Despite Comey Assurances, Vast Bulk of Weiner Laptop Emails Were Never Examined
When then-FBI Director James Comey announced he was closing the Hillary Clinton email investigation for a second time just days before the 2016 election, he certified to Congress that his agency had “reviewed all of the communications” discovered on a personal laptop used by Clinton’s closest aide, Huma Abedin, and her husband, Anthony Weiner.
At the time, many wondered how investigators managed over the course of one week to read the “hundreds of thousands” of emails residing on the machine, which had been a focus of a sex-crimes investigation of Weiner, a former congressman.
Comey later told Congress that “thanks to the wizardry of our technology,” the FBI was able to eliminate the vast majority of messages as “duplicates” of emails they’d previously seen. Tireless agents, he claimed, then worked “night after night after night” to scrutinize the remaining material.
But virtually none of his account was true, a growing body of evidence reveals.
In fact, a technical glitch prevented FBI technicians from accurately comparing the new emails with the old emails. Only 3,077 of the 694,000 emails were directly reviewed for classified or incriminating information. Three FBI officials completed that work in a single 12-hour spurt the day before Comey again cleared Clinton of criminal charges.
“Most of the emails were never examined, even though they made up potentially 10 times the evidence” of what was reviewed in the original year-long case that Comey closed in July 2016, said a law enforcement official with direct knowledge of the investigation.
Yet even the "extremely narrow" search that was finally conducted, after more than a month of delay, uncovered more classified material sent and/or received by Clinton through her unauthorized basement server, the official said. Contradicting Comey’s testimony, this included highly sensitive information dealing with Israel and the U.S.-designated terrorist group Hamas. The former secretary of state, however, was never confronted with the sensitive new information and it was never analyzed for damage to national security.
Even though the unique classified material was improperly stored and transmitted on an unsecured device, the FBI did not refer the matter to U.S. intelligence agencies to determine if national security had been compromised, as required under a federally mandated “damage assessment” directive.
The newly discovered classified material “was never previously sent out to the relevant original classification authorities for security review,” the official, who spoke to RealClearInvestigations on the condition of anonymity, said.
Other key parts of the investigation remained open when the embattled director announced to Congress he was buttoning the case back up for good just ahead of Election Day.
One career FBI special agent involved in the case complained to New York colleagues that officials in Washington tried to “bury" the new trove of evidence, which he believed contained the full archive of Clinton's emails — including long-sought missing messages from her first months at the State Department.
RealClearInvestigations pieced together the FBI's handling of the massive new email discovery from the “Weiner laptop.” This months-long investigation included a review of federal court records and affidavits, cellphone text messages, and emails sent by key FBI personnel, along with internal bureau memos, reviews and meeting notes documented in government reports. Information also was gleaned through interviews with FBI agents and supervisors, prosecutors and other law enforcement officials, as well as congressional investigators and public-interest lawyers.
If the FBI “soft-pedaled” the original investigation of Clinton’s emails, as some critics have said, it out-and-out suppressed the follow-up probe related to the laptop, sources for this article said.
“There was no real investigation and no real search,” said Michael Biasello, a 27-year veteran of the FBI. "It was all just show — eyewash — to make it look like there was an investigation before the election.”
Although the FBI’s New York office first pointed headquarters to the large new volume of evidence on Sept. 28, 2016, supervising agent Peter Strzok, who was fired on Aug. 10 for sending anti-Trump texts and other misconduct, did not try to obtain a warrant to search the huge cache of emails until Oct. 30, 2016. Violating department policy, he edited the warrant affidavit on his home email account, bypassing the FBI system for recording such government business. He also began drafting a second exoneration statement before conducting the search.
The search warrant was so limited in scope that it excluded more than half the emails New York agents considered relevant to the case. The cache of Clinton-Abedin communications dated back to 2007. But the warrant to search the laptop excluded any messages exchanged before or after Clinton’s 2009-2013 tenure as secretary of state, key early periods when Clinton initially set up her unauthorized private server and later periods when she deleted thousands of emails sought by investigators.
Far from investigating and clearing Abedin and Weiner, the FBI did not interview them, according to other FBI sources who say Comey closed the case prematurely. The machine was not authorized for classified material, and Weiner did not have classified security clearance to receive such information, which he did on at least two occasions through his Yahoo! email account – which he also used to email snapshots of his penis.
Many Clinton supporters believe Comey’s 11th hour reopening of a case that had shadowed her campaign was a form of sabotage that cost her the election. But the evidence shows Comey and his inner circle acted only after worried agents and prosecutors in New York forced their hand. At the prodding of Attorney General Lynch, they then worked to reduce and rush through, rather than carefully examine, potentially damaging new evidence.
Comey later admitted in his memoir “A Higher Loyalty,” that political calculations shaped his decisions during this period. But, he wrote, they were calibrated to help Clinton: “Assuming, as nearly everyone did, that Hillary Clinton would be elected president of the United States in less than two weeks, what would happen to the FBI, the Justice Department or her own presidency if it later was revealed, after the fact, that she still was the subject of an FBI investigation?”
What does it matter now? Republicans are clamoring for a special counsel to reopen the Clinton email case, though a five-year statute of limitations may be an issue concerning crimes relating to her potential mishandling of classified information.
However, conducting a broader and more thorough search of the Weiner laptop may still have prosecutorial justification. Other questions linger, including whether subpoenaed evidence was destroyed or false statements were made to congressional and FBI investigators from 2014 to 2016, a time frame that is within the statute of limitations. The laptop was not searched for evidence pertaining to such crimes. Investigators instead focused their search, limited as it was, on classified information.
Also, the FBI is still actively investigating the Clinton Foundation for alleged foreign-tied corruption. That probe, handled chiefly out of New York, may benefit from evidence on the laptop.
The FBI did not respond to requests for comment.