Investigations. Leaks. Rumors. Innuendo.
Welcome to the 2016 presidential campaign’s final days, which have been overwhelmed by the FBI’s handling of its investigation into Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE’s private email server.
The daily spring of leaks coming out of the FBI has made it appear that the law enforcement agency is at war with itself. And the fight is playing out through conflicting stories in the media, angering Republicans and Democrats alike.
“It’s total chaos,” said Matt Miller, a former Department of Justice (DOJ) spokesman who backs Clinton for president.
Many Democrats are seething over FBI Director James Comey’s decision to tell Congress that his agents had come across new information potentially related to the bureau’s investigation of Clinton’s emails during her time as secretary of State. They argue Comey is meddling in the election and tilting the scales by making the investigation public.
“You drop something like this in the middle of a presidential campaign, it puts the FBI into the middle of a partisan battle and generates leaks on all sides, between Republicans and Democrats, the FBI and the DOJ, FBI officials and their superiors,” said Miller. “It’s a complete breakdown in the rules that govern these institutions. It’s terrible for them. It’s terrible for the campaigns and the election.”
The polls were tightening even before Comey’s bombshell, and some Democrats are now openly fretting that the development might cost their party’s nominee the White House — though most think it is more likely that Clinton will still win, albeit with a smaller margin.
The FBI and the wider legal and justice communities are bitterly divided over Comey’s actions, and their arguments are playing out both publicly and behind the scenes.
A flurry of reports about possible FBI probes regarding GOP nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE’s campaign have made headlines, stoking suspicion among some Republicans that FBI officials are leaking damaging stories about Trump to give the appearance of a level playing field.
“It certainly looks that way,” said veteran GOP operative Charlie Black, a close friend of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
A report from NBC alleged that the FBI has opened a preliminary inquiry into Manafort’s business and political dealings in Russia and Ukraine.
Manafort says he has not been contacted by the FBI.
A New York Times report based on FBI leaks revealed that the agency pursued an investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russian investors, replete with juicy details about a Trump campaign computer communicating through back channels with a computer at a Russian bank.
Black underlined the idea of an interagency fight playing out publicly — and with huge implications for Nov. 8.
“We know from everything we’ve heard that the FBI has been demoralized since the July announcement and a lot of different people have been incentivized to do things against the rules, more so than usual,” Black said. “I think the discipline is not there right now, which is too bad. Hopefully they’ll get it back.”
The Clinton and Trump campaigns are on edge over what explosive revelations might surface next and in many cases are learning about new developments through the press.
The Republican nominee has seized on the issue and is launching new advertising in a host of battleground states in order to secure a win.
Trump’s ads are running in Florida and Ohio, two states the businessman must win to secure the White House, as well as in Michigan and New Mexico, where he is a decided underdog.
Clinton is also running new ads in New Mexico and Michigan as well as Colorado and Virginia, two other states where she has been a clear favorite.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the new Clinton ads reflected worries for her bid or were an example of a campaign with a lead playing it safe.
While there has been a partisan edge to the fighting, Comey is not getting a ton of cover from Republicans.
Some in the GOP are still fuming at the FBI director for concluding the investigation of Clinton’s server in July by not recommending criminal charges. Others are baffled by the vagueness of his open-ended inquiry into Clinton’s emails, which is unlikely to be resolved by Election Day.
“Your letter failed to give Congress and the American people enough context to evaluate the significance or full meaning of this development,” Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyRepublicans release newly declassified intelligence document on FBI source Steele Nursing homes under scrutiny after warnings of seized stimulus checks Republicans prepare to punt on next COVID-19 relief bill MORE (Iowa), the Republican head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote in a letter to the FBI.
“Without additional context, your disclosure is not fair to Congress, the American people, or Secretary Clinton.”
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Comey’s actions have raised questions about whether he violated Justice Department protocol by releasing material information about an investigation during the final stretch of a campaign in a manner that might influence the outcome.
Democrats have seized on a report — this one from CNBC and based on claims made by an anonymous former FBI official — that Comey passed on releasing information surrounding an investigation into Russian meddling in the election because he feared it might impact the presidential race.
The Clinton campaign has instructed its surrogates to swing back hard at the FBI, according to talking points obtained by The Hill.
Clinton’s supporters will be swamping the airwaves, seeking to discredit Comey and cast doubt on his motives.
But the landscape was further muddied on Monday by a separate leak — this one reported by The Washington Post — that detailed how FBI agents pushed for an investigation into the Clinton Foundation over claims it gave favors and special access to donors.
The Clinton Foundation said it has not been contacted by the FBI.
Adding to the uncertainty for the Clinton campaign is the daily drama wrought by the network of global hackers that have lined up against the Democrat.
WikiLeaks is publishing from its trove of campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails — believed by the intelligence community to have been stolen by Russian hackers — on a near-daily basis.
Many of the emails lack context, but Tuesday’s edition featured one from Podesta saying it’s time to “dump all those emails.”
In another bizarre twist to the story, Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom, whom the feds are trying to prosecute for running an alleged multibillion-dollar internet piracy scheme, is trying to get in touch with House investigators, claiming he knows how to legally obtain the emails deleted off Clinton’s private server.