A new letter from Senators Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham reveal testimony from new witnesses suggesting that former FBI Director James Comey had already started drafting documentation exonerating Hillary Clinton long before interviewing key witnesses, including Hillary herself.
According to the letter, which is based on testimony from James Rybicki, Comey’s Chief of Staff, and Trisha Anderson, the Principal Deputy General Counsel of National Security and Cyberlaw, Comey began drafting a statement to announce the conclusion of the Hillary investigation in April or May 2016, well before he had interviewed up to 17 key witnesses.
Meanwhile, as if that weren’t bad enough, the Comey statement was also drafted before immunity deals were struck with Cheryl Mills and Heather Samuelson who seemingly ran point, along with Platte River Networks, to destroy Hillary’s emails after a Congressional subpoena had been issued mandating their preservation.
Here is a summary from the Grassley/Graham letter:
Transcripts reviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee reveal that former FBI Director James Comey began drafting an exoneration statement in the Clinton email investigation before the FBI had interviewed key witnesses. Chairman Chuck Grassley and Senator Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, requested all records relating to the drafting of the statement as the committee continues to review the circumstances surrounding Comey’s removal from the Bureau.
“Conclusion first, fact-gathering second—that’s no way to run an investigation. The FBI should be held to a higher standard than that, especially in a matter of such great public interest and controversy,” the senators wrote in a letter today to the FBI.
Last fall, following allegations from Democrats in Congress, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) began investigating whether Comey’s actions in the Clinton email investigation violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits government employees from using their official position to influence an election. In the course of that investigation, OSC interviewed two FBI officials close to Comey: James Rybicki, Comey’s Chief of Staff, and Trisha Anderson, the Principal Deputy General Counsel of National Security and Cyberlaw. OSC provided transcripts of those interviews at Grassley’s request after it closed the investigation due to Comey’s termination.
Both transcripts are heavily redacted without explanation. However, they indicate that Comey began drafting a statement to announce the conclusion of the Clinton email investigation in April or May of 2016, before the FBI interviewed up to 17 key witnesses including former Secretary Clinton and several of her closest aides. The draft statement also came before the Department entered into immunity agreements with Cheryl Mills and Heather Samuelson where the Department agreed to a very limited review of Secretary Clinton’s emails and to destroy their laptops after review.
And here is a key excerpt from Ms. Anderson’s testimony:
Q: So moving along to the first public statement on the case or Director Comey’s first statement the July 5, 2016 statement. When did you first learn that Director Comey was planning to make some kind of public statement about the outcome of the Clinton email investigation?
A: The idea, I’m not entirely sure exactly when the idea of the public statement um first emerged. Um it was, I just, I can’t put a precise timeframe on it um but [redaction]. And then I believe it was in early May of 2016 that the Director himself wrote a draft of that statement …
Q: So when you found out in early May that there was, that the Director had written a draft of what the statement might look like, how did you learn about that?
A: [Redacted] gave me a hard copy of it…
Q: So what happened next with respect to the draft?
A: I don’t know for sure um, I don’t know. There were many iterations, at some point there were many iterations of the draft that circulated…
Meanwhile, as a reminder of the timing, if Comey was already drafting a statement clearing Clinton of any wrongdoing in April then it came before any of the following interviews….keep in mind that many people on this list were also granted immunity deals…apparently after Comey had already made up his mind that nothing happened.
1. May 3, 2016 – Paul Combetta
2. May 12, 2016 – Sean Misko
3. May 17, 2016 – Unnamed CIA employee
4. May 19, 2016 – Unnamed CIA employee
5. May 24, 2016 – Heather Samuelson
6. May 26, 2016 – Marcel Lehel (aka Guccifer)
7. May 28, 2016 – Cheryl Mills
8. June 3, 2016 – Charlie Wisecarver
9. June 10, 2016 – John Bentel
10. June 15, 2016 – Lewis Lukens
11. June 21, 2016 – Justin Cooper
12. June 21, 2016 – Unnamed State Dept. Employee
13. June 21, 2016 – Bryan Pagliano
14. June 21, 2016 – Purcell Lee
15. June 23, 2016 – Monica Hanley
16. June 29, 2016 – Hannah Richert
17. July 2, 2016 – Hillary Clinton
And here’s some more background from the letter:
Mr. Comey’s final statement acknowledged “there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information” but nonetheless cleared Secretary Clinton because he claimed there was no intent or obstruction of justice. Yet, evidence of destruction of emails known to be under subpoena by the House of Representatives, and subject to congressional preservation requests, was obtained in interviews around the time that Mr. Comey began drafting his exoneration statement. Moreover, the Justice Department entered into highly unusual immunity agreements with Cheryl Mills and Heather Samuelson in June 2016—after Mr. Comey began drafting his exoneration statement—to review Clinton email archives on their laptops.
The immunity agreements limited the FBI’s ability to review Clinton email archives from Platte River Networks that were created after June 1, 2014, and before February 1, 2015, and which had been sent or received from Secretary Clinton’s four email addresses during her tenure as Secretary of State. These limitations prevented the FBI from reviewing records surrounding a March 2015 conference call that Paul Combetta, an employee of Platte River Networks, had with David Kendall and Ms. Mills, the attorneys for Secretary Clinton. After having been initially untruthful and then receiving his own immunity agreement, Mr. Combetta admitted in his third FBI interview, in May 2016, that after a March 2015 conference call with Secretary Clinton’s attorneys, he used BleachBit to destroy any remaining copies of Clinton’s emails.
The limitations in the immunity agreements with Ms. Mills and Ms. Samuelson also kept the FBI from looking at emails after Secretary Clinton left office—the period in which communications regarding destruction or concealment of federal records would have most likely taken place. And finally, the agreements provided that the Department would destroy any records which it retrieved that were not turned over to the investigative team and would destroy the laptops. Despite public claims by the FBI that the laptops were not in fact destroyed, the purpose of that promise to destroy them has not been explained. However, Judiciary Committee staff reviewed the immunity agreements as part of their oversight work, so there is no question that the terms of the agreement called for the Department to destroy evidence that had not been fully and completely reviewed.
But, we’re sure this is just another attempt to “criminalize behavior that is normal.”
Here is the full letter.