From a long but very good piece in Vox by Yochi Dreazen
It’s come to this: The FBI, America’s premier law enforcement agency, just had to decide whether to investigate one of its own Twitter accounts to see if it had an anti-Hillary Clinton bias.
The account in question, @FBIRecordsVault, burst into the news earlier this week after abruptly posting records related to Bill Clinton’s last-minute — and deeply controversial — pardon of financier Marc Rich. An FBI official said in an interview that the bureau’s Office of Professional Responsibility referred the matter to its Inspection Division for a possible investigation into whether anyone in the FBI had intentionally released the documents to hurt Hillary Clinton.
Comey has since come under sustained criticism from law enforcement veterans and lawmakers from both parties who believe he broke with longstanding Justice Department policies by directly intruding into the presidential race — and potentially impacting its outcome.
“There’s a longstanding policy of not doing anything that could influence an election,” George J. Terwilliger III, a deputy attorney general under President George Bush, told the New York Times. “Those guidelines exist for a reason. Sometimes, that makes for hard decisions. But bypassing them has consequences.”
But Comey isn’t the only member of the FBI stepping into the election. Earlier this week, unnamed sources within the bureau told the Wall Street Journal that some FBI agents believed they had enough evidence to begin an aggressive investigation into a potential pay-to-play scheme at the Clinton Foundation, but were overruled by more senior officials.
Another anti-Clinton leak came Thursday, when sources thought to be disgruntled FBI officials told Fox News that an indictment was coming in the Clinton Foundation case. The story gave Trump a new talking point, dominated Fox’s primetime news programming, and rocketed across the conservative media before being debunked by an array of other media outlets. By that point, though, the damage had already been done.
Taken together, it’s easy to come away with the conclusion that the FBI is out to get Hillary Clinton. The truth, though, is far more complicated. The FBI isn’t a monolith, and it isn’t the bureau as a whole that is targeting Clinton. Experts who study the FBI believe the leaks are coming from a small clique of agents who profoundly distrust Clinton and believe she deserves to be punished for what they see as a long record of ethically dubious behavior.
The recent series of FBI leaks are particularly worrisome because they raise the prospect of a state security agency equipped with the full resources and investigative might of the federal government working to interfere in the elections. The FBI is so powerful — it can, with court approval, issue subpoenas, tap phones, intercept emails and conduct round-the-clock surveillance — that even a small coterie of its agents can find ways of influencing the political process. That’s the kind of thing we normally see in autocracies like Egypt or Turkey, not here in the United States.
It’s impossible to know how many agents support Trump, and the anti-Clinton leaks are likely the result of only a tiny minority of the bureau. Still, the fact that a small fraction of the FBI’s workforce has felt free to take steps that could impact the election is profoundly alarming. Comey stumbled by personally entering the political fray. His bigger mistake may have come from signaling to other agents that they could do the same.
Two of Holder’s most recent Republican predecessors, Alberto Gonzales and Michael Mukasey, have also accused the FBI chief of making a serious error in judgement.
Outside experts on the FBI say Comey has made a serious and perhaps irreparable mistake.
“His actions were unprecedented, unethical, shocking, and have apparently led to chaos within the bureau, an unprecedented number of leaks, and chaos in our election cycle,” said Douglas Charles, a history professor at Penn State.
Charles, the author of a book about J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, said Comey has a long history with the Clintons that may have left him with a “personal grudge or underlying or subsumed political motive” to try to derail Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.