FBI’s Comey opposed naming Russians, citing election timing

CNBC reports: FBI Director James Comey argued privately that it was too close to Election Day for the United States government to name Russia as meddling in the U.S. election and ultimately ensured that the FBI’s name was not on the document that the U.S. government put out, a former bureau official tells CNBC.

The official said some government insiders are perplexed as to why Comey would have election timing concerns with the Russian disclosure but not with the Huma Abedin email discovery disclosure he made Friday.

In the end, the Department of Homeland Security and The Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued the statement on Oct. 7, saying: “The U.S. intelligence community is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of emails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations. … These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the U.S. election process.”

An FBI spokesperson declined to comment on Comey’s role in the decision-making surrounding the Oct. 7 statement.

According to the former official, Comey agreed with the conclusion the intelligence community came to: “A foreign power was trying to undermine the election. He believed it to be true, but was against putting it out before the election.” Comey’s position, this official said, was “if it is said, it shouldn’t come from the FBI, which as you’ll recall it did not.”
Comey took a different approach toward releasing information about the discovery of emails on a laptop that was used by former congressman Anthony Weiner and his estranged wife Huma Abedin, the official said.

“By doing a press conference, and personally testifying and giving his opinion about the conduct, he made this about James Comey and his credibility,” the official said. “You can see why he did it, from his perspective, once he had had that press conference.”

The official said FBI investigators can get a “preliminary read” of the newly discovered emails within a couple of days and come to an initial conclusion about whether there is classified material in the files. “The questions is whether they will decide to share that read or not,” the official said. “Normally in the FBI we would not, but we’re not in normal land anymore.” [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: In December 2014, it was the FBI that publicly pointed the finger at North Korea for hacking Sony Pictures Entertainment and damaging its computers. That was because the attribution to Pyongyang was based on the FBI investigation, said a senior administration official. In the Russian case, the attribution was based on a fusion of intelligence from intelligence agencies, the bureau and private-sector cyber experts, the official said. “So it made sense that the people who were responsible for integrating all of that information” — the ODNI — should be part of the announcement, he said.

DHS joined the attribution because it is the agency responsible for working with state and local governments in protecting election systems.

The announcement did not mention the White House, which also had been very concerned about appearing to influence the election. [Continue reading…]

Not that Barack and Michelle Obama’s speeches at Hillary Clinton campaign rallies might create such an appearance… I guess they just tell their staffers they’ll be out on golfing or shopping excursions, but just by chance, along the way, happen to find themselves behind a podium or a few.

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Investigating Donald Trump, FBI has yet to uncover clear link to Russia

The New York Times reports: For much of the summer, the F.B.I. pursued a widening investigation into a Russian role in the American presidential campaign. Agents scrutinized advisers close to Donald J. Trump, looked for financial connections with Russian financial figures, searched for those involved in hacking the computers of Democrats, and even chased a lead — which they ultimately came to doubt — about a possible secret channel of email communication from the Trump Organization to a Russian bank.

Law enforcement officials say that none of the investigations so far have found any conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government. And even the hacking into Democratic emails, F.B.I. and intelligence officials now believe, was aimed at disrupting the presidential election rather than electing Mr. Trump.

Hillary Clinton’s supporters, angry over what they regard as a lack of scrutiny of Mr. Trump by law enforcement officials, pushed for these investigations. In recent days they have also demanded that James B. Comey, the director of the F.B.I., discuss them publicly, as he did last week when he announced that a new batch of emails possibly connected to Mrs. Clinton had been discovered.

Supporters of Mrs. Clinton have argued that Mr. Trump’s evident affinity for Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — Mr. Trump has called him a great leader and echoed his policies toward NATO, Ukraine and the war in Syria — and the hacks of leading Democrats like John D. Podesta, the chairman of the Clinton campaign, are clear indications that Russia has taken sides in the presidential race and that voters should know what the F.B.I. has found.

The F.B.I.’s inquiries into Russia’s possible role continue, as does the investigation into the emails involving Mrs. Clinton’s top aide, Huma Abedin, on a computer she shared with her estranged husband, Anthony D. Weiner. Mrs. Clinton’s supporters argue that voters have as much right to know what the F.B.I. has found in Mr. Trump’s case, even if the findings are not yet conclusive. [Continue reading…]

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Blackmail: Russia has been cultivating Trump for at least 5 years says a former senior intelligence officer

Mother Jones reports: a former senior intelligence officer for a Western country who specialized in Russian counterintelligence tells Mother Jones that in recent months he provided the [FBI] with memos, based on his recent interactions with Russian sources, contending the Russian government has for years tried to co-opt and assist Trump — and that the FBI requested more information from him.

