Whatever they reveal, the new Weiner emails probably won’t hurt Clinton — tribalism still reigns

Jamelle Bouie writes: Could the mere mention of “emails” change perceptions toward Clinton? When the news first broke, conservative commentators were sure that this would change the shape of the election. “This is not good for Team Clinton,” said Josh Kraushaar of National Journal. One vocal commentator, Matt Mackowiak, insisted that this “must be very serious” and that the uncertainty of it all was “politically lethal.”

At this stage, we have no idea how this development will shape the last 11 days of the presidential race. Tens of millions of Americans have already voted in battleground states like North Carolina, Florida, Texas, and Nevada. Given the effect of past email news, it’s possible this will turn off independent or undecided voters from Clinton. It’s also possible that her negatives are already baked in and won’t budge. And it’s possible, perhaps likely, that it won’t matter at all.

Everyone agrees that American politics is more partisan and more polarized than it’s ever been. But not everyone grasps why that’s important. It’s not just Congress and the ability of our institutions to make progress and accomplish their goals. It’s also our elections.

The folk theory of American democracy is that citizens deliberate on the issues and choose a candidate. That is false. The truth, as political scientists Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels describe in Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government, is that voters are tribalistic. Their political allegiances come first, and their positions and beliefs follow. We’ve seen this with Donald Trump. Support for free trade is a longstanding belief within the GOP, but Trump is a major opponent, slamming most of the trade deals of the past 30 years. You would think that this would depress his support among Republican voters. It didn’t. Instead, those voters changed their views of trade. Their beliefs followed their affiliations, not the other way around. [Continue reading…]

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FBI Director James Comey ‘did the self-protective thing. Was it the right thing?’

Jane Mayer writes: On Friday, James Comey, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, acting independently of Attorney General Loretta Lynch, sent a letter to Congress saying that the F.B.I. had discovered e-mails that were potentially relevant to the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private server. Coming less than two weeks before the Presidential election, Comey’s decision to make public new evidence that may raise additional legal questions about Clinton was contrary to the views of the Attorney General, according to a well-informed Administration official. Lynch expressed her preference that Comey follow the department’s longstanding practice of not commenting on ongoing investigations, and not taking any action that could influence the outcome of an election, but he said that he felt compelled to do otherwise.

Comey’s decision is a striking break with the policies of the Department of Justice, according to current and former federal legal officials. Comey, who is a Republican appointee of President Obama, has a reputation for integrity and independence, but his latest action is stirring an extraordinary level of concern among legal authorities, who see it as potentially affecting the outcome of the Presidential and congressional elections.

“You don’t do this,” one former senior Justice Department official exclaimed. “It’s aberrational. It violates decades of practice.” The reason, according to the former official, who asked not to be identified because of ongoing cases involving the department, “is because it impugns the integrity and reputation of the candidate, even though there’s no finding by a court, or in this instance even an indictment.”

Traditionally, the Justice Department has advised prosecutors and law enforcement to avoid any appearance of meddling in the outcome of elections, even if it means holding off on pressing cases. One former senior official recalled that Janet Reno, the Attorney General under Bill Clinton, “completely shut down” the prosecution of a politically sensitive criminal target prior to an election. “She was adamant—anything that could influence the election had to go dark,” the former official said.

Four years ago, then Attorney General Eric Holder formalized this practice in a memo to all Justice Department employees. The memo warned that, when handling political cases, officials “must be particularly sensitive to safeguarding the Department’s reputation for fairness, neutrality, and nonpartisanship.” To guard against unfair conduct, Holder wrote, employees facing questions about “the timing of charges or overt investigative steps near the time of a primary or general election” should consult with the Public Integrity Section of the Criminal Division. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Senior law enforcement officials said that it was unclear if any of the emails [referred to in Comey’s letter to Congress] were from Mrs. Clinton’s private server. [Continue reading…]

James Comey wrote in his letter to FBI employees: … given that we don’t know the significance of this newly discovered collection of emails, I don’t want to create a misleading impression. In trying to strike that balance, in a brief letter and in the middle of an election season, there is significant risk of being misunderstood… [Continue reading…]

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What Comey’s letter does and doesn’t mean

Benjamin Wittes writes: When the FBI wants to say it is reopening an investigation, it knows perfectly well how to say that. In this case, the investigation was actually never formally closed, so it doesn’t need to be reopened. The relevance of this letter is thus likely not that some explosive new evidence of Clinton criminality has suddenly emerged.

It is, rather, that Comey made a set of representations to Congress that have been complicated by new information, apparently from the Anthony Weiner sexting case. So he’s informing Congress of that fact before the election.

Comey represented to Congress that the Clinton email investigation was “complete.” But as the letter relates, new emails have now come to the bureau’s attention that appears relevant to the email investigation. (Weiner’s estranged wife is one Clinton’s top aides.) Comey has okayed a review of that new information to determine whether the emails contain classified material and also whether they are, in fact, relevant. And this fact renders his prior statement to Congress no longer true.

