When former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey made a public announcement last July of the Bureau's findings in the Hillary Clinton email case, he set in motion a chain of events that, according to expert analysis, ultimately cost Clinton the election and put Donald Trump in office.
However, according to a new report in Wednesday's Washington Post, Comey appears to have been tricked by an ingenious Russian intelligence operation. A fabricated email appears to have fooled him into making his unorthodox public announcement — in which while exonerating Clinton, he also scolded her for what he called her "extremely careless" handling of potentially classified information on her private email server.
But Comey based his decision, according to the Post report, on a "secret Russian document" that appeared to show that then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch had assured the Clinton campaign that the email investigation "would not push too deeply into the matter." When Comey saw the document, the Post reports, he believed that he was forced to go public because if the secret Russian intelligence were to leak, the email investigation would look like a sham.
As the NYT wrote last month, that Russia document played a BIG role in Comey going public in July https://t.co/0VM6eQT3BL pic.twitter.com/PIa5ttrrlAThere was only one problem. The Russian document appears to be a fake, planted by Russian intelligence operatives who may have anticipated that they were being spied on by their American counterparts — which, in fact, they were.
— Mark Murray (@mmurraypolitics) May 24, 2017
At the very least, the FBI deemed the document "bad intelligence." But Comey went ahead with his public announcement anyway, cutting Lynch, his own boss, out of the process.
The FBI discovered the Russian document while investigating Russian hacking into Democratic National Committee servers. While the Russians were infiltrating the U.S.-based servers, intelligence community hackers in the U.S. were occasionally able to look inside the Russian computers to determine which documents the Russian hackers had pilfered.
But the Russians now appear to have likely fabricated the document as part of their operation to spread confusion throughout the U.S. electoral process last year.
The Russian document described an email between DNC then-Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schulz and Leonard Benardo, who works for a charitable foundation created by liberal billionaire George Soros. But Benardo says he does not know Wasserman-Schulz and has never received an email, or any type of communication, from her.
"If such documentation exists, it's of course made up," Benardo said.
Wasserman-Schulz also told the Post that she does not know Benardo. The Russian document did not contain the actual, alleged email, instead merely quoting passages purported to be part of it.
Comey's decision to hold his July 5 press conference, without Lynch's green light, going into detail about the FBI's findings in the Clinton email case — and his subsequent testimony to Congress explaining those findings further — led directly to the controversial "Comey letter" of October 28, a mere 11 days before the presidential election. In that letter, Comey said he was reopening the email investigation due to a drive of Clinton emails found on a personal computer belonging to disgraced former congressional rep Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of one of Clinton's closest aides.
Though Comey sent a follow-up letter saying basically that the "new" emails turned out to be nothing and in fact were simply duplicates of emails that the FBI had already examined, the damage to Clinton's campaign had been done.
According to election expert Nate Silver of the data journalism site FiveThirtyEight.com, it is now "painfully obvious" that the "Comey letter" — and the media's frenzied reporting on it — cost Clinton the presidency.
"At a maximum, (the Comey letter) might have shifted the race by three or four percentage points toward Donald Trump, swinging Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida to him, perhaps along with North Carolina and Arizona," Silver wrote in an analysis of the letter's effects.
"At a minimum, its impact might have been only a percentage point or so," he continued.
"Still, because Clinton lost Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by less than 1 point, the letter was probably enough to change the outcome of the Electoral College."In those three states, Clinton lost by a combined total of 77,744 votes. Had she won those states, Clinton would have won the 2016 presidential election.
[Featured Image By Win McNamee/Getty Images]