possible Clinton indictment
Many political insiders, especially Republicans, say Comey’s letter changed the trajectory of the 2016 presidential race.
Politico asks “a panel of activists, strategists and operatives in 11 swing states” their opinions on the evolving 2016 presidential election campaign. In their latest query, nearly two-thirds of Republicans say that FBI Director James Comey’s October 28, 2016 letter announcing the reopening of the FBI’s Clinton email investigation “fundamentally altered the trajectory of the race.”
One unnamed Republican insider states, “There are a handful of words that can fundamentally alter the trajectory of a race. These include words and phrases like ‘indictment,’ ‘FBI investigation’ and ‘grand jury.’ These are popping with just barely enough time to make a difference in the race, even enough time for ad-makers to change out closing commercials.”
Another unnamed Republican insider says, “That is not how to end a campaign. [Clinton] wins when Trump is the issue. She loses when she is the issue.”
However, only 20 percent of Democratic insiders say the Comey letter changed the trajectory of the race.
One unnamed Democratic insider says, “It changed the race by bringing the map back to normal [meaning a non-landslide win for Clinton]. Pre-FBI, she was going to reach for 400 [electoral votes].” (Politico, 11/4/2016)
An unnamed high-ranking FBI official claims that the “vast majority” of agents working on the FBI’s Clinton email investigation believe Clinton should have been indicted.
The “high-ranking FBI official” speaks to Fox News on the condition of anonymity, but the person’s “identity and role in the case has been verified by FoxNews.com.” According to this source, “No trial level attorney agreed, no agent working the case agreed, with the decision not to prosecute” anyone in the investigation at all, but “it was a top-down decision” by FBI Director James Comey.
The source says that when it came to Clinton specifically, “It is safe to say the vast majority felt she should be prosecuted. We were floored while listening to the FBI briefing [on July 5, 2016] because Comey laid it all out, and then said ‘but we are doing nothing,’ which made no sense to us.” And while it might not have been a totally unanimous decision to recommend Clinton’s indictment, “It was unanimous that we all wanted her [Clinton’s] security clearance yanked.” However, even that never happened, despite it being standard procedure in similar cases.
The source adds that FBI agents were particularly upset that Comey unilaterally made the decision not to indict when the FBI’s role is merely to present an investigative report to the Justice Department. “Basically, James Comey hijacked the [Justice Department]’s role by saying ‘no reasonable prosecutor would bring this case.’ The FBI does not decide who to prosecute and when, that is the sole province of a prosecutor. … I know zero prosecutors in the [Justice Department]’s National Security Division who would not have taken the case to a grand jury. One was never even convened.” Without a grand jury, FBI agents were not allowed to issue subpoenas or search warrants and could only request evidence and interviews.
The source also complains that the FBI required its agents and analysts involved in the investigation to sign non-disclosure agreements. “This is unheard of, because of the stifling nature it has on the investigative process.”
Furthermore, immunity deals were made with five key figures in the investigation: Cheryl Mills, Bryan Pagliano, Paul Combetta, John Bentel, and Heather Samuelson. The source says none of them should have been granted immunity if no charges were being brought. “[Immunity] is issued because you know someone possesses evidence you need to charge the target, and you almost always know what it is they possess. That’s why you give immunity. … Mills and Samuelson receiving immunity with the agreement their laptops would be destroyed by the FBI afterwards is, in itself, illegal. We know those laptops contained classified information. That’s also illegal, and they got a pass.”
Additionally, “Mills was allowed to sit in on the interview of Clinton as her lawyer. That’s absurd. Someone who is supposedly cooperating against the target of an investigation [being] permitted to sit by the target as counsel violates any semblance of ethical responsibility.”
The source also comments, “Every agent and attorney I have spoken to is embarrassed and has lost total respect for James Comey and [Attorney General] Loretta Lynch. The bar for [the Justice Department] is whether the evidence supports a case for charges — it did here. It should have been taken to the grand jury.”
Finally, the source claims that many in the FBI and the Justice Department believe Comey and Lynch were motivated by ambition instead of justice. “Loretta Lynch simply wants to stay on as attorney general under Clinton, so there is no way she would indict. James Comey thought his position [heavily criticizing Clinton even as he decides against indicting her] gave himself cover to remain on as director regardless of who wins.”
