The Department of Justice continues to leak like a sieve in the wake of FBI director James Comey’s decision to reveal details about an ongoing investigation into Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. Anonymous law enforcement officials are now spilling details about any number of active inquiries and, for the third time in a week, a major revelation benefits Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
The most recent leak discredits a claim by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who alleged in a letter last week that the agency is sitting on “explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government.”
The Nevada Democrat’s casual assertion that the GOP nominee is colluding with a hostile foreign government was stunning. It also carried echoes of Reid’s claim during the 2012 election that he had information suggesting GOP nominee and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney hadn’t paid federal taxes for 10 years.
Reid’s attack on Romney was baseless and false, and it’s beginning to look as though his claim about Trump’s coordination with the Kremlin is, too.
Late yesterday, The New York Times reported that the FBI had, indeed, investigated Trump to see if he and his campaign had illicit ties to the Russian government. It appears to have been part of a larger look at Russian influence on the election, including Moscow’s involvement in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s computer systems and the emails of top Democratic operatives.
However, according to anonymous sources speaking to The Times, what they found is the opposite of what Reid claimed:
“Law enforcement officials say that none of the investigations so far have found any conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government. And even the hacking into Democratic emails, F.B.I. and intelligence officials now believe, was aimed at disrupting the presidential election rather than electing Mr. Trump.”
While it appears to exonerate Mr. Trump of false and inflammatory charges, the new leak from the FBI further complicates an already contentious relationship between Democrats in Congress and the Justice Department.
(Ironically, the revelation came on the same day it was reported that Comey had declined to endorse an official report from the intelligence community asserting that hacking attacks on Democratic officials were orchestrated by Moscow. The FBI’s analysts agreed with the finding, but Comey apparently argued that the release was inappropriate so close to an election.)
Democrats were already furious about Comey’s decision to send a letter to Congress on Friday revealing the existence of a cache of unexamined emails related to the Clinton case. In doing so he broke with Justice Department precedent and handed a lifeline to the floundering Trump campaign. Former attorneys general and Justice Department officials from both parties have condemned the action as inappropriate.
Then, over the weekend, sources within the FBI provided The Wall Street Journal with details about an investigation into whether there were improper ties between the Clinton Foundation, foreign donors, and the Department of State while Hillary Clinton was serving as secretary of state. The story detailed the frustrations of agents involved in the investigation, who reportedly believe that their efforts were being sabotaged by Justice Department officials.
With only a week to go before the election, there is the strong possibility of more drama to come. The Department of Justice on Monday sent a terse letter to members of Congress that left open the possibility that more details concerning the recently uncovered cache of emails could come out before voters go to the polls.
Democrats had demanded that the Department of Justice take action to remove the cloud of uncertainty that Comey’s letter to Congress created over Clinton and her candidacy. On Monday, Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik wrote, “the Department will continue to work closely with the FBI and together, dedicate all necessary resources and take appropriate steps as expeditiously as possible.”
In an interview on MSNBC Monday afternoon, Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, dismissed the letter as inadequate. “That’s like when you place a telephone call to a company where you want to ask a question and they say, ‘Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line. Listen to this wonderful music and the next available operator will be with you.’”
As other Democrats have, Leahy called on law enforcement officials to find a way to ameliorate a situation in which a federal law enforcement agency has inserted itself, in an unprecedented way, into a presidential election.
“I’ve known Jim Comey for a long time, I’ve always considered him a professional – a man of integrity. But even a professional and a person of integrity can make a very bad mistake. He’s made a bad mistake by not following the normal procedures of the Department of Justice – procedures followed by both Republican and Democratic administrations.”