FBI Director James Comey. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
From the moment the EmailGate scandal went public more than a year ago, it was obvious that the Federal Bureau of Investigation never had much enthusiasm for prosecuting Hillary Clinton or her friends. Under President Obama, the FBI grew so politicized that it became impossible for the Bureau to do its job – at least where high-ranking Democrats are concerned.
As I observed in early July, when Director James Comey announced that the FBI would not be seeking prosecution of anyone on Team Clinton over EmailGate, the Bureau had turned its back on its own traditions of floating above partisan politics in the pursuit of justice. “Malfeasance by the FBI, its bending to political winds, is a matter that should concern all Americans, regardless of their politics,” I stated, noting that it’s never a healthy turn of events in a democracy when your secret police force gets tarnished by politics.
Just how much Comey and his Bureau punted on EmailGate has become painfully obvious since then. Redacted FBI documents from that investigation, dumped on the Friday afternoon before the long Labor Day weekend, revealed that Hillary Clinton either willfully lied to the Bureau, repeatedly, about her email habits as secretary of state, or she is far too dumb to be our commander-in-chief.
Worse, the FBI completely ignored the appearance of highly classified signals intelligence in Hillary’s email, including information lifted verbatim from above-Top Secret NSA reports back in 2011. This crime, representing the worst compromise of classified information in EmailGate – that the public knows of, at least – was somehow deemed so uninteresting that nobody at the FBI bothered to ask anybody on Team Clinton about it.
This stunning omission appears highly curious to anybody versed in counterintelligence matters, not least since during Obama’s presidency, the FBI has prosecuted Americans for compromising information far less classified than what Clinton and her staff exposed on Hillary “unclassified” email server of bathroom infamy.
This week, however, we learned that there is actually no mystery at all here. The FBI was never able to get enough traction in its investigation of EmailGate to prosecute anybody since the Bureau had already granted immunity to key players in that scandal.
Granting immunity is a standard practice in investigations, and is sometimes unavoidable. Giving a pass to Bryan Pagliano, Hillary’s IT guru who set up her email and server, made some sense since he understands what happened here, technically speaking, and otherwise is a small fish. The wisdom of giving him a pass now seems debatable, though, since Pagliano has twice refused to testify before Congress about his part in EmailGate, blowing off subpoenas. Just this week the House Oversight Committee recommended that Pagliano be cited for contempt of Congress for his repeated no-shows. That vote was on strictly partisan lines, with not a single Democrat on the committee finding Pagliano’s ignoring of Congressional subpoenas to be worthy of censure.
Now it turns out the FBI granted immunity to much bigger fish in the Clinton political tank. Three more people got a pass from the Bureau in exchange for their cooperation: Hillary lawyer Heather Samuelson, State Department IT boss John Bental, and – by far the most consequential – Cheryl Mills, who has been a Clinton flunky-cum-factotum for decades.
Mills served as the State Department’s Chief of Staff and Counselor throughout Hillary’s tenure as our nation’s top diplomat. Granting her immunity in EmailGate, given her deep involvement in that scandal – including the destruction of tens of thousands of emails so they could not be handed over to the FBI – now seems curious, to say the least, particularly because Mills sat in on Hillary’s chat with the Bureau regarding EmailGate.
This was in fact so highly irregular that Jason Chaffetz, chair of the House Oversight Committee, pronounced himself “absolutely stunned” by the FBI’s granting of immunity to Cheryl Mills – which he learned of only on Friday. “No wonder they couldn’t prosecute a case,” Rep. Chaffetz observed of Comey’s Bureau: “They were handing out immunity deals like candy.”
Not to mention that Mills has a longstanding and well-deserved reputation in Washington for helping the Clintons dodge investigation after investigation. When Bill and Hillary need a fixer to help them bury the bodies – as they say inside the Beltway – trusty Cheryl Mills has been on call for the last quarter-century.
She played a key role in the Whitewater scandal of the 1990s – and so did James Comey. Fully two decades ago, when Comey was a Senate investigator, he tried to get Mills, then deputy counsel to Bill Clinton’s White House, to hand over relevant documents. Mills went full dog-ate-my-homework, claiming that a burglar had taken the files, leading Comey to unavoidably conclude that she was obstructing his investigation. Mills’ cover-up, the Senate investigators assessed, encompassed “destruction of documents” and “highly improper” behavior.