The key point here, in other words, is not that Comey is “reopening” a closed matter because of some bombshell. It is that he is amending his public testimony to Congress that the FBI is done while the bureau examines new material that may or may not have implications for investigative conclusions previously reached.

Here’s the subtext: Comey and FBI investigated Clinton hard, and when various legal and practical hurdles made it impossible to move forward with any kind of criminal case against her, Comey stated his view — quite unflattering to her — that her behavior had been “extremely careless” with highly sensitive information.

He did this in public because he made a decision that Clinton and her team deserved public scrutiny for their acts, because she is a major party candidate for president. This is why he went out of his way — maybe too far — in revealing unfiltered information so that the public had the opportunity to consider it before voting for or against her.

This summer, in short, Comey closed the investigation, stated his reasons, and took arrows both from those who thought he should have gone forward with a case and those who thought he should have said much less than he did.

And he testified before Congress that he was finished.

The trouble is that now he has learned something which he thinks may complicate his earlier judgments. And he has authorized additional investigative steps to find out. He found out that he is not finished. So the question is whether to tell Congress (and the public) or not.

Even at the risk of helping Trump, Comey has notified Congress (and the world) about it so as to clarify his prior testimony. This allows voters to judge how to consider this before the election — even though he will almost surely not be able to say anything more until after the election. It’s a way of not pretending that the investigation is “complete” when he knows there is some degree of residual issue.

If you’re inclined to be angry with Comey over this, imagine that he had not said something and it emerged after the election that, having testified that the investigation was complete, he authorized additional investigation of a new trove of emails.

Comey and the FBI are in a terrible position here, one in which they would be accused of playing politics whatever they ended up doing.

The interesting question is whether the FBI’s predicament is Comey’s own fault. [Continue reading…]

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Czech police arrest Russian in connection with U.S. hacking attacks

Reuters reports: Czech police have detained a Russian man wanted in connection with hacking attacks on targets in the United States, the police said, without giving further details.

The arrest was carried out in cooperation with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Czech police said on their website on Tuesday evening. Interpol had issued a so-called Red Notice for the man, seeking his arrest, they added. [Continue reading…]

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Three Kansas men calling themselves ‘Crusaders’ charged in terror plot targeting Muslim immigrants

The Washington Post reports: Three Kansas men were accused of plotting a bomb attack targeting an apartment complex home to a mosque and many Muslim immigrants from Somalia, authorities said Friday.

Curtis Allen, Gavin Wright and Patrick Eugene Stein face federal charges of conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction, the Department of Justice announced Friday.

“These charges are based on eight months of investigation by the FBI that is alleged to have taken the investigators deep into a hidden culture of hatred and violence,” Acting U.S. Attorney Tom Beall said in a statement. “Many Kansans may find it as startling as I do that such things could happen here.”

According to the complaint, the investigation was prompted by a paid confidential informant who had attended meetings with a group of individuals calling themselves “the Crusaders,” and heard plans discussed plots to attack Muslims, whom they called “cockroaches.” [Continue reading…]

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U.S. military operations are biggest motivation for homegrown terrorism, FBI study finds

The Intercept reports: A secret FBI study found that anger over U.S. military operations abroad was the most commonly cited motivation for individuals involved in cases of “homegrown” terrorism. The report also identified no coherent pattern to “radicalization,” concluding that it remained near impossible to predict future violent acts.

The study, reviewed by The Intercept, was conducted in 2012 by a unit in the FBI’s counterterrorism division and surveyed intelligence analysts and FBI special agents across the United States who were responsible for nearly 200 cases, both open and closed, involving “homegrown violent extremists.” The survey responses reinforced the FBI’s conclusion that such individuals “frequently believe the U.S. military is committing atrocities in Muslim countries, thereby justifying their violent aspirations.”

Online relationships and exposure to English-language militant propaganda and “ideologues” like Anwar al-Awlaki are also cited as “key factors” driving extremism. But grievances over U.S. military action ranked far above any other factor, turning up in 18 percent of all cases, with additional cases citing a “perceived war against Islam,” “perceived discrimination,” or other more specific incidents. The report notes that between 2009 and 2012, 10 out of 16 attempted or successful terrorist attacks in the United States targeted military facilities or personnel. [Continue reading…]

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FBI probes hacks targeting phones of Democratic Party officials

Reuters reports: The FBI is investigating suspected attempts to hack mobile phones used by Democratic Party officials as recently as the past month, four people with direct knowledge of the attack and the investigation told Reuters.

The revelation underscores the widening scope of the U.S. criminal inquiry into cyber attacks on Democratic Party organizations, including the presidential campaign of its candidate, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

U.S. officials have said they believe those attacks were orchestrated by hackers backed by the Russian government, possibly to disrupt the Nov. 8 election in which Clinton faces Republican Party candidate Donald Trump. Russia has dismissed allegations it was involved in cyber attacks on the organizations.

