In July 2016, Former FBI Director James Comey detailed the FBI’s findings in the Hillary Clinton email scandal, doing so without consulting the Justice Department. The controversial decision to proceed in that manner was partly due to information obtained by a Russian document that is now being reported as “bad intelligence.”
According to a report released Wednesday by The Washington Post, the document in question was thought to be a piece of Russian intelligence. It described an email written by then-Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. It was supposedly sent to Leonard Benardo, an official with Open Society Foundations, which is affiliated with George Soros.
In the email, Wasserman Schultz told Benardo that then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch had assured Amanda Renteria, a senior Clinton campaign staffer, that the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified information would “not go too far.”
Comey was concerned that Lynch had lost credibility after she met with former President Bill Clinton on an airport tarmac during the presidential race last year. Lynch’s credibility, along with the email, reportedly lead Comey to decide that he should not involve the Justice department when announcing the close of the Clinton probe.
“It was a very powerful factor in the decision to go forward in July with the statement that there shouldn’t be a prosecution,” a source told the Post. “The point is that the bureau picked up hacked material that hadn’t been dumped by the bad guys involving Lynch. And that would have pulled the rug out of any authoritative announcement.”
By August, according to sources, the FBI had deduced that the document was unreliable and may have been a fake planted to confuse the FBI. Apparently, people familiar with the document had debated whether it was reliable from the “moment they acquired it” in March 2016. Sources say the FBI knew that they could not substantiate the email’s claims, though officials still cited the document as justification for Comey’s decision.
One source reportedly told the Post: “It didn’t mean anything to the investigation until after [senior FBI officials] had to defend themselves. Then they decided it was important. But it’s junk, and they already knew that.”
When questioned about the document by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (Republican, Iowa), Comey said he couldn’t discuss it publicly.
“The subject is classified, and in an appropriate forum I’d be happy to brief you on it,” Comey said at the time. “But I can’t do it in an open hearing.”
Wasserman Schultz, Benardo and Renteria told The Post they were never interviewed about the matter.
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