The biggest stories of the coming year are all about the US election. The baseline of the Trump re-election campaign will be sounded by a 60-second Super Bowl commercial February 2. (Michael Bloomberg has paid as much for a similar slot later in the game.) The Democratic voting will begin with the Iowa caucuses two days later.
Assessment of various subplots by the mainstream press will continue. The attempt to persuade Ukraine to invrstigate Hunter Biden has been kicked upstairs to the Senate in the form of an act of impeachment. The story of the administration’s attempted decapitation of the leadership of Iran’s Quds Force has just begun. Maneuverings to delay the administration’s attack on Obamacare is now before the Supreme Court. The intuition of Russian influence on Trump that sparked the Mueller Report has returned, more striking than ever.
One narrative among these several stories that has attracted relatively little attention is a putative mutiny by Trump supporters within the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the months before and after the 2016 election.
That story seemed to take a step forward Friday with a front-page story by Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky in The Washington Post.
A previously-reported Justice Department investigation of the fund-raising practices of the Clinton Foundation had “effectively ended with no tangible results,” Barrett and Zapotosky wrote. They added that the “current and former law enforcement officials” who asserted the inquiry had all but ended internally “said they never expected the effort to produce much of anything.”
Nevertheless, the reporters wrote, John Huber, the U.S. Attorney in Utah, had been tasked in November 2017 by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to “review” concerns raised by President Trump and his allies in Congress that the FBI had not fully pursued cases of possible corruption at the Clinton Foundation
Huber’s previously-undisclosed inquiry covered Clinton’s time as Secretary of State, when the U.S. government decided not to block the sale of a company called Uranium One. Trump and his supporters had been pressuring Sessions to appoint a second independent counsel to pursue Clinton.
The president tweeted in the days before Huber’s appointment, “Everybody is asking why the Justice Department (and FBI) isn’t looking into all of the dishonesty going on with Crooked Hillary and the Dems.”
Huber’s review apparently has been similar to a review of the antecedents of independent counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation by US Attorney for Connecticut John Durham that has been underway. Attorney General William Barr assigned Durham to the task last summer. His report is expected to be completed before the autumn election.
Barrett has been at the center of the story since he reported in The Wall Street Journal in October 2016 that the FBI had begun an investigation of the Clinton Foundation the year before, and that serious disagreement existed within the Bureau about the course of the investigation.
Barrett learned of the investigation after Deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe and two aides confirmed in an interview that the investigation existed, despite allegations that the Obama Justice Department had sought to shut it down. Barrett wrote, with fellow WSJ reporter Christopher M. Matthews,
It isn’t unusual for field agents to favor a more aggressive approach than supervisors and prosecutors think is merited. But the internal debates about the Clinton Foundation show the high stakes when such disagreements occur surrounding someone who is running for president.
Two days later Barrett wrote that the probe of Clinton had been predicated on claims made in a book, Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich (Harper, 2015), by Peter Schweizer, a former speech writing consultant for George W. Bush. Clinton Cash has since been disclosed to have been commissioned by Steve Bannon, who had by then become manager of Trump’s campaign, and funded by a $1.7 million grant from the Mercer Family Foundation, whose director is Rebekah Mercer.
Not long after Trump’s inauguration, Barrett left the WSJ for The Washington Post.
What may have constituted mutiny – my word, not Barrett’s – were fears from FBI investigators intent of probing the dealings of the Clinton Foundation, channeled to the press through former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former FBI New York field office chief James Kallstrom. McCabe was responding to such leaks when he confirmed the existence of the Clinton investigation.
Fear of similar leaks led FBI director James Comey to disclose to Congress that the discovery of a new trove of Hillary Clinton’s emails on a laptop belonging to former Congressman Anthony Weiner had caused him to notify Congress that he had reopened an investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails he had closed amid controversy the summer before.
McCabe’s troubles with internal FBI investigators of his media contacts began when he was interrogated on the same day that Comey was fired, May 9, 2017. Coincidence? Perhaps. But reason, too, to ask whether there might have been coordination sufficient to warrant a charge of attempted mutiny. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, author of two scathing indictments of the FBI under Comey, has so far shown no interest in machinations surrounding the election-eve leaks.
If history is any guide, The Washington Post will release a book this summer written by Barrett, Zapotosky and many other WPost reporters examining the turmoil surrounding the FBI. It is not clear how much difference the various subplots of the story of the Trump administration will make in the autumn election. Polling indicates that the result will come down to five battleground states. But details of the subplots continue to pile up.