from winning the election.
3) Further to that point, the IG’s report criticizes the FBI for leaking and for generally being too chummy with journalists:
[A]lthough FBI policy strictly limits the employees who are authorized to speak to the media, we found that this policy appeared to be widely ignored during the period we reviewed. We identified numerous FBI employees, at all levels of the organization and with no official reason to be in contact with the media, who were nevertheless in frequent contact with reporters. The large number of FBI employees who were in contact with journalists during this time period impacted our ability to identify the sources of leaks. For example, during the periods we reviewed, we identified dozens of FBI employees that had contact with members of the media. Attached to this report as Attachments G and H are link charts that reflects the volume of communications that we identified between FBI employees and media representatives in April/May and October 2016.
In addition to the significant number of communications between FBI employees and journalists, we identified social interactions between FBI employees and journalists that were, at a minimum, inconsistent with FBI policy and Department ethics rules. For example, we identified instances where FBI employees received tickets to sporting events from journalists, went on golfing outings with media representatives, were treated to drinks and meals after work by reporters, and were the guests of journalists at nonpublic social events. We will separately report on those investigations as they are concluded, consistent with the Inspector General (IG) Act, other applicable federal statutes, and OIG policy.
Evidently many FBI employees at senior levels (as reflected in Attachments G and H) were working hand-in-glove with Democratic Party reporters. It isn’t hard to deduce the purpose of these constant communications.
4) The IG Report also deals with the “insurance policy” text between Strzok and Page:
August 15, 2016: In a text message exchange on August 15, 2016, Strzok told Page, “I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office—that there’s no way he gets elected—but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40….” The “Andy” referred to in the text message appears to be FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. McCabe was not a party to this text message, and we did not find evidence that he received it.
Strzok provided a lengthy explanation for this text message. In substance, Strzok told us that he did not remember the specific conversation, but that it likely was part of a discussion about how to handle a variety of allegations of “collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the government of Russia.” As part of this discussion, the team debated how aggressive to be and whether to use overt investigative methods. Given that Clinton was the “prohibitive favorite” to win, Strzok said that they discussed whether it made sense to compromise sensitive sources and methods to “bring things to some sort of precipitative conclusion and understanding.” Strzok said the reference in his text message to an “insurance policy” reflected his conclusion that the FBI should investigate the allegations thoroughly right away, as if Trump were going to win. Strzok stated that Clinton’s position in the polls did not ultimately impact the investigative decisions that were made in the Russia matter.
Maybe I am slow-witted today, but I don’t understand how that explanation exonerates Strzok. Per Strzok, the “insurance policy” means that he thought the FBI should “investigate the [collusion] allegations thoroughly right away, as if Trump were going to win.” So they could release their findings before the election and thereby insure that Trump wouldn’t win? That interpretation is the only one I can think of that makes sense.
It didn’t happen, of course, because the “Russia investigation” found no evidence of collusion or other wrongdoing.
5) Once President Trump won the election, to the shock and dismay of Lisa Page and Peter Strzok along with many others at the FBI and the Department of Justice, it is obvious that they hoped their involvement in the ongoing Russia investigation would lead to Trump’s impeachment:
May 18, 2017: Mueller was appointed Special Counsel on May 17, 2017. The next day Strzok and Page exchanged text messages in a discussion of whether Strzok should join the Special Counsel’s investigation. Strzok wrote: “For me, and this case, I personally have a sense of unfinished business. I unleashed it with MYE [Midyear Exam, the investigation into Clinton’s emails]. Now I need to fix it and finish it.” Later in the same exchange, Strzok, apparently while weighing his career options, made this comparison: “Who gives a f*ck, one more A[ssistant] D[irector]…[versus] [a]n investigation leading to impeachment?” Later in this exchange, Strzok stated, “you and I both know the odds are nothing. If I thought it was likely I’d be there no question. I hesitate in part because of my gut sense and concern there’s no big there there.”
As always, Strzok had a story:
Strzok acknowledged that his text messages could be read to suggest that Strzok held himself responsible for Trump’s victory and Clinton’s defeat because of the Midyear investigation and that he viewed the Russia investigation as providing him an opportunity to “fix” this result by working on an investigation that could result in the impeachment of President Trump. However, Strzok said he strongly disagreed with this interpretation and provided a lengthy explanation for these statements.
I’ll bet he did.
6) A common theme of the FBI employees’ responses to the IG’s questions is that, yes, they certainly were Hillary Clinton partisans; and yes, they absolutely detested Donald Trump; and, too, they thought Trump voters were beneath contempt and Trump’s election would threaten the survival of the republic. But those were only their private political views, and didn’t affect the judgments they made while investigating Hillary’s obviously illegal server on the one hand, and the Trump campaign’s nonexistent alliance with Russia on the other. Right.
No one can read the vicious, hateful, over-the-top partisan vitriol that FBI employees directed against Donald Trump–Strzok and Page are not the only ones quoted in the IG’s report–and give any credence to that claim. These high-ranking FBI agents were politicized to the core and were determined to do anything they could to secure their candidate’s election. Failing that, they plunged into the faux Russia election story in hopes of discrediting President Trump or even, as they explicitly discussed, bringing about his impeachment.
The IG’s report exposes a corrupt and politicized FBI and Department of Justice. And so far, we are seeing only half of the story, at most. No one has yet looked into the Democrats’ “Russia” tale or any partisan corruption linked to Bob Mueller’s farcical “investigation.” Given DOJ’s bitter refusal to cooperate with the Congressional committees that have constitutional oversight responsibilities over that Department–has anyone tried to justify DOJ’s stonewalling? If so, I haven’t seen it–we can assume that the damning documents that have been produced so far are only the beginning. Most likely, they provide only an inkling of the information the Justice Department, apparently still dominated by Obama holdovers, is withholding from Congress, or perhaps has already destroyed.
The unravelling of the effort to bring down President Trump has barely begun.