Does this mean the FBI is investigating whether Russian intelligence has attempted to develop a secret relationship with Trump or cultivate him as an asset? Was the former intelligence officer and his material deemed credible or not? An FBI spokeswoman says, “Normally, we don’t talk about whether we are investigating anything.” But a senior US government official not involved in this case but familiar with the former spy tells Mother Jones that he has been a credible source with a proven record of providing reliable, sensitive, and important information to the US government.

In June, the former Western intelligence officer — who spent almost two decades on Russian intelligence matters and who now works with a US firm that gathers information on Russia for corporate clients — was assigned the task of researching Trump’s dealings in Russia and elsewhere, according to the former spy and his associates in this American firm. This was for an opposition research project originally financed by a Republican client critical of the celebrity mogul. (Before the former spy was retained, the project’s financing switched to a client allied with Democrats.) “It started off as a fairly general inquiry,” says the former spook, who asks not to be identified. But when he dug into Trump, he notes, he came across troubling information indicating connections between Trump and the Russian government. According to his sources, he says, “there was an established exchange of information between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin of mutual benefit.”

This was, the former spy remarks, “an extraordinary situation.” He regularly consults with US government agencies on Russian matters, and near the start of July on his own initiative — without the permission of the US company that hired him — he sent a report he had written for that firm to a contact at the FBI, according to the former intelligence officer and his American associates, who asked not to be identified. (He declines to identify the FBI contact.) The former spy says he concluded that the information he had collected on Trump was “sufficiently serious” to share with the FBI.

Mother Jones has reviewed that report and other memos this former spy wrote. The first memo, based on the former intelligence officer’s conversations with Russian sources, noted, “Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years. Aim, endorsed by PUTIN, has been to encourage splits and divisions in western alliance.” It maintained that Trump “and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals.” It claimed that Russian intelligence had “compromised” Trump during his visits to Moscow and could “blackmail him.” [Continue reading…]

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The uninformed public speculation that might tilt this election

Donald Trump’s election campaign has been fueled, more than anything else, by prejudice — the willingness of his supporters to reach conclusions unsupported by evidence.

Yesterday, in New Mexico, Trump claimed that if Hillary Clinton becomes president the population of the United States could triple in size in one week and grow from 325 million to 975 million!

“Think of it,” Trump said, but as the crowd booed there was little evidence that anyone in front of him was indeed thinking about what he’d just said. Some thought should have produced derisory laughter in response to such an absurd statement.

If 650 million peopled poured across the U.S. borders, this would amount to the largest migration in human history. This would be like every single person in Canada, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America all arriving in the U.S. — in the space of seven days.

Think of it!

Actually, it’s a bit difficult for anyone to think of it unless they are willing to indulge in an idle flight of fantasy.

What Trump was doing yesterday is what he been doing throughout his campaign: attempting to bypass all meaningful processes of thought and connect with the reptilian brain, animated as it is by archaic forces of fear and aggression. When Trump says think, what he’s really saying is be afraid, very afraid.

* * *

The daily drama of politics, in the age of Wikileaks and beyond the long shadow of Watergate, is repeatedly invigorated by the promise of revelations.

Since Watergate involved the mother of all cover-ups, any claim that something has been “discovered” comes charged with the implication that a discovery is the flip-side of a cover-up. What was meant to remain secret has now become known.

But when FBI Director James Comey wrote to Congress to inform them “the FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation [of Clinton’s personal email server]” nothing of substance had been uncovered.

At this point, all that is known is that a computer used by former Rep. Anthony Weiner (aka Carlos Danger) contained some emails connected to Clinton aide, Huma Abedin.

It has been reported that there are 650,000 emails, without any specifics about who they were written to and received by or when they were sent. The Wall Street Journal reports, “underlying metadata suggests thousands of those messages could have been sent to or from the private server that Mrs. Clinton used while she was secretary of state, according to people familiar with the matter.” Yet it was not until this weekend that the FBI received a court order allowing them to begin reviewing the emails.

If when Comey wrote to Congress, he and those under him had been complying with the law, at that time no one in the FBI had looked at a single of the thousands of emails in question.

When anonymous sources leaked the seemingly hard fact that there are 650,000 emails involved, they were leaking a hard number that again obscures its lack of substance. We don’t know whether hundreds of thousands or hundreds or just a handful are connected to Abedin.

