The chilling implications of the FBI’s latest attack on Hillary Clinton

Innocent until proven guilty, unless someone in the FBI doesn’t like you.

FBI Director James Comey CREDIT: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
FBI Director James Comey CREDIT: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Imagine that you recently dated a cop, and then, after an acrimonious breakup, the press started reporting that you are the subject of some kind of criminal investigation.

Or suppose that you have an ongoing dispute with a neighbor over a tree that encroaches from his property into yours. The neighbor works in law enforcement, and he starts spreading rumors to your other neighbors that you are engaged in criminal activity.

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Or imagine that you just interviewed for a job, and the local police chief contacts your potential employer to let them know that the police are investigating some vague misconduct you might have committed in the past.

A law enforcement agency does not need to arrest you or charge you with a crime to disrupt your life. It can simply release innuendo into the wild.

Information is power, even if that information is false or misleading. A law enforcement agency does not need to arrest you or charge you with a crime to disrupt your life. It can simply release innuendo into the wild and watch your reputation — along with, potentially, your professional and social life — collapse.

Which, of course, is what various individuals within the FBI are doing to Hillary Clinton.

FBI Director James Comey’s decision to release damaging and vague information to Clinton’s enemies last Friday is, as I argued on Monday, a firing offense. As one former Justice Department official told the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, such a disclosure — especially because it appears to be based entirely on speculation and conjecture— “impugns the integrity and reputation of the candidate, even though there’s no finding by a court, or in this instance even an indictment.”

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The FBI is not allowed to lay waste to a candidate’s reputation based on little or no evidence. Just so we are clear, there is a policy that Comey violated prohibiting disclosures relating to political candidates.

Yet Comey is hardly the only member of the FBI who doesn’t believe this rule applies to him. Wednesday evening, the Wall Street Journal published leaked information about an entirely separate investigation into former Secretary Clinton. One of the reporters on this story is Devlin Barrett, who Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall described as “the chief conduit of choice for anti-Clinton agents at the FBI.” And the details of this Clinton probe are almost too comic to be believed.

In 2015, Peter Schweizer, a reporter with the white nationalist site Breitbart News, published a book called “Clinton Cash” which alleged that President and Secretary Clinton used foreign connections to enrich themselves. The CEO of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign, Stephen Bannon, is the executive chairman of Breitbart.

Based on this book, which was published by a writer at a white nationalist site with close ties to the Trump campaign, some agents within the FBI reportedly decided to investigate Clinton. Schweizer was himself interviewed several times by these agents.

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According to the Wall Street Journal, representatives from the FBI met with public integrity prosecutors and the head of the Department of Justice’s criminal division in February. The prosecutors reportedly were not impressed with this Breitbart-fueled investigation, and the DOJ instructed the FBI to “stand down.”

And yet, the agents persisted, even as senior executives within the FBI turned against them.

Under ordinary circumstances, this would have been nothing more than a headache for the prosecutors and senior FBI officials faced with insubordinate agents. But news of this probe is now public, in violation of Justice Department policy. And the anti-Clinton forces within the FBI appear to be doing their damnedest to maximize the damage this probe inflicts on Clinton. As former DOJ spokesperson Matthew Miller summarized the facts:

It appears that the FBI’s anti-Clinton faction is not limiting its leaks to the Wall Street Journal. On Fox News Wednesday night, anchor Bret Baier claimed that “two separate sources with intimate knowledge of what’s going on with these FBI investigations” told him an indictment in the “Clinton Cash” investigation is likely, “barring some obstruction in some way.” It is unclear how such an indictment would be secured without the cooperation of prosecutors who have already decided the Breitbart probe is meritless.

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The leaks regarding the FBI’s Breitbart probe, along with Comey’s letter to Republican committee chairs, fit a larger pattern of the FBI spreading incomplete information that is damaging to Secretary Clinton.

An internal FBI office will investigate the FBI’s decision to tweet out documents regarding President Clinton’s controversial Marc Rich pardon — an investigation the FBI closed more than a decade ago. Similarly, on Monday, a series of news stories suggested that there might be a direct connection between Trump and the Russian government. Shortly after these stories were published, unnamed “law enforcement officials” helped contain the damage to Trump by telling the New York Times that they have not “found any conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government.”

It is difficult, in other words, to escape the impression that a faction within the FBI is actively trying to elect Mr. Trump and to weaken Secretary Clinton. It appears to be doing so, moreover, in violation of Justice Department policy, and in violation of the basic principle that law enforcement should not spread rumors and innuendo in order to damage people they do not like.