The more recent attempted phone hacking also appears to have been conducted by Russian-backed hackers, two people with knowledge of the situation said. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. intel officials probe ties between Trump adviser and Kremlin

Michael Isikoff reports: U.S. intelligence officials are seeking to determine whether an American businessman identified by Donald Trump as one of his foreign policy advisers has opened up private communications with senior Russian officials — including talks about the possible lifting of economic sanctions if the Republican nominee becomes president, according to multiple sources who have been briefed on the issue.

The activities of Trump adviser Carter Page, who has extensive business interests in Russia, have been discussed with senior members of Congress during recent briefings about suspected efforts by Moscow to influence the presidential election, the sources said. After one of those briefings, Senate minority leader Harry Reid wrote FBI Director James Comey, citing reports of meetings between a Trump adviser (a reference to Page) and “high ranking sanctioned individuals” in Moscow over the summer as evidence of “significant and disturbing ties” between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin that needed to be investigated by the bureau.

Some of those briefed were “taken aback” when they learned about Page’s contacts in Moscow, viewing them as a possible back channel to the Russians that could undercut U.S. foreign policy, said a congressional source familiar with the briefings but who asked for anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject. The source added that U.S. officials in the briefings indicated that intelligence reports about the adviser’s talks with senior Russian officials close to President Vladimir Putin were being “actively monitored and investigated.” [Continue reading…]

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U.S. investigating potential covert Russian plan to disrupt November elections

The Washington Post reports: U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies are investigating what they see as a broad covert Russian operation in the United States to sow public distrust in the upcoming presidential election and in U.S. political institutions, intelligence and congressional officials said.

The aim is to understand the scope and intent of the Russian campaign, which incorporates cyber-tools to hack systems used in the political process, enhancing Russia’s ability to spread disinformation.

The effort to better understand Russia’s covert influence operations is being coordinated by James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence. “This is something of concern for the DNI,” said Charles Allen, a former longtime CIA officer who has been briefed on some of these issues. “It is being addressed.”

A Russian influence operation in the United States “is something we’re looking very closely at,” said one senior intelligence official who, like others interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter. Officials also are examining potential disruptions to the election process, and the FBI has alerted state and local officials to potential cyberthreats.

The official cautioned that the intelligence community is not saying it has “definitive proof” of such tampering, or any Russian plans to do so. “But even the hint of something impacting the security of our election system would be of significant concern,” the official said. “It’s the key to our democracy, that people have confidence in the election system.”

The Kremlin’s intent may not be to sway the election in one direction or another, officials said, but to cause chaos and provide propaganda fodder to attack U.S. democracy-building policies around the world, particularly in the countries of the former Soviet Union. [Continue reading…]

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Russian hackers targeted Arizona election system

The Washington Post reports: Hackers targeted voter registration systems in Illinois and Arizona, and the FBI alerted Arizona officials in June that Russians were behind the assault on the election system in that state.

The bureau described the threat as “credible” and significant, “an eight on a scale of one to 10,” Matt Roberts, a spokesman for Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan (R), said Monday. As a result, Reagan shut down the state’s voter registration system for nearly a week.

It turned out that the hackers had not compromised the state system or even any county system. They had, however, stolen the username and password of a single election official in Gila County.

Roberts said FBI investigators did not specify whether the hackers were criminals or employed by the Russian government. Bureau officials on Monday declined to comment, except to say that they routinely advise private industry of cyberthreats detected in investigations. [Continue reading…]

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FBI says foreign hackers penetrated state election systems

Michael Isikoff reports: The FBI has uncovered evidence that foreign hackers penetrated two state election databases in recent weeks, prompting the bureau to warn election officials across the country to take new steps to enhance the security of their computer systems, according to federal and state law enforcement officials.

The FBI warning, contained in a “flash” alert from the FBI’s Cyber Division, a copy of which was obtained by Yahoo News, comes amid heightened concerns among U.S. intelligence officials about the possibility of cyberintrusions, potentially by Russian state-sponsored hackers, aimed at disrupting the November elections.

Those concerns prompted Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to convene a conference call with state election officials on Aug. 15, in which he offered his department’s help to make state voting systems more secure, including providing federal cyber security experts to scan for vulnerabilities, according to a “readout” of the call released by the department. [Continue reading…]

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FBI investigates whether Russia hacked New York Times reporters

The Associated Press reports: The FBI is investigating cyber intrusions targeting reporters of the New York Times and is looking into whether Russian intelligence agencies are responsible for the acts, a US official said Tuesday.

The cyberattacks are believed to have targeted individual reporters, but investigators don’t believe the newspaper’s entire network was compromised, according to the official, who was briefed on the investigation but was not authorized to discuss the matter by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.

CNN first reported the FBI’s investigation.

It was not immediately clear how many reporters may have been affected, nor how many email accounts were targeted. [Continue reading…]

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