Comey was like a firefighter who runs into a crowded shopping mall and shouts: “There might be a fire. But don’t panic. There might be some smoke — but it could just be steam.”

In his confession to FBI employees he wrote: “I don’t want to create a misleading impression,” but admitted, “there is significant risk of being misunderstood…” Indeed.

Which is why Comey has now been admonished by former Attorney General Eric H. Holder, along with close to 100 other former Department of Justice officials, who in an open letter conclude:

We believe that adherence to longstanding Justice Department guidelines is the best practice when considering public statements on investigative matters. We do not question Director Comey’s motives. However, the fact remains that the Director’s disclosure has invited considerable, uninformed public speculation about the significance of newly-discovered material just days before a national election. For this reason, we believe the American people deserve all the facts, and fairness dictates releasing information that provides a full and complete picture regarding the material at issue.

Given the fact that in the remaining days before the election it is reasonable to assume that a full and complete picture will not and cannot be presented, it is also reasonable to assume that uninformed public speculation on the issue will continue without interruption.

And that should suit Donald Trump just fine.

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Sen. Harry Reid says FBI possesses ‘explosive information about close ties and coordination’ between Trump and Russian government

The Washington Post reports: In a letter to FBI Director James B. Comey on Sunday night, outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) says Comey may have broken the law.

And that’s not even the most brazen claim in the letter — not by a long shot.

In the course of arguing that Comey’s disclosure that the FBI is looking into new Hillary Clinton investigation emails may have violated the Hatch Act, Reid slips in an extremely bold claim about the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

In my communications with you and other top officials in the national security community, it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government — a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States, which Trump praises at every opportunity. The public has a right to know this information. I wrote to you months ago calling for this information to be released to the public. There is no danger to American interests from releasing it. And yet, you continue to resist calls to inform the public of this critical information.

Even for a man known for bare-knuckle politics, this is remarkable.

Reid is saying that he has been told the FBI has evidence of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. And he’s not just saying this information came from mysterious and unnamed national security officials; he’s saying Comey himself has left him with this impression. [Continue reading…]

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On Clinton emails, did the FBI Director abuse his power?

Richard W Painter writes: The F.B.I. is currently investigating the hacking of Americans’ computers by foreign governments. Russia is a prime suspect.

Imagine a possible connection between a candidate for president in the United States and the Russian computer hacking. Imagine the candidate has business dealings in Russia, and has publicly encouraged the Russians to hack the email of his opponent. It would not be surprising for the F.B.I. to include this candidate and his campaign staff in its confidential investigation of Russian computer hacking.

But it would be highly improper, and an abuse of power, for the F.B.I. to conduct such an investigation in the public eye, particularly on the eve of the election. It would be an abuse of power for the director of the F.B.I., absent compelling circumstances, to notify members of Congress that the candidate was under investigation. It would be an abuse of power if F.B.I. agents went so far as to obtain a search warrant and raid the candidate’s office tower, hauling out boxes of documents and computers in front of television cameras.

The F.B.I.’s job is to investigate, not to influence the outcome of an election.

Such acts could also be prohibited under the Hatch Act, which bars the use of an official position to influence an election. That is why the F.B.I. presumably would keep those aspects of an investigation confidential until after the election. The usual penalty for a violation is termination of federal employment.

That is why, on Saturday, I filed a complaint against the F.B.I. with the Office of Special Counsel, which investigates Hatch Act violations, and with the Office of Government Ethics. I spent much of my career working on government and lawyers’ ethics, including as the chief White House ethics lawyer for George W. Bush. I never thought that the F.B.I. could be dragged into a political circus surrounding one of its investigations. Until this week. [Continue reading…]

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FBI agents waited weeks to tell Comey about emails possibly relevant to Clinton probe

The Washington Post reports: FBI agents investigating Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state knew early this month that messages recovered in a separate probe might be germane to their case, but they waited weeks before briefing the FBI director, according to people familiar with the case.

Director James B. Comey has written that he was informed of the development Thursday, and he sent a letter to legislators the next day letting them know that he thought the team should take “appropriate investigative steps designed to allow investigators to review these emails.”

That missive ignited a political firestorm less than two weeks before the election. Almost instantly, Comey came under intense criticism for his timing and for bucking the Justice Department’s guidance not to tell Congress about the development. And his announcement means that Clinton could have to contend with the news that the FBI has resumed its investigation of her use of a private email server — without any clarity on whether its investigators will find anything significant — up to and beyond Election Day.