Andrew Napolitano, a former judge and judicial analyst for Fox News, also claims to know of many law enforcement agents involved with the Clinton email investigation who have similar beliefs. He says, “It is well known that the FBI agents on the ground, the human beings who did the investigative work, had built an extremely strong case against Hillary Clinton and were furious when the case did not move forward. They believe the decision not to prosecute came from the White House.” (Fox News, 10/12/2016)
The next day, Malia Zimmerman, a co-writer of the article, is questioned on Fox News television. She claims that she has been speaking to other disgruntled FBI agents as well. “They’re saying that the morale is very low and that a lot of them are looking for other jobs. They’re very disappointed. They feel like the agency has been polluted… and they’re embarrassed. They feel like they’ve been betrayed.”
She adds that some of her sources might be willing to speak on the record if they retire or change jobs, which some of them are in the process of doing. But they are currently worried about retaliation. “There are a lot of disgruntled agents, analysts, and [Justice Department] attorneys as well.” These people feel Clinton could have been charged for various reasons, but her 22 “top secret” emails made the most compelling case. (Fox News, 10/13/2016)
- 22 top secret emails
- Bryan Pagliano
- Cheryl Mills
- Clinton's FBI interview
- FBI's Clinton email investigation
- Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI)
- grand jury
- Heather Samuelson
- Hillary Clinton
- internal FBI criticism
- James Comey
- John Bentel
- Judge Andrew Napolitano
- Justice Department (DoJ)
- Loretta Lynch
- Malia Zimmerman
- National Security Division
- non-disclosure agreement (NDA)
- Paul Combetta
- possible Clinton indictment
- security clearance
Many, including Republicans, criticize Trump for threatening to put Clinton in jail.
Donald Trump creates a firestorm of responses after the second general election presidential debate in St. Louis, Missouri, on October 9, 2016, due to his threat to Clinton that “If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation,” and that she should “be in jail.”Trump’s remarks draw widespread and bipartisan condemnation for being un-American, as well as praise coming from some supporters.
Praise for Trump’s remarks is rare, except perhaps among his ordinary supporters:
- Republican pollster Frank Luntz hosts a group of 30 undecided voters at the debate. According to the results of the poll, Trump’s highest moment during the first half of the debate is when he vows to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton if he is elected president, as well as telling her she should be “ashamed of herself” for misleading the American public on the email issue. By the end of the debate, 21 participants tell Luntz that Trump’s performance had a positive impact on their voting choice going forward, while nine are impressed by Clinton’s performance. (The Washington Examiner, 10/09/2016)
- Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway says, “That was a quip.” And regarding Trump’s threat to appoint a special prosecutor, Conway says only that he was “channeling the frustration” of voters.
- Republican vice presidential nominee and Indiana Governor Mike Pence says this comment by his running mate Trump “was one of the better moments of the debate.” (Huffington Post, 10/10/2016)
The overwhelming majority of responses by legal experts and other politicians are critical of Trump. For instance:
- Former Attorney General Eric Holder, who served under President Obama, writes on Twitter, “In the USA we do not threaten to jail political opponents. [Donald Trump] said he would. He is promising to abuse the power of the office.”
- John Yoo, a former Justice Department official under President George W. Bush who defended the US government’s use of torture, says that Trump “reminds me a lot of early Mussolini. . . . Very, disturbingly similar.” He also calls Trump’s promise to appoint a special prosecutor to go after Clinton is “a compounded stupidity,” because “if you are a Republican or a conservative, you think that special prosecutors are unconstitutional.” (The Washington Post, 10/12/2016)
- Paul Charlton, a former federal prosecutor and US attorney under George W. Bush, states, “For Donald Trump to say he will have a special prosecutor appointed and to have tried and convicted her already and say she’d go to jail is wholly inappropriate and the kind of talk more befitting a Third World country than it is our democracy. … The Department of Justice isn’t a political tool and it ought not to be employed that way.”
