FBI Russia investigation may continue while starved of necessary resources

Julia Ioffe writes: The abrupt and strange way Comey was fired, as well as the lack of a nominee to replace him, “is a very political decision, and the message it sends seems to be to back off the investigation,” said Amy Zegart, the co-director for Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation and senior fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution.

If that’s the case, there are many ways the bureau could “back off” without actually looking like it has backed off or even stopped investigating Russian interference. According to the former FBI agent Clinton Watts, the limbs of the beheaded bureau will keep doing their work. “The investigative part is independent,” said Watts. But even if the work goes on, what will that work look like? “The investigation will go forward in the short run,” said Jack Goldsmith, a professor at Harvard Law School and an assistant attorney general under George W. Bush. “The question is how vigorous it will be.”

One factor that may determine the answer is money. According to multiple reports, which a spokeswoman from the Department of Justice denied, Comey had asked the department for more resources to pursue the Russia investigation right before he was fired. What happens to the FBI’s resources now? A new FBI director “can’t shut the investigation down,” said Watts, “but can decide how resources are allocated and how time is spent.” Eric Columbus served from 2009 to 2014 in the office of the deputy attorney general—a position now occupied by Rod Rosenstein, whose letter describing Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation was cited by Trump as the reason for Comey’s dismissal. Columbus said that though a new director would have the legal authority to shut the Russia investigation down, “the smarter ploy would be to slow walk it and starve it of resources and not have it be the focus of leadership. … You can investigate things forever and have it never go anywhere. If you want to kill something, the most effective way to kill it is to just have it on a slow simmer rather than a rolling boil.”

In other words, the investigation could keep going but be so starved of money and manpower that it is not much of an investigation at all. [Continue reading…]

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