The FBI has obtained a warrant to search the emails found on a computer used by former congressman Anthony Weiner that may contain evidence relevant to the investigation into Clinton’s private email server, according to law enforcement officials. The warrant was obtained in New York, as FBI agents there have possession of the laptop.

One official said the total number of emails recovered in the Weiner investigation is close to 650,000 — though that reflects many emails that are not relevant to the Clinton investigation. However, officials familiar with the case said the messages include a significant amount of correspondence associated with Clinton and her top aide Huma Abedin, Weiner’s estranged wife. [Continue reading…]

The Wall Street Journal reports: In their initial review of the laptop, the metadata showed many messages, apparently in the thousands, that were either sent to or from the private email server at Mrs. Clinton’s home that had been the focus of so much investigative effort for the FBI. [Continue reading…]

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Emails, genitalia and the FBI

Charles M Blow writes: Who would have thought that the final leg of this election cycle would be dominated by crowing about violating vaginas and by probes into penis pictures?

But even that frame is problematic because it creates an equivalency that doesn’t exist. One scandal is about a man boasting of predation and the other is about a woman weary of people’s prying. These are fundamentally different flaws, one being clearly about a pattern of assault and the other about a pattern of ill-fated insularity.

And yet an utterly irresponsible media, thirsty for a scoop and ignoring the consequences of its scope, has egged on a public with a scandal lust, aiding and abetting Republicans in turning an email mistake into a colossal crime.

Far from the faux election rigging that Donald Trump has been harping on for weeks, this election isn’t in danger of being stolen by Hillary Clinton, but in danger of being stolen from her. [Continue reading…]

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Eric Holder: James Comey is a good man, but he made a serious mistake

Eric Holder writes: I began my career in the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section 40 years ago, investigating cases of official corruption. In the years since, I have seen America’s justice system firsthand from nearly every angle — as a prosecutor, judge, attorney in private practice, and attorney general of the United States. I understand the gravity of the work our Justice Department performs every day to defend the security of our nation, protect the American people, uphold the rule of law and be fair.

That is why I am deeply concerned about FBI Director James B. Comey’s decision to write a vague letter to Congress about emails potentially connected to a matter of public, and political, interest. That decision was incorrect. It violated long-standing Justice Department policies and tradition. And it ran counter to guidance that I put in place four years ago laying out the proper way to conduct investigations during an election season. That guidance, which reinforced established policy, is still in effect and applies to the entire Justice Department — including the FBI.

The department has a practice of not commenting on ongoing investigations. Indeed, except in exceptional circumstances, the department will not even acknowledge the existence of an investigation. The department also has a policy of not taking unnecessary action close in time to Election Day that might influence an election’s outcome. These rules have been followed during Republican and Democratic administrations. They aren’t designed to help any particular individual or to serve any political interest. Instead, they are intended to ensure that every investigation proceeds fairly and judiciously; to maintain the public trust in the department’s ability to do its job free of political influence; and to prevent investigations from unfairly or unintentionally casting public suspicion on public officials who have done nothing wrong. [Continue reading…]

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FBI still does not have warrant to review new Abedin emails linked to Clinton probe

Michael Isikoff reports: When FBI Director James Comey wrote his bombshell letter to Congress on Friday about newly discovered emails that were potentially “pertinent” to the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server, agents had not been able to review any of the material, because the bureau had not yet gotten a search warrant to read them, three government officials who have been briefed on the probe told Yahoo News.

At the time Comey wrote the letter, “he had no idea what was in the content of the emails,” one of the officials said, referring to recently discovered emails that were found on the laptop of disgraced ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin. Weiner is under investigation for allegedly sending illicit text messages to a 15-year-old girl.

As of Saturday night, the FBI was still in talks with the Justice Department about obtaining a warrant that would allow agency officials to read any of the newly discovered Abedin emails, and therefore was still in the dark about whether they include any classified material that the bureau has not already seen. [Continue reading…]

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The newly discovered emails that were neither written to or by Hillary Clinton

Newsweek reports: The disclosure by the Federal Bureau of Investigation late on Friday, October 28 that it had discovered potential new evidence in its inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s handling of her personal email when she was Secretary of State has virtually nothing to do with any actions taken by the Democratic nominee, according to government records and an official with knowledge of the investigation, who spoke to Newsweek on condition of anonymity.

The revelation that the FBI has discovered additional emails convulsed the political world, and led to widespread (and erroneous) claims and speculation. Many Republicans proclaimed that the discovery suggests Clinton may have broken the law, while Democrats condemned FBI Director James Comey for disclosing this information less than two weeks before the election, claiming he did it for political purposes.

Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, said the development showed his opponent had engaged in corruption “on a scale we have never seen before,’’ while Clinton called for the FBI to release all of the information it has, saying the American people have a right to know everything.

The truth is much less explosive. There is no indication the emails in question were withheld by Clinton during the investigation, the law enforcement official told Newsweek, nor does the discovery suggest she did anything illegal. Also, none of the emails were to or from Clinton, the official said. Moreover, despite the widespread claims in the media that this development had prompted the FBI to “reopen” the case, it did not; such investigations are never actually closed, and it is common for law enforcement to discover new information that needs to be examined. [Continue reading…]

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James Comey stands tall, and alone, in a tight corner in Clinton email mess

The Daily Beast reports: Former President Bill Clinton and Attorney General Loretta Lynch insisted there was nothing improper about their little chat when their planes chanced to be in Phoenix and he strode across the tarmac to her plane.

“I did see President Clinton at the Phoenix airport as he was leaving and spoke to myself and my husband on the plane,” Lynch said afterwards. “Our conversation was a great deal about grandchildren, it was primarily social about our travels and he mentioned golf he played in Phoenix.”

The fact remained that the former president had met in private with the country’s top law enforcement official when the Department of Justice was actively investigating his wife in a criminal matter. His wife being Hillary Clinton, who could quite possibly be our next president.

Lynch then could have simply recused herself from the probe, as prosecutors have in the past. She did not.

And, say some who know FBI Director James Comey, this left him in what he felt was an untenable situation.

Comey had essentially come to the end of the investigation and he had concluded that there was insufficient cause to charge Hillary Clinton with a crime. The usual protocol called for him then to refer the findings to the attorney general and let her make the prosecutorial decision.

But the attorney general had been sitting on a plane with the target’s husband less than two weeks before. And for Lynch now to announce that Hillary Clinton had been cleared would call into question the integrity of all involved, including Comey and the FBI.

Comey decided that he had to present the results directly to the public. He did so, insisting that the evidence did not establish the intent he said was necessary to bring criminal charges. He made clear that he felt Hillary Clinton had been reckless and irresponsible and that she had shown terrible judgment.

“He wasn’t going to indict, but he was going to scold,” a former federal prosecutor said on Saturday. “Scolding in the first degree has never quite made it.”

Along with their surprise at Comey’s break with protocol, some veteran agents were outraged by the decision itself. Few of them are Hillary fans. And all of them had learned from their first days the importance of treating classified materials properly. They viewed it as the highest arrogance to ignore the strictures to which they adhere. [Continue reading…]

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Justice officials warned FBI that Comey’s decision to update Congress was not consistent with department policy

The Washington Post reports: Senior Justice Department officials warned the FBI that Director James B. Comey’s decision to notify Congress about renewing the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server was not consistent with long-standing practices of the department, according to officials familiar with the discussions.

FBI officials who work closely with Comey on Thursday contacted attorneys at the Justice Department. Their message: Comey intended to inform lawmakers of newly discovered emails potentially connected to the Clinton email investigation.

Justice officials reminded the FBI of the department’s position “that we don’t comment on an ongoing investigation. And we don’t take steps that will be viewed as influencing an election,” said one Justice Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the high-level conversations.

“Director Comey understood our position. He heard it from Justice leadership,” the official said. “It was conveyed to the FBI, and Comey made an independent decision to alert the Hill. He is operating independently of the Justice Department. And he knows it.”

Comey’s decision less than two weeks before the presidential election has stunned former and current law enforcement officials and rocked the Clinton campaign, which appeared to be coasting to victory. [Continue reading…]

Simon Tisdall writes: Comey’s move is either extremely naive or extremely cynical. FBI investigations are routinely conducted behind closed doors. Only when a decision to prosecute has been taken, based on persuasive evidence, is an inquiry made public or suspects named.

For a respected, ostensibly independent figure like the FBI director to tip his hand at this extraordinarily sensitive moment amounts to an overtly political, partisan act. Since it must be assumed that Comey is no fool, it must also be assumed that he knew what he was doing.

A less damning explanation is that he was clumsily attempting to save the FBI (and himself) further criticism from the Republican right, which denounced his earlier investigatory efforts as a pro-Hillary cover-up. But if that is the case, why did Comey not have a confidential word with the relevant congressional oversight committees? Nobody could then subsequently accuse him of a cover-up. And he would not have triggered the firestorm in which the FBI’s impartiality is again being questioned, and this time from the left. [Continue reading…]

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