- Marc Jimenez, a lawyer who served on the legal team backing Bush in the Bush v. Gore Supreme Court showdown and also was a US attorney under George W. Bush, says: “This statement demonstrates the clear and present danger that Trump presents to our justice system. For a president to ‘instruct’ an attorney general to commence any prosecution or take any particular action is abhorrent. If it occurred, it would be a politically motivated decision that would cheapen the Department of Justice and contradict the core principle that prosecutors should never consider political factors in their charging or other decisions.”
- Peter Zeidenberg, a former federal prosecutor who worked in George W. Bush’s White House, says: “A special prosecutor is supposed to investigate and isn’t appointed to put people in jail. You’re kind of skipping over an important step there. Can you imagine being the defendant prosecuted after being told the prosecutor was someone who was appointed to put you in jail, that had already foreordained that result? … It’s absurd and, if it were serious, it would be absolutely terrifying because it suggests there’s no due process.” (Politico, 10/10/2016)
- Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary under George W. Bush and a supporter of Trump, writes on Twitter, “Winning candidates don’t threaten to put opponents in jail. Presidents don’t threaten prosecution of individuals. Trump is wrong on this.” (The Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/10/2016)
- Michael Mukasey, who served as attorney general for George W. Bush, says, “That to me is the… is a watershed event… that it’s the president of a different party. That makes it an entirely different kind of exercise in my view.” Mukasey spoke at the Republican convention in July 2016, but he says Trump’s suggestion “would make us look like a banana republic.” (NPR, 10/10/2016)
- Paul Staniland, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, says these kinds of attacks “can undermine the whole idea of democratic elections, where each side agrees that whoever won will then rule. … This is something that, as someone who studies the developing world and political violence, is kind of freaky. It kind of reminds me of Bangladesh. Thailand is like this, too. You have this real sense that whoever wins the election will go after the loser. Even if leaders succeed only rarely in using the state to punish their rivals, that can quickly spiral out of control, turning politics into a zero-sum game for control over the institutions of law and order.”
- Sheri Berman, a professor of political science at Barnard College in New York, says, “The rhetoric alone is extremely dangerous because it undermines people’s belief in our democratic institutions and process. Strongmen typically come to power in democracies, by telling citizens to distrust institutions and procedure — that what is needed is to burn it all down.”
- Adrienne LeBas, a political scientist at American University, says Trump’s comment is “a threat to the rule of law, a threat to the stability of our institutions, a threat to basic agreements that are necessary for democracy to function. For those of us who work on authoritarian regimes and hybrid regimes, this sort of thing is just eerily familiar.” She calls this “the absolute personalization of power,” similar to what has been seen in “Zimbabwe, Togo, Ethiopia, cases like that, where there are explicit threats to imprison opponents.” (New York Times, 10/11/2016)
- Twenty-three Republican former Justice Department officials sign a statement criticizing his jail threat and calling for Trump’s defeat in November, 2016.
Trump tells Clinton he would appoint a special prosecutor to look into her use of a private email server, and says he would put her in jail.
Just two days after Wikileaks releases their first batch of hacked emails from Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta, there is a presidential debate in St. Louis, Missouri, and it includes a contentious exchange between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton over her use of a private email server while she is secretary of state.
He says, “I think the one that you should really be apologizing for and the thing that you should be apologizing for are the 33,000 emails that you deleted, and that you acid washed, and then the two boxes of emails and other things last week that were taken from an office and are now missing. And I’ll tell you what. I didn’t think I’d say this, but I’m going to say it, and I hate to say it. But if I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation, because there has never been so many lies, so much deception. There has never been anything like it, and we’re going to have a special prosecutor.”
He continues, “When I speak, I go out and speak, the people of this country are furious. In my opinion, the people that have been long-term workers at the FBI are furious. There has never been anything like this, where emails… and you get a subpoena, you get a subpoena, and after getting the subpoena, you delete 33,000 emails, and then you acid wash them or bleach them, as you would say, very expensive process. So we’re going to get a special prosecutor, and we’re going to look into it, because you know what? People have been… their lives have been destroyed for doing one-fifth of what you’ve done. And it’s a disgrace. And honestly, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
Clinton responds, “Everything he just said is absolutely false, but I’m not surprised.”
Trump asks, “Oh really?”
Clinton gives a long response which ends with the comment, “It’s good that somebody with the temperament of Donald Trump is not running this country.”
