Opinions, Context & Ideas from the TPM Editors TPM Editor's Blog

Don't Believe the IG Hype

It’s refreshing to see at least one Democratic member of Congress roundly address Rep. Devin Nunes’ (R-CA) apparent role pushing to restart the Clinton emails investigation in the final weeks of the 2016 election. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) called Nunes “the President’s fixer in Congress.” But I would be highly, highly skeptical of DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s suggestion that the Rudy Giuliani/New York field office leaks are still under investigation. I’ve even seen some people speculating that he may be signaling the existence of a criminal probe that his office had to avoid interfering with. Again, be highly, highly skeptical.

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Hostage Situation

President Trump just made the terms pretty clear. The kids can see their parents again if Democrats agree to fund his wall. That’s actually what he’s saying here. If Democrats will support his bill to fund a wall the kids can go free.

Family Separation, Evil Via Policy and The Internal Contradictions of Trumpism

Amidst the ugliness and moral squalor of the Trump family separation policy, the current backlash provides an important window into the nature of Trumpism. US law gives the government discretion over how to prosecute certain actions at the border. If they are prosecuted criminally that leads to parents being separated from children. It is clear from lower court decisions in recent weeks that if the goal beyond family separation is deterrence or punishment the policy has serious legal and constitutional problems. The problem for the administration is that the highest ranking members of the executive branch (Trump, Sessions and others) have already stated explicitly that the aim is deterrence.

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'A Deep and Visceral Hatred,' The Timeline

Over recent days I’ve been noting abundant evidence from the DOJ Inspector General’s report, Rep. Devin Nunes and other sources of clear anti-Clinton animus on the part of senior FBI Agents in the New York FBI Field Office and among retired agents with whom they were apparently in contact. It seems clear that members of that office leaked word of Clinton emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop more or less immediately to Capitol Hill Republicans and at least one top Trump campaign surrogate, Rudy Giuliani, to create pressure to reopen the Clinton probe.

It further seems clear that fear of such leaks was a major or even the primary reason why James Comey sent his letter to Congress on October 28th, 2016. In other words, there was not just bias – Comey himself reportedly called it a “deep and visceral hatred of Secretary Clinton”. That bias lead to specific and repeated actions which at least violated FBI regulations and possibly violated the law. Those violations triggered a chain of events which likely changed the outcome of the election. That is a very big deal. And yet, these basic facts, which seem all but beyond dispute receive no clear examination in the IG Report.

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More Evidence of the Critical Failure of the IG Report

Yesterday I posted this lengthy post about a critical shortcoming in the 2016 election IG Report. Despite specifically being to requested to address the issue, Inspector General Horowitz basically ignored lots of evidence about bias against Secretary Clinton. Indeed, he didn’t so much ignore evidence as ignore the question itself, specifically about anti-Clinton sentiment in the FBI’s New York field office and specifically whether the fear of leaks out of that office was the driver of the October 28th Comey letter which clearly damaged Clinton significantly in the final days of the campaign. It turns out that I simply missed some of the clearest evidence for that anti-Clinton bias in the report itself.

Before looking at that, let’s address another point. The IG Report is in a sense of a masterpiece bureaucratic document. If the effort were to hide evidence of bias out of the New York field office it does a poor job. It simply draws no inferences from that evidence. So, for instance, much of the report is framed around examining whether pretty good evidence of hostility toward candidate Trump (though by no means only Trump) affected the actions of lead agent Peter Strzok. But whether the abundant evidence of bias and actions by those hostile to candidate Clinton had an effect is just passed over.

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There's Something Fatally Wrong in the IG Report on the FBI and DOJ

A few weeks ago I explained in a post that the reason the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails was so freely publicized in 2016 while the Russia probe remained firmly under wraps was, paradoxically, precisely because it was an essential political and procedural probe. Indeed, this was understood by all involved. Yet this false equation of the two investigations remains embedded in the Inspector General’s report itself. Indeed, the IG Report is at war with itself at various points about the nature of the investigation and whether the recovery of the Weiner/Abedin emails in late September 2016 did or should have mattered.

The Inspector General was troubled by the fact that the FBI was prioritizing the Russia probe in the fall of 2016 over the Clinton email probe. The key passage comes on page 329 of the report where the Inspector General writes that in light of Strzok and Page’s texts showing hostility to Donald Trump, “we did not have confidence that Strzok’s decision to prioritize the Russia investigation over following up on the Midyear-related investigative lead discovered on the Weiner laptop was free from bias.”

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Nunes: FBI Agents Leaked Clinton Info to Me

In light of the fact that the Inspector General’s report ignored the questions about anti-Clinton bias in the FBI’s New York field office and questions about whether Comey’s actions were driven by fears of leaks from that same office, this seems highly relevant. Last night on Fox News, Rep. Devin Nunes explained that in late September 2016, “good FBI agents” came to him and told him they’d found the Weiner laptop with Huma Abedin’s emails with Secretary Clinton.

Note that the reference to late September 2016 makes it clear that the agents in question basically went to Nunes and other Capitol Hill Republicans immediately after they found the laptop.

Lotta Discoverin'

The government has recovered 731 pages of encrypted text messages from the devices seized from Michael Cohen – from WhatsApp and Signal. They’ve also reassembled 16 pages of documents from inside Cohen’s paper shredder. (Paper Shredder best practices fail.) They’re still working on one of the Blackberries they seized.

Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani, the President’s lawyer, apparently felt it was necessary to explicitly reassure Paul Manafort that a pardon could be in the cards for him after he was sent to jail today.

LiveWire