Did Trump allies inside the FBI attempt a coup on the eve of the 2016 presidential election? That is the latest question that comes as new details emerged Friday, following confirmation of FBI agents' illegal leaks about the Hillary Clinton email investigation, and the FBI director’s similarly illegal interference in the election by revealing the FBI wanted to reopen its probe.
On Friday, it became clear that top Trump campaign officials knew the FBI was going to reopen its case before FBI director James Comey made the announcement a week ago in a letter to House Republicans—and that they possibly had a role in forcing the decision. That conclusion and open question arose after parsing a series of televised comments by Rudy Giuliani, the ex-federal prosecutor, ex-New York City mayor and top Trump ally in which Giuliani repeatedly bragged about leaks from disgruntled, Clinton-hating FBI agents.
The sequence of Giuliani's statements and backtracking, augmented by other statements from former top-ranking New York City FBI agents who are Trump allies, suggest a cadre of Hillary-hating agents pushed the Bureau to interfere in the 2016 election in a manner that can only be described as an attempted coup.
Before Comey's announcement that the FBI wanted to examine Clinton emails found on a computer in the sexting scandal surrounding Anthony Wiener, Giuliani told Fox News, “I think he’s [Trump] got a surprise or two that you’re going to hear about in the next few days… I’m talking about some pretty big surprises… We got a couple of things up our sleeve that should turn this around.”
Then last Friday, the day Comey’s letter to Congress surfaced, Giuliani told Fox, “The other rumor that I get is there’s a kind of revolution going on inside the FBI about the original conclusion [by Comey in July that Clinton did not criminally mishandle classified material] being completely unjustified. I know that from former agents. I know that from even a few active agents.”
Then this Tuesday, Giuliani backtracked, telling Fox, “I am real careful not to talk to any on-duty, active FBI agents. I don’t want to put them in a compromising position. But I sure have a lot of friends who are retired FBI agents… I did nothing to get it [the FBI announcement] out. I had no role in it. Did I hear about it? You’re darn right I heard about it, and I cannot even repeat the language that I heard.”
There are several layers to parse here. First, as Miles Gerety, an ex-Connecticut public defender and defense attorney said, no federal law enforcement agent is supposed to talk about ongoing investigations. This means leaks to the Trump campaign breaks their oaths of office and violates Justice Department rules. But that illegality jumps into a wider orbit when FBI personnel intentionally interfere in elections, a violation of the federal Hatch Act.
“The FBI should not be interfering in American elections, period,” Gerety said. “This reminds me of the McCarthy era, when FBI agents followed my dad who was an assistant Secretary of State and wanted him to make certain statements… I thought the FBI was past the Hoover era, of blackmail and interfering… The notion that her emails are so important that they can undermine a federal election. There is no equivalency here.”
The unanswered question is what role did Giuliani and his allies inside the New York City FBI have in pressuring Comey to reopen the email investigation, and in so doing, alert the House Republican leadership. It is no secret that the FBI, like many law enforcement agencies, mirrors Trump’s base—it’s overly white, male and conservative. Add to that the factor that the Weiner investigation was being handled by the bureau’s New York City office, which has deep connections to Giuliani and the Trump campaign, and a volatile brew emerges.
Wayne Barrett, who has been writing investigative articles about New York City for decades, laid out some of the links between the FBI’s New York City office and the Trump campaign in a piece for the Daily Beast. It describes how Giuliani’s law firm not only has ongoing business with agents, but that top former agents, including the city’s bureau chief, have been some of Clinton’s most vocal critics and have assailed Comey for shutting down the email inquiry last July.
“Along with Giuliani’s other connections to New York FBI agents, his former law firm, then called Bracewell Giuliani, has long been general counsel to the FBI Agents Association (FBIAA), which represents 13,000 former and current agents,” Barrett wrote. “Back in August, during a contentious CNN interview about Comey’s July announcement clearing Hillary Clinton of criminal charges, Giuliani advertised his illicit FBI sources, who circumvented bureau guidelines to discuss a case with a public partisan. ‘The decision perplexes me. It perplexes Jim Kallstrom, who worked for him. It perplexes numerous FBI agents who talk to me all the time. And it embarrasses some FBI agents.’”
As Barrett notes, Kallstrom is the former head of the New York FBI office. He was appointed to that job in the 1990s by then-FBI director Louis Freeh, a longtime Giuliani friend. “Kallstrom has, like Giuliani, been on an anti-Comey romp for months, most often on Fox, where he’s called the Clintons a ‘crime family,’” Barrett wrote. “He has been invoking unnamed FBI agents who contact him to complain about Comey’s exoneration of Clinton in one interview after another, positioning himself as an apolitical champion of FBI values.”
This fall, Kallstrom told Fox that “a lot of retired agents and a few on the job… feel like they’ve been stabbed in the back,” and, “I think we’re going to see a lot more of the facts come out in the course of the next few months. That’s my prediction.”
In other words, Kallstrom, like Guiliani, has been talking with FBI agents who have been leaking information about Clinton’s emails. Kallstrom, who endorsed Trump on Fox, calling Clinton a “pathological liar,” created a charity for Marine Corps veterans, Barrett said, which “was the single biggest beneficiary of Trump’s promise to raise millions for veterans when he boycotted the Iowa primary debate. A foundation official said that Trump’s million-dollar donation this May, atop $100,000 he’d given in March, were the biggest individual grants it had ever received. The Trump Foundation had contributed another $230,000 in prior years and Trump won the organization’s top honor at its annual Waldorf Astoria gala in 2015.” Trump “allowed Kallstrom’s organization to hold fundraisers ‘pro bono’” at his now-closed Atlantic City casinos, Barrett added.
“Fox is the pipeline for the fifth column inside the bureau, a battalion that says it’s doing God’s work, chasing justice against those who are obstructing it, while, in fact, it’s doing GOP work, even on the eve of a presidential election,” Barrett concludes.
Giuliani’s own admissions reveal the Trump campaign knew the FBI planned to review more emails tied to Hillary Clinton before a public announcement about the investigation was made last week. But what’s unknown is what role the Trump campaign’s allies in New York City FBI circles had in creating a situation that forced Comey’s hand in reopening the email investigation and publicly announcing it—unlike the bureau’s inquiry into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.
On Friday, Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon, tweeted, “This sure seems like adequate grounds for an Inspector General review.” And the Washington Post reported that Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., and Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-MI, also called on the Inspector General to investigate leaks and referenced Giuliani’s comments.
But that investigation, if it occurs, will be too little, too late. Right now, as Gerety, the retired Connecticut public defender emphasized, it is clear that the FBI is breaking the law by agents talking about ongoing investigations and its director interfering in a presidential election. And as Barrett’s reporting reveals, there are open lines between the New York City bureau and the Trump campaign.
The only question is, did Giuliani push his allies inside the FBI to force Comey’s hand? Or did Hillary-hating agents act on their own to please the Trump campaign and get even with their Washington-based director who shut down their investigation last summer? Either way, it is an appalling scenario that shows the most egregious abuses of power.