Martha Raddatz follows up with a question for Clinton, “And Secretary Clinton, I do want to follow-up on e-mails. You’ve said your handling of your e-mails was a mistake, you’ve disagreed with the FBI Director James Comey calling your handling of classified information “extremely careless”. The FBI said there were 110 classified e-mails which were exchanged, eight of which were top secret and it was possible hostile actors did gain access to those e-mails. You don’t call that extremely careless?”
Clinton responds,… “I take classified materials very seriously and always have. When I was on the Senate Armed Services Committee, I was privy to a lot of classified material. Obviously, as secretary of state I had some of the most important secrets that we possess, such as going after Bin Laden. So, I am very committed to taking classified information seriously and as I said, there is no evidence that any classified information ended up in the wrong hands.”
Trump answers, again with the suggestion that Hillary would be in jail if she were anyone else, … “If you did that in the private sector, you’d be put in jail, let alone after getting a subpoena from the United States Congress.” (The Hill, 10/9/2016) (The New York Times, 10/9/2016)
Trump’s comments draw many reactions. His vice presidential candidate Mike Pence approves. However, many others, including Republicans, react negatively. That includes 23 former Republican Justicee Department officials, who write a letter condemning the comments.
FBI Director James Comey writes a letter to FBI employees defending the FBI’s actions in its Clinton email investigation.
The letter is released to CNN on the same day, and publicly published in full. Addressing his decision not to recommend the indictment of Clinton, Comey writes, “At the end of the day, the case itself was not a cliff-hanger; despite all the chest-beating by people no longer in government, there really wasn’t a prosecutable case.”
CNN also reports that over the past several weeks, “Comey has met with groups of former FBI agents as part of his routine visits to field offices around the country. In at least one recent such meeting, according to people familiar with the meeting, former agents were sharply critical of the FBI’s handling of the Clinton probe and particularly the decision to not recommend charges against Clinton. Comey gave the meeting participants a similar answer about the case not being a cliff-hanger.” (CNN, 9/7/2016)
A later CNN article will identify the particularly contentious meeting as taking place in Kansas City. (CNN, 11/2/2016)
In the letter, Comey also defends his decision to release the FBI’s final report on the investigation (with significant redactions). That was a highly unusual move, because that usually only happens after an indictment or conviction. He makes a particular point to defend the timing of the report’s release, as it came out on a Friday afternoon just before the three-day Labor Day weekend.
A majority of Americans think Clinton should be indicted over her emails.
According to an ABC News / Washington Post poll, 56 percent disapprove of FBI Director James Comey’s recommendation not to indict Clinton, while just 35 percent approve. Very similar numbers agree or disagree that this worries them about how she might act if she is elected president.
However, most voters have already made up their minds about her: Only 28 percent say her email controversy makes them less likely to support her, while 10 percent say it makes them more likely to do so.
A large majority of Republicans think she should be indicted and a large majority of Democrats think she shouldn’t. But even about 30 percent of Democrats think she should be indicted, and about 60 percent of independents think so as well. (ABC News, 7/11/2016)
FBI Director Comey claims David Petraeus’ security violations were more serious than Clinton’s.
At a Congressional hearing, FBI Director James Comey is asked to compare the cases of Clinton and former CIA Director David Petraeus. Petraeus pled guilty to a misdemeanor in 2015 and served no jail time. Comey says that Petraeus’ case “illustrates the categories of behavior that mark prosecutions that are actually brought. Clearly intentional conduct. Knew what he was doing was violation of the law. Huge amounts of information if you couldn’t prove he knew, it raises the inference he did it, and effort to obstruct justice, that combination of things making it worthy of a prosecution. A misdemeanor prosecution but a prosecution nonetheless.” He says he stands by the FBI’s decision to prosecute Petraeus and not Clinton. (Politico, 7/7/2016) (CNN, 7/7/2016)
FBI Director Comey suggests Clinton would be punished if she still were a government official.
At a Congressional hearing, FBI Director James Comey is questioned by Representative Jason Chaffetz (R) about whether Clinton would be able to get a security clearance if she applied for a job at the FBI.
