The Corner

Law & the Courts

How Nonpartisan and Independent Was the FBI’s Leadership in 2016?

Yes, President Trump doesn’t help himself when he Tweets, “After years of Comey, with the phony and dishonest Clinton investigation (and more), running the FBI, its reputation is in Tatters – worst in History!”

But criticism of a particular FBI decision, or a series of decisions by the bureau’s leadership, does not mean one is attacking the entire institution as a whole. (Otherwise, every critic of J. Edgar Hoover is “attacking the FBI.”) But while the FBI’s reputation might be overall in good shape, the public faith in the decision-making of former director James Comey during the 2016 campaign isn’t in good shape. Many Hillary Clinton fans thought the investigation into her e-mails was a witch hunt; many Republicans thought Comey’s press conference lamenting her “extremely careless” handling of classified information amounted to a slap on the wrist. Hillary herself blames Comey for her defeat; that’s obviously overwrought, but there’s no getting around the fact that the FBI ended up making enormously consequential decisions that no doubt helped shape the outcome of the presidential election.

And now there’s some evidence that some voices at the top of the FBI weren’t so nonpartisan and independent after all:

A former top counterintelligence expert at the FBI, now at the center of a political uproar for exchanging private messages that appeared to mock President Donald Trump, changed a key phrase in former FBI Director James Comey’s description of how former secretary of state Hillary Clinton handled classified information, according to US officials familiar with the matter.

Electronic records show Peter Strzok, who led the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server as the No. 2 official in the counterintelligence division, changed Comey’s earlier draft language describing Clinton’s actions as “grossly negligent” to “extremely careless,” the source said.

The drafting process was a team effort, CNN is told, with a handful of people reviewing the language as edits were made, according to another US official familiar with the matter.

The shift from “grossly negligent” to “extremely careless,” which may appear pedestrian at first glance, reflected a decision by the FBI that could have had potentially significant legal implications, as the federal law governing the mishandling of classified material establishes criminal penalties for “gross negligence.”

Is Peter Strzok a partisan hack? His friends and colleagues will probably say “no,” and the Trump administration will say “yes.” But the fact that he was sending around ”politically charged texts disparaging President Trump and supporting Hillary Clinton” is not encouraging. By doing that, he’s given Trump and his defenders all the ammunition they need to argue that Clinton’s non-criminal consequences amounted to a whitewash, and that the Bureau’s continuing investigation into the administration is, at least in part, driven by a partisan vendetta.

And just how good is this guy’s judgment if he’s sending pro-Hillary text messages while he’s investigating her?

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