Clinton scandals have a way of begetting more Clinton scandals (like how a failed ’70s real-estate investment somehow led to Bill Clinton’s impeachment), so it’s fitting that another big revelation has emerged from FBI director James Comey’s announcement regarding the contents of Anthony Weiner’s laptop. Fourteen paragraphs into a report on the internal feuding between the FBI and the Justice Department over the Clinton email probe, The Wall Street Journal mentions that the bureau has been investigating the Clinton Foundation.
It appears the probe was in its preliminary stages, and while some at the FBI wanted to launch a more robust investigation into allegations that the charity provided improper favors or political access to donors, the Justice Department’s public integrity unit said there was not enough evidence to move forward with the case.
“We are not aware of any investigation into the Foundation by the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, or any United States Attorney’s Office and we have not received a subpoena from any of those agencies,” the Clinton Foundation told the Washington Post on Sunday.
However, according to the Journal, FBI field offices in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Little Rock have been collecting information on the charity for more than a year. The New York office did the most work on the case, with help from Little Rock. The L.A. office picked up information about the foundation in an unrelated public-corruption case, and D.C. was looking at the charity as part of its ongoing investigation into Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, who is a former Clinton Foundation board member.
FBI officials presented their findings to the Justice Department in February, seeking approval to step up their investigation. Per the Journal:
By all accounts, the meeting didn’t go well.
Some said that is because the FBI didn’t present compelling evidence to justify more aggressive pursuit of the Clinton Foundation, and that the career anticorruption prosecutors in the room simply believed it wasn’t a very strong case. Others said that from the start, the Justice Department officials were stern, icy and dismissive of the case.
“That was one of the weirdest meetings I’ve ever been to,” one participant told others afterward, according to people familiar with the matter.
FBI agents continued probing the foundation using methods that did not require Justice Department approval. A source says that when a Justice Department official caught wind of this, he complained to Andrew McCabe, the bureau’s second-in-command. McCabe pushed back, and some say that after the call he reiterated his instructions for FBI agents to continue looking into the foundation. However, some lower-level FBI operatives claim they were instructed to “stand down.”
McCabe reportedly shut down an effort by agents working the foundation case to obtain the emails searched as part of the Clinton server probe. After prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York denied their request in September, the agents on the foundation case wanted to go to federal prosecutors, but McCabe said they couldn’t “go prosecutor-shopping.”
It’s not clear if the FBI turned up any significant evidence against the Clinton Foundation. One person told the Post that the presentation to the Justice Department was at least partially based on news reports.
It’s common for the FBI and Justice Department to disagree over whether to pursue an investigation, and while this is surely not the story the Clinton campaign wants to see nine days before an election, the Post notes that the Clintons could argue that this bolsters their insistence that, despite all the smoke surrounding the foundation, there is no fire:
The revelation, though, that public integrity section prosecutors — who are not politically appointed — felt FBI investigators did not have a case is a strong defense for Clinton. The agents’ aggressive posture regarding the Clinton Foundation also could add to the perception that the bureau is treating the Democratic presidential candidate unfairly.
Regardless, expect to hear more about the inter-agency feuding over the Clinton Foundation investigation. Whether the election leaves us with President Trump or just a Republican House, we’re going to spend the next few years examining whether or not Hillary Clinton should be in prison.