Comey replies, “I didn’t say there’s no consequence for someone who violates the rules regarding the handling of classified information. There are often very severe consequences in the FBI involving their employment, involving their pay, involving their clearances. … I hope folks walk away understanding that just because someone’s not prosecuted for mishandling classified information, that doesn’t mean, if you work in the FBI, there aren’t consequences for it.”
Chaffetz asks, “So if Hillary Clinton or if anybody had worked at the FBI under this fact pattern, what would you do to that person?”
Comey replies, “There would be a security review and an adjudication of their suitability and a range of discipline could be imposed from termination to reprimand and in between, suspensions, loss of clearance. So you could be walked out or you could — depending upon the nature of the facts — you could be reprimanded. But there is a robust process to handle that.” (Politico, 7/7/2016) (CNN, 7/7/2016) (CNN, 7/7/2016)
FBI Director James Comey says Clinton gave access to between three and nine people without the proper security clearance, but doesn’t see that as a prosecutable offense.
In a Congressional hearing, Representative Jason Chaffetz (R) asks Comey, “So there are hundreds of classified documents on [Clinton’s private] servers, how many people without a security clearance had access to that server?”
Comey replies, “I don’t know the exact number as I sit here, it’s probably more than two, less than ten.” He also says, “Yes, there’s no doubt that uncleared people had access to the server because even after [Bryan] Pagliano there were others who maintained the server who were private sector folks.” [This is a likely reference to Justin Cooper and possibly others, such as Oscar Flores, Jon Davidson, and Doug Band.]
Additionally, he reveals that Clinton’s three lawyers who sorted her emails and deleted over 31,000 of them — David Kendall, Cheryl Mills, and Heather Samuelson — did not have the “security clearances needed.”
He is asked by Chaffetz, “Does that concern you?”
Comey replies, “Oh yes, sure.”
Chaffetz asks, “Is there any consequence to an attorney rifling through Secretary Clinton’s, Hillary Clinton’s, e-mails without a security clearance?”
Comey responds, “Well, not necessarily criminal consequences, but there’s a great deal of concern about an uncleared person not subject to the requirements we talked [about] potentially having access [to classified information].”
Chaffetz then asks, “What’s the consequence? They don’t work for the government, we can’t fire them, so is there no criminal prosecution of those attorneys. Should they lose their bar license? What’s the consequence to this?”
Comey replies that he doesn’t have proof “they acted with criminal intent or active with some mal-intent…”
Chaffetz complains, “So there’s no intent? It doesn’t matter if these people have security clearances?” He suggests they and Clinton should be prosecuted for this violation.
Then he adds, “I asked you at the very beginning, does Hillary Clinton, is there a reasonable expectation that Hillary Clinton would send and receive if not day — hourly if not daily, classified information. That’s reasonable to think that the secretary of state would get classified information every moment. She’s not the head of Fish and Wildlife, so the idea that she would turn over her emails, her system, her server to, what it sounds like, up to ten people without security clearances and there’s no consequence. So why not do it again?”
After more back and forth, he asks, How can [it be] there’s no intent there? Does she not understand that these people don’t have security clearances?”
Comey replies, “Surely she understands at least some of them don’t have security clearances.”
Chaffetz then says, “So she understands they don’t have security clearances and it’s reasonable to think she’s going to be [emailing] classified information. Is that not intent to provide a non-cleared person access to classified information?”
Comey says, “I don’t think it’s reasonable to assume… that someone who is maintaining your server is reading your emails. In fact, I don’t think that’s the case here. There’s a separate thing, which is when she is engaging counsel to comply with the State Department’s request, are her lawyers then exposed [to] information that may be on there that’s classified, so…”
Comey goes on to suggest that there’s no proof that any of her three lawyers read any of Clinton’s classified emails while sorting them. “I don’t know whether they read them at the time.” Then, although he admits that Clinton gave non-cleared people access to classified information, he again argues that proving intent is necessary, and concludes, “I don’t see the evidence there to make a case that she was acting with criminal intent in her engagement with her lawyers.”
