November 6, 2016
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
In the days since FBI Director James Comey wrote to congressional leaders revealing new information in the Hillary Clinton email investigation, Clinton defenders have been spinning furiously in an attempt to mitigate the potential political damage. They have attacked Comey, blamed a rogue band of anti-Clinton FBI officials, suggested the FBI itself has a culture that lends itself to political conservatism, downplayed the Clinton email investigation and denied the existence of a Clinton Foundation investigation. While there are legitimate concerns about the lack of detail accompanying Comey's letter, some of efforts to downplay the seriousness of the FBI investigations, plural, and the professionalism of those conducting them are deeply political and misleading. And the reporting on an investigation of the Clinton Foundation is conflicting and somewhat contradictory.
On Friday, two Democratic congressmen wrote to the FBI requesting an investigation of "leaks" about the case, specifically citing the reporting of my Fox News colleague, Bret Baier. Representatives Elijah Cummings and John Conyers wrote:
They're half right. Baier's comment about a possible indictment came not during his lengthy account of Clinton investigations on "Special Report," the show he anchors, but in a Q&A during a subsequent appearance with Brit Hume. Baier later amended his comment on the "indictment" language he'd used, calling it a mistake, but Fox News is standing by the key claim in Baier's reporting on his show: There is an ongoing investigation into the Clinton Foundation. (Baier's other scoop in the same package, that the FBI has retained the electronic devices it was thought to have destroyed as part of immunity deals with Clinton, remains unchallenged.)
Other reporters at Fox have reporting that backs up Baier's reporting on the Clinton Foundation investigation. (I have one source who says the same thing). And Baier is hardly alone in reporting that the FBI is investigating the Clinton Foundation. Richard Pollock of The Daily Caller has been reporting the same since the summer. And CNN Senior Law Enforcement Analyst Tom Fuentes, a former top FBI official, cited conversations with "several" senior FBI officials when reported three times last weekend that the FBI investigation of the Clinton Foundation was "ongoing."
"The FBI has an intensive investigation ongoing into the Clinton Foundation," Fuentes said. "The FBI made the determination that the investigation would go forward as a comprehensive unified case and be coordinated. So that investigation is ongoing and Huma Abedin and her role in the foundation and possible allegations concerning the activities of the Secretary of State in the nature of the Foundation and possible pay-to-play, that's still being looked at."
Fuentes said the that the discovery of emails on Anthony Weiner's computer led the FBI to reopen the investigation into Clinton's use of email, which had been closed. "That part's being reopened. The Clinton Foundation case didn't need to be reopened. It's never been closed – that's ongoing."
When anchor Poppy Harlow asked Fuentes whether what he was relating were "facts you know from the FBI," Fuentes responded: "Yes, I do. Senior officials at the FBI, several of them."
A Wall Street Journal article published Wednesday provided details of the dispute between the FBI and the Department of Justice over the Clinton Foundation. The article notes that the investigation into the Clinton Foundation began in the summer of 2015 and reports that FBI officials on the investigation believed they had collected enough evidence to intensify their probe. Officials at the Justice Department disagreed and the dispute continued as the presidential nominating contests got underway. As FBI agents pushed to do more, Justice Department officials discouraged their efforts. On August 12, according the WSJ, a senior Justice Deparment official called FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe to complain that FBI agents were "disregarding or disobeying" instructions from DOJ. "The conversation was a tense one, they said, and at one point Mr. McCabe asked, 'Are you telling me that I need to shut down a validly predicated investigation?' The senior Justice Department official replied: 'Of course not.'"
Despite these details, NBC's Pete Williams questioned whether an investigation into the Clinton Foundation ever happened. "There really isn't one," Williams told Chuck Todd in an exchange on MSNBC. "Few want to call it an investigation. That's a term of art in the FBI. There was an initial inquiry that was opened a couple months ago based largely on media reports and a book called Clinton Cash."
Williams timeline contradicts the one reported by the Wall Street Journal, which put the start of the investigation in the summer of 2015 – not "a couple months ago." From the Journal: "Agents, using informants and recordings from unrelated corruption investigations, thought they had found enough material to merit aggressively pursuing the investigation into the foundation that started in summer 2015 based on claims made in a book by a conservative author called "Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich," these people said.
Whether the source of confusion is semantics or politics, a few things are clear: the FBI launched an inquiry of some kind into the Clinton Foundation; some DOJ officials didn't approve of the FBI investigation; and numerous current and former FBI and law enforcement officials continue to insist that the investigation into the Clinton Foundation is active and continuing.
Tom Fuentes is one of them. He tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD that he stands by his comments last week. Fuentes says the FBI's Clinton Foundation probe is "ongoing" and looking at Foundation activities in light of "the recent Wikileaks and Judicial Watch FOIA revelations, which require additional investigation."