Deep antipathy to Hillary Clinton exists within the FBI, multiple bureau sources have told the Guardian, spurring a rapid series of leaks damaging to her campaign just days before the election.
Current and former FBI officials, none of whom were willing or cleared to speak on the record, have described a chaotic internal climate that resulted from outrage over director James Comey’s July decision not to recommend an indictment over Clinton’s maintenance of a private email server on which classified information transited.
“The FBI is Trumpland,” said one current agent.
This atmosphere raises major questions about how Comey and the bureau he is slated to run for the next seven years can work with Clinton should she win the White House.
The currently serving FBI agent said Clinton is “the antichrist personified to a large swath of FBI personnel,” and that “the reason why they’re leaking is they’re pro-Trump.”
The agent called the bureau “Trumplandia,” with some colleagues openly discussing voting for a GOP nominee who has garnered unprecedented condemnation from the party’s national security wing and who has pledged to jail Clinton if elected.
At the same time, other sources dispute the depth of support for Trump within the bureau, though they uniformly stated that Clinton is viewed highly unfavorably.
“There are lots of people who don’t think Trump is qualified, but also believe Clinton is corrupt. What you hear a lot is that it’s a bad choice, between an incompetent and a corrupt politician,” said a former FBI official.
Sources who disputed the depth of Trump’s internal support agreed that the FBI is now in parlous political territory. Justice department officials – another current target of FBI dissatisfaction – have said the bureau disregarded longstanding rules against perceived or actual electoral interferencewhen Comey wrote to Congress to say it was reviewing newly discovered emails relating to Clinton’s personal server.
Comey’s vague letter to Congress, promptly leaked by Republican congressman Jason Chaffetz, said the bureau would evaluate communications – subsequently identified as coming from a device used by disgraced ex-congressman Anthony Weiner, whose estranged wife Huma Abedin is a Clinton aide – for connections to the Clinton server. Comey’s allies say he was placed in an impossible position after previously testifying to Congress it would take an extraordinary development for him to revisit the Clinton issue. Throughout the summer and fall, Trump has attacked the FBI as corrupt for not effectively ending Clinton’s political career.
A political firestorm erupted, with Comey and the bureau coming under withering criticism, including a rebuke on Wednesday from Barack Obama. Even some congressional Republicans, no friends to Clinton, have expressed discomfort with Comey’s last-minute insertion of the bureau into the election.
The relevance of the communications to the Clinton inquiry has yet to be established, as Comey issued his letter before obtaining a warrant to evaluate them. Clinton surrogates contend that Comey has issued innuendo rather than evidence, preventing them from mounting a public defense.
Some feel Comey needs to address the criticism and provide reassurance that the bureau, with its wide-ranging investigative and surveillance powers, will comport itself in an apolitical manner. Yet since Friday, Comey has maintained his silence, even as both Clinton and Trump have called for the bureau to disclose more of what it knows.
Leaks, however, have continued. Fox News reported on Wednesday that the FBI is intensifying an investigation into the Clinton Foundation over allegations – which both the foundation and the Clinton camp deny – it traded donations for access to Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state. The Wall Street Journal reported that justice department officials, who have been considering FBI investigation of the issue since 2015, considered the allegations flimsy.
The leaks have not exclusively cast aspersions on Clinton. Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, is the subject of what is said to be a preliminary FBI inquiry into his business dealings in Russia. Manafort has denied any wrongdoing.
The Daily Beast reported on Thursday on ties between Trump surrogate Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, and the FBI’s New York field office, which reportedly pressed the FBI to revisit the Clinton server investigation after beginning an inquiry into Weiner’s alleged sexual texting with a minor. The website reported that a former New York field office chief, highly critical of the non-indictment, runs a military charity that has received significant financial donations from Trump.
Comey’s decision to tell the public in July that he was effectively dropping the Clinton server issue angered some within the bureau, particularly given the background of tensions with the justice department over the Clinton issue. A significant complication is the appearance of a conflict of interest regarding Loretta Lynch, the attorney general, who met with Bill Clinton this summer ahead of Comey’s announcement, which she acknowledged had “cast a shadow” over the inquiry.
“Many FBI agents were upset at the director, not because he didn’t [recommend to] indict, but they believe he threw the FBI under the bus by taking the heat away from DOJ [Department of Justice],” the former bureau official said.
All this has compounded pressure on Comey, with little end in sight.
Jim Wedick, who retired from the bureau in 2004 after 35 years, said that if Clinton is elected, she and Comey would likely to find a way to work together out of a sense of pragmatism. He recalled both his own occasional clashes with federal prosecutors and Bill Clinton’s uneasy relationship with his choice for FBI director, Louis Freeh.
“Each one will find a way to pick at the other. It’s not going to be good and it’s not going to be pretty. But they’ll both have to work with each other,” he said.
The FBI would not comment for this story.