Hillary Clinton has said repeatedly that James Comey’s decision to announce he was re-opening the investigation into her emails about 10 days before the 2016 election was responsible for her loss (along with a long list of other things). Today DOJ IG report suggests Comey’s announcement in a letter to Congress might not have happened if FBI agent Peter Strzok hadn’t sat on Anthony Weiner’s laptop for almost a month. And the reason he sat on it may even have been his well-established preference for Hillary. Unfortunately for her, his effort backfired.
When FBI agents discovered 300,000 emails on Weiner’s laptop, some of which came from Clinton, “The case agent immediately notified his NYO chain of command, and the information was ultimately briefed to NYO Assistant Director in Charge (ADIC) William Sweeney on September 28.” The information quickly made its way to Andrew McCabe at FBI headquarters:
McCabe told the OIG that he considered the information provided by Sweeney to be “a big deal” and said he instructed Priestap to send a team to New York to review the emails on the Weiner laptop. McCabe told the OIG that he recalled talking to Comey about the issue “right around the time [McCabe] found out about it.” McCabe described it as a “fly-by,” where the Weiner laptop was “like one in a list of things that we discussed.”
So this “big deal” supposedly went to Comey but he says he didn’t have the impression it was too serious. Meanwhile, the laptop sat there for nearly three weeks.
Text messages of FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok indicated that he, McCabe, and Priestap discussed the Weiner laptop on September 28. Strzok said that he had initially planned to send a team to New York to review the emails, but a conference call with NYO was scheduled instead. The conference call took place on September 29, and five members of the FBI Midyear team participated. Notes from the conference call indicate the participants discussed the presence of a large volume of emails (350,000) on the Weiner laptop
and specific domain names, including clintonemail.com and state.gov. The Midyear SSA said that NYO also mentioned seeing BlackBerry domain emails on the Weiner laptop.
Additional discussions took place on October 3 and 4, 2016. However, after October 4, we found no evidence that anyone associated with the Midyear investigation, including the entire leadership team at FBI Headquarters, took any action on the Weiner laptop issue until the week of October 24, and then did so only after the Weiner case agent expressed concerns to SDNY, prompting SDNY to contact the Office of the Deputy Attorney General (ODAG) on October 21 to raise concerns about the lack of action.
The IG says the FBI had all the information it needed to take action by late September:
We found that, by no later than September 29, FBI executives and the FBI Midyear team had learned virtually every fact that was cited by the FBI in late October as justification for obtaining the search warrant for the Weiner laptop…
Various excuses for the delay were offered but the IG concludes none of them add up:
We found these explanations to be unpersuasive justifications for not acting sooner, given the FBI leadership’s conclusion about the importance of the information and that the FBI Midyear team had sufficient information to take action in early October and knew at that time that it would need a new search warrant to review any Clinton-Abedin emails.
The IG then points out that Strzok’s partisan texts might lead some to think he would take official action based on his politics. So the IG searched for evidence that partisanship played a role in the delay. Ultimately, it found no proof, but the report also concludes there’s no other compelling explanation:
We searched for evidence that the Weiner laptop was deliberately placed on the back-burner by others in the FBI to protect Clinton, but found no evidence in emails, text messages, instant messages, or documents that suggested an improper purpose. We also took note of the fact that numerous other FBI executives—including the approximately 39 who participated in the September 28 SVTC—were briefed on the potential existence of Midyear-related emails on the Weiner laptop. We also noted that the Russia investigation was under the supervision of Priestap—for whom we found no evidence of bias and who himself was aware of the Weiner laptop issue by September 29. However, we also did not identify a consistent or persuasive explanation for the FBI’s failure to act for almost a month after learning of potential Midyear-related emails on the Weiner laptop.
But here’s the payoff. Comey told the IG that, had he known about the laptop a month earlier, he may never have sent the letter which Clinton blames for costing her the election: “Comey told the OIG that, had he known about the laptop in the beginning of October and thought the email review could have been completed before the election, it may have affected his decision to notify Congress.”
To recap: McCabe says he mentioned this “big deal” to Comey in September but that apparently didn’t register. Strzok got a briefing about what had been found in early October and then did nothing for 3 weeks. Finally, the lack of action was noticed outside the FBI and everyone went into crisis mode trying to make up for the lost time. Again, the report doesn’t conclude partisanship was the problem but even the IG says a) Strzok’s partisanship raises questions and b) no other credible explanation for the delay has been offered.
It’s genuinely possible that someone, maybe Strzok, was slow-walking this, trying to run out the clock on the election. That back-fired and resulted in Comey’s letter to Congress, the one Clinton blames for her loss. So maybe the real cause of Clinton’s loss was pro-Clinton partisanship at the FBI. Oh, what a world, what a world.
15/ In other words, IG suspects Strzok was biased against Trump, and that may have influenced the decision to sit on the Weiner laptop for a month. Which might have ultimately set a course of events in motion that cost Clinton, his preferred candidate, the presidency.
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) June 14, 2018