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James Comey’s Bizarro World

Prior to this week, we knew of a number of actions and statements by FBI director James Comey surrounding the presidential race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

We knew that Comey surfaced in front of the press in early July to declare that, despite a lengthy and intensive investigation into Clinton’s illicit email server, “no reasonable prosecutor” would seek an indictment against her for conduct that he stipulated was violative of federal law on handling classified information.

We also know that Comey then resurfaced to say, after it was reported that disgraced former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner, who is the estranged husband of Clinton aide and confidante Huma Abedin, had his computer seized in an investigation of Weiner’s having sent sexually suggestive text messages to a teenage girl in North Carolina, that new information had arisen pertinent to the Clinton email case sufficient to reopen the investigation. This happened within days of the presidential election.

And then a few days later, practically on the eve of the election, Comey turned up a third time to say that no, there was nothing new to inform the Clinton investigation after all and nothing had really changed since June.

And after Trump won and was inaugurated, amid a war of words where the new president’s political enemies accused him of collaborating with The Russians! to “hack” the election and Trump responded by accusing his predecessor of “tapping the phones” at his Trump Tower headquarters, Comey appeared with a vigorous denial that such surveillance ever happened.

No sooner did Comey’s denials echo off the walls of the J. Edgar Hoover building than some uncomfortable questions were put to him by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in a fascinating and pointed letter.

Grassley’s missive was prompted by a story appearing in the Washington Post last week containing allegations which wouldn’t be out of place in a Twilight Zone episode. The Post reported that the FBI had agreed to pay ex-British spy Christopher Steele, the source for those wild stories about Trump and micturating Russian hookers on hotel beds, to essentially share oppo research with the Bureau that he was already digging up on behalf of a Democrat political consulting firm:

Ultimately, the FBI did not pay Steele. Communications between the bureau and the former spy were interrupted as Steele’s now-famous dossier became the subject of news stories, congressional inquiries and presidential denials, according to the people familiar with the arrangement, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

This is all very fascinating information, and Grassley and his committee told Comey in the letter that they’d love to know more. Not that Comey could be expected to enjoy the informative process:

The idea that the FBI and associates of the Clinton campaign would pay Mr. Steele to investigate the Republican nominee for President in the run-up to the election raises further questions about the FBI’s independence from politics, as well as the Obama administration’s use of law enforcement and intelligence agencies for political ends. It is additionally troubling that the FBI reportedly agreed to such an arrangement given that, in January of 2017, then-Director Clapper issued a statement stating that “the IC has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable, and we did not rely upon it in any way for our conclusions.”

Accordingly, Grassley asks a host of questions for which the rest of us might be tempted to seek a comfy chair and a large tub of popcorn in preparation for the answers. Among them…

5. Were any other government officials outside of the FBI involved in discussing or authorizing the agreement with Mr. Steele, including anyone from the Department of Justice or the Obama White House? If so, please explain who was involved and provide all related records.

6. How did the FBI first obtain Mr. Steele’s Trump investigation memos? Has the FBI obtained additional memos from this same source that were not published by Buzzfeed? If so, please provide copies.

7. Has the FBI created, or contributed to the creation of, any documents based on or otherwise referencing these memos or the information in the memos? If so, please provide copies of all such documents and, where necessary, clarify which portions are based on or related to the memos.

8. Has the FBI verified or corroborated any of the allegations made in the memos? Were any allegations or other information from the memo included in any documents created by the FBI, or which the FBI helped to create, without having been independently verified or corroborated by the FBI beforehand? If so, why?

9. Has the FBI relied on or otherwise referenced the memos or any information in the memos in seeking a FISA warrant, other search warrant, or any other judicial process? Did the FBI rely on or otherwise reference the memos in relation to any National Security Letters? If so, please include copies of all relevant applications and other documents.

10. Who decided to include the memos in the briefings received by Presidents Obama and Trump? What was the basis for that decision?

Indeed. Perhaps if Comey were to testify at a hearing on these subjects he could answer a few more questions.

For example, whose idea was it to offer Christopher Steele a check for dirt on Trump? Was it Comey’s, or one of his underlings? Is said underling still working for the FBI? What role did his deputy director Andrew McCabe, whose wife ran for the Virginia State Senate and raised an inordinately large amount in campaign contributions, nearly $2 million, thanks to Clinton insider and that state’s Democrat governor Terry McAuliffe, play in the Christopher Steele arrangement? (Interestingly, it was McCabe who reportedly told Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus that the reports of Russian contacts with the Trump campaign were “bulls–t” — which has earned him the undying scorn of the left-wing blogosphere.)

Given that the plan to hire Steele as an FBI informant was scuttled when his dossier was published by BuzzFeed, was this an attempt at building a J. Edgar Hoover-style dirt file on Trump for the purposes of political leverage should he win — or worse, was the material gathered in order to leak it strategically as a series of October Surprises before the election?

These would seem to be the kinds of questions best suited for conspiracy theorists to debate over internet message boards, and yet they’re inescapable given the Post piece and Grassley’s letter. What in the hell is going on with Comey’s FBI?

Scott McKay
Scott McKay
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Scott McKay is publisher of the Hayride, which offers news and commentary on Louisiana and national politics.
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