Such misconduct is a career-ender for normal people in Washington, but not for Cheryl Mills, who over the last several decades has followed the Clintons everywhere they go. Mills has proven her loyalty to Clinton, Inc. time and again, and that loyalty has been rewarded with a pass on prosecution in EmailGate.
To say nothing of the fact that as chief of staff at Foggy Bottom, Mills was in no way functioning as Hillary’s personal lawyer, as Clinton advocates have contended. Even her other title, State Department Counselor, has nothing to do with legal matters, despite the name. That role is traditionally assigned to an esteemed foreign policy guru who is supposed to offer sage counsel to the secretary of state. Mills’ predecessor as Counselor was Eliot Cohen, one of the country’s preeminent scholars of international relations. Leave it to the Clintons to turn that job over to one of their trusted cabal, translating Counselor in mafia fashion as consigliere.
“The whole thing stinks,” explained a retired FBI senior official who professed dismay about the state of his former employer. “This was impossible in my time, unthinkable,” he rued, expressing shock that the Bureau allowed Mills to remain involved in the investigation, including acting as Hillary’s personal lawyer, despite her own immunity.
How exactly Cheryl Mills got immunity, and what its terms were, is the long-awaited “smoking gun” in EmailGate, the clear indication that, despite countless man-hours expended on the year-long investigation, James Comey and his FBI never had any intention of prosecuting Hillary Clinton – or anyone – for her mishandling of classified information as secretary of state.
Why Comey decided to give Mills a get-out-of-jail-free card is something that needs proper investigation. This is raw, naked politics in all its ugly and cynical glory. Corruption is the tamest word to describe this sort of dirty backroom deal which makes average Americans despise politics and politicians altogether.
How high in this administration EmailGate went is the key question, and it’s been reopened by the latest tranche of redacted documents that the FBI released – on Friday afternoon, as usual. There are lots of tantalizing tidbits here, including the fact that early in Hillary’s term at Foggy Bottom, State Department officials were raising awkward legal questions about her highly irregular email and server arrangements.
Most intriguing, however, is the revelation that Hillary was communicating with President Obama via personal email, and he was using an alias. The alias he used with Hillary, and apparently others, was withheld by the FBI, and let it be said the fact that the president wanted to disguise his identity in unclassified email is not all that odd.
What is odd, however, is the fact that Obama previously told the media that he only learned of Hillary’s irregular email and server arrangements from “news reports.” How the president failed to notice that he was emailing his top diplomat at her personal, clintonmail.com address, not a state.gov account, particularly when they were discussing official business, is something Congress may want to find out – since certainly the FBI won’t.
Indeed, when she was being interviewed by the Bureau, Hillary’s ever-faithful sidekick Huma Abedin, was asked about President Obama’s emailing to Hillary using an alias. “How is this not classified?” inquired the mystified Abedin.
The fact that the FBI redacted the contents of that email indicates that is wasclassified, although it was sent to Hillary’s personal email and transited her personal server.
This, like so many aspects of EmailGate, seems destined to remain a mystery, at least for now. The State Department won’t release the full collection of Clinton’s emails until after our November 8 election. Just this week a Federal judge blastedFoggy Bottom for its slow-rolling: “The State Department needs to start cooperating to the fullest extent possible. They are not perceived to be doing that.” Nevertheless, the public won’t get to see all of Hillary’s emails until afterAmericans decide who the next president will be.
For Hillary Clinton, winning that election may be a legal necessity to protect her from prosecution. Congress, animated by these latest revelations of illegality and corruption, will now pursue her with vigor, while an FBI in the hands of Donald Trump seems likely to show an interest in EmailGate which the Bureau never possessed under President Obama.
Regardless, this story has emerged yet again to tar Hillary Clinton’s reputation at the worst possible time, when her campaign is lagging in the polls. We can be sure that her Republican opponent will mention EmailGate in Monday’s inaugural presidential debate. The Democratic nominee should have coherent answers about her email and server at the ready if she wants to avoid a debacle before the cameras.
John Schindler is a security expert and former National Security Agency analyst and counterintelligence officer. A specialist in espionage and terrorism, he’s also been a Navy officer and a War College professor. He’s published four books and is on Twitter at @20committee.