James Comey’s decision last July to publicly announce the end of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server was made in part due to bad Russian intelligence alleging collusion between Clinton and the Justice Department. The Washington Post says the intelligence document, which said then–Attorney General Loretta Lynch promised a campaign staffer that she’d go easy on Clinton, led Comey to “take the extraordinary step” of announcing the investigation’s findings without involving the Justice Department.
He feared that if Lynch made the announcement and the document leaked, it would undermine the entire investigation, the paper says. Along with the now-infamous meeting between Lynch and Bill Clinton on an Arizona tarmac, which Comey said unsettled him, this was enough for him to keep the attorney general out of the loop with regards to the Clinton announcement.
But just a month after Comey made his announcement about the end of the investigation, and heavily criticized Clinton in the process, the FBI deemed the Russian intelligence unreliable, possibly even fake.
From the moment the bureau received the document from a source in early March 2016, its veracity was the subject of an internal debate at the FBI. Several people familiar with the matter said the bureau’s doubts about the document hardened in August when officials became more certain that there was nothing to substantiate the claims in the Russian document.
The FBI tried to verify the document, which described an email from former DNC head Debbie Wasserman Schultz to Leonard Benardo of George Soros’s Open Society Foundations. The email said that Lynch told Clinton staffer Amanda Renteria that she would prevent the investigation from going too deep.
But after failing to obtain the email, the bureau didn’t dig much further. It seemingly didn’t even interview the people at the center of the claim.
Wasserman Schultz and Benardo said in separate interviews with The Washington Post that they do not know each other and have never communicated. Renteria, in an interview, and people familiar with Lynch’s account said the two also do not know each other and have never communicated. Lynch declined to comment for this article.
So how, then, did this document weaving all these people together come to be? And why did the FBI take it seriously? One expert suggests it was a tale weaved by conspiracy theorists.
When asked, the individuals named in the document struggled to fathom why their identities would have been woven together in a document describing communications they said never happened. But others recognized the dim outlines of a conspiracy theory that would be less surprising in Russia, where Soros — the founder of the organization Benardo works for — and Clinton are both regarded as political enemies of the Kremlin.
“The idea that Russians would tell a story in which the Clinton campaign, Soros and even an Obama administration official are connected — that Russians might tell such a story, that is not at all surprising,” said Matt Rojansky, a Russia expert and director of the Kennan Institute at the Wilson Center. “Because that is part of the Kremlin worldview.”
There is one other connection that might explain how this whole thing got started. Renteria may have never communicated with the former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, but she knows another woman named Loretta Lynch — who is a lawyer in California.