Chaffetz comments, “I read criminal intent as the idea that you allow somebody without a security clearance access to classified information. Everybody knows that, Director, everybody knows that.” (CNN, 7/7/2016)
- Bryan Pagliano
- Cheryl Mills
- classified information
- Congressional oversight
- David Kendall
- FBI's Clinton email investigation
- Heather Samuelson
- Hillary Clinton
- House Oversight and Government Reform Committee
- James Comey
- Jason Chaffetz
- Jon Davidson (JD)
- Justin Cooper
- possible Clinton indictment
- private server
- security clearance
Comey says he didn’t recommend Clinton be charged because he couldn’t prove intent, despite the gross negligence law.
In Congressional testimony, FBI Director James Comey essentially argues that Clinton was guilty of gross negligence, which doesn’t require proof of intent, but he was only willing to indict her on intent-related charges, and there wasn’t enough evidence for that. He says: “Certainly, she should have known not to send classified information. As I said, that’s the definition of negligent. I think she was extremely careless. I think she was negligent. That, I could establish. What we can’t establish is that she acted with the necessary criminal intent.” (CNN, 7/7/2016)
Representative William Hurd (R) asks, “What does it take for someone to misuse classified information and get in trouble for it?”
Comey answers, “It takes mishandling it and criminal intent.” He admits that Clinton mishandled the information by having it on a private server, but he doesn’t see evidence of criminal intent. (CNN, 7/7/2016)
He further comments, “There’s not evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that she knew she was receiving classified information or that she intended to retain it on her server. There’s evidence of that, but when I said there’s not clear evidence of intent, that’s what I meant. I could not, even if the Department of Justice would bring that case, I could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt those two elements.” (CNN, 7/7/2016)
At another point in the hearing, he argues, “The question of whether [what she did] amounts to gross negligence frankly is really not at the center of this because when I look at the history of the prosecutions and see, it’s been one case brought on a gross negligence theory.” (CNN, 7/7/2016)
The law criminalizing gross negligence in national security lapses was enacted in 1917. Comey says, “I know from 30 years there’s no way anybody at the Department of Justice is bringing a case against John Doe or Hillary Clinton for the second time in 100 years based on those facts.”
The FBI later confirms to Politico that James Smith is the one case Comey is referring to. Smith, a longtime FBI agent, was arrested in 2003 and charged with gross negligence. However, he later pleaded guilty in return for having the charges reduced to one count of making false statements. (Politico, 7/7/2016)
But Comey’s claim that gross negligence has only been used once in recent decades is true only if one looks at cases brought by the Justice Department. Cases have also been brought in the military justice system.
Additionally, Politico points out, “Comey’s universe was also limited to cases actually brought, as opposed to threatened. The gross negligence charge is often on the table when prosecutors persuade defendants to plead guilty to the lesser misdemeanor offense of mishandling classified information.” (Politico, 7/7/2016)
Later in the hearing, Representative Blake Farenthold (R) says, “So Congress when they enacted that statute said ‘gross negligence.’ That doesn’t say ‘intent.’ So what are we going to have to enact to get you guys to prosecute something based on negligence or gross negligence? Are we going to have to add, ‘and oh by the way, we don’t mean — we really do mean you don’t have to have intent there?'”
Comey replies, “That’s a conversation for you all to have with the Department of Justice. But it would have to be something more than the statute enacted in 1917. Because for 99 years, they’ve been very worried about its constitutionality.” (CNN, 7/7/2016)
Representative Tim Walberg (R) asks him, “Do you believe that the — that since the Department of Justice hasn’t used the statute Congress passed, it’s invalid?”
Comey responds, “No. I think they are worried that it is invalid, that it will be challenged on Constitutional grounds, which is why they’ve used it extraordinarily sparingly in the decades.” (CNN, 7/7/2016)
During the hearing, it is pointed out several times that felony crime based on negligence and not intent are common at both the state and federal level, for intance manslaughter instead of murder, and their consitutionality has never been successfully challenged. At one point, Comey admits other negligence cases have been sustained in the federal system: “They’re mostly, as you talked about earlier, in the environmental and Food and Drug Administration [FDA] area.” (CNN, 7/7/2016)
But he is adamant about not indicting any cases without being able to prove intent. At one point, he even suggests he is philosophically opposed to any laws based on negligence when he mentions, “When I was in the private sector, I did a lot of work with the Chamber of Commerce to stop the criminalization of negligence in the United States.” (CNN, 7/7/2016)