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FBI Director James Comey is facing widespread criticism for announcing an investigation into more of Hillary Clinton’s emails just days before the presidential election: The latest on the investigation and the political firestorm it’s created.
- Michael Hirsh National editor, Politico; author of “Capital Offense: How Washington’s Wise Men Turned America’s Future over to Wall Street"
- Eric Lichtblau Reporter, The New York Times
- Alexis Simendinger White House correspondent, RealClearPolitics
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The FBI is reportedly using special software to sort through hundreds of thousands of emails that may or may not be relevant to whether Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton mishandled any classified information while secretary of state. But it's very unlikely there'll be a clear answer before the presidential election a week from today.
MS. DIANE REHMHere to talk about the many political implications of reopened investigation, Michael Hirsh of Politico, Eric Lichtblau of the New York Times and Alexis Simendinger with Real Clear Politics. I know you'll want to chime in. Give us your calls, 800-433-8850. Send an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And welcome to all of you.
MS. ALEXIS SIMENDINGERGood morning.
MR. MICHAEL HIRSHGood to be here.
MR. ERIC LICHTBLAUThank you.
REHMNice to see you. Eric, let me start with you. Huma Abedin's emails are the ones the FBI is looking at, contained in her estranged husband's computer. Do we, as of today, know whether any emails to or from Hillary Clinton are within that computer?
LICHTBLAUNo, we don't. The FBI has started going through the emails, as you say, through a computerized system that sorts through and looks for certain key words and certain types of documents and so the questions they'll be looking to ask will be who sent them, who received them, was there classified information, were there markings. There are tens of thousands of emails. It may be a day or two before they can finish the initial process, but if there are -- if there's material that could be considered classified, that then stretches the process out for days or even weeks because other agencies have to get involved and say, well, we consider this classified.
LICHTBLAUThat almost certainly wouldn't happen before the election.
REHMSo there's some 650,000 emails they're going through. If the FBI director did not know beforehand whether any of Hillary Clinton's email were on that computer, why then did he send the letter to Congress?
LICHTBLAUWell, obviously, he's taken a lot of criticism for that since the decision on Friday. The rationale from the FBI is that they thought this new trove of emails that was just recently discovered the last few weeks in the Anthony Wiener investigation might be relevant, those were the key words, to the Hillary Clinton email investigation. Comey says he had pledged transparency when this investigation wound down in July and in their view, it would've been, in effect, covering it up not to say that publically.
LICHTBLAUNow, obviously, a lot of people have disagreed with that decision.
REHMMichael Hirsh, we still don't have an idea of how emails from Huma Abedin got onto Michael Wiener's computer.
HIRSHAnthony Wiener's computer, no.
REHMSorry, Anthony Wiener.
HIRSHWe don’t. We don’t know whether they were transferred, you know, from the Cloud. We don't know anything about that. What's interesting about this is the key people involved have fallen silent. Huma Abedin is even said not to travelling with Hillary anymore. She was reported to have said she didn't know, in a very brief statement and then we haven't heard anything more from her. And we certainly don't know yet from the investigators so that remains one of the central mysteries hanging over this whole thing.
REHMI gather there have been, even before and since Comey made his statement, several leaks from the FBI?
HIRSHSeveral. There has been a torrent, actually, of leaks. It's really been quite extraordinary, both for the DOJ and the FBI, two traditionally fairly secretive organizations. I know Eric has done a lot of reporting on this, can speak to this. But it does seem to be a lot of people inside the DOJ and FBI trying to make up for, you know, what they perceive to be Comey's mistake and just issuing that one brief, very vague statement that only opened up the floodgates of speculation.
HIRSHAnd there's been scattershot reporting all over the place about how many emails, whether they were from Hillary or not. Some of the initial reports suggested that they were not from Hillary. Then, it turned out the FBI really didn't know because it hadn't even looked at them yet because it didn't have a warrant. So the leaking has been extraordinary in my view.
LICHTBLAUWell, and keep in mind that the Justice Department and the FBI are on opposite sides of this question. The Justice Department was quite upset that Comey did what he did. They even warned him that this could be seen as a violation not only of policy saying you don't take an overt action close to an election, but also that you don't talk about ongoing criminal investigations. They stopped short of telling him, you cannot do this. Technically, the FBI still reports to the Attorney General. But they were not happy.
REHMGive me an idea of what kind of leaks you're seeing from the FBI.
LICHTBLAUWell, I mean, there have been leaks all around Washington, not just from the FBI and the Justice Department, but also from Capitol Hill. Everyone has their own agenda. Whether or not this was done unfairly to Hillary or whether or not this was the right thing to do and so there have been leaks about what might or might not be on the emails, the process that's going to be used to look through them, whether or not Congress might hold hearings, you now have dueling letters between Congress and the Justice Department about what information should or shouldn't be put out on this between now and the election because there are so many unanswered questions.
REHMBut I must...
LICHTBLAUAll those things are leaking out.
REHMI'm especially interested in what's coming from the FBI.
LICHTBLAUSure. Well, I mean, the FBI has restated its original rationale for, you know, for why Comey did what he did. They had been fairly tight-lipped, though, to be honest besides that. As Michael said, Comey has not been seen publically since the letter on Friday and there's a lot of heat, a lot of scrutiny on them. I think they're hunkering down for the most part.
REHMWas there disagreement sort of apparent from the leaks coming within the FBI?
LICHTBLAUWith the FBI, we do not know of any objections to Comey's decision to go to Congress with this on Friday. They was certainly dissent and debate over the lead up to the Anthony Wiener investigation in terms of how these emails would be treated, what do we do with them. But the decision for Comey to go to Congress, I think he generally had the backing of the FBI, of his senior people.
REHMAlexis, the Justice Department has said it's going to work as quickly as possible to get through these emails. I mean, what's it going to take and how long could it take to go through 650,000 emails?
SIMENDINGERWell, that's an interesting question that's also been asked by lawmakers on Capitol Hill from both sides of the aisle who are interested in knowing an answer to that question. It's possible that the FBI will, as Michael suggested, be able to utilize the software, do a quick search through and be able to assess how expeditiously, this was the word that was used by the Justice Department legislative affairs liaison to Capitol Hill in explaining how fast they would try to do it, but there was no estimate to be able to be offered to, you know, we're a week from the election.
SIMENDINGERThere was no estimate, but apparently, they're putting major manpower on it now, you know, and as Michael and Eric suggested, if the scrutiny through the first wave of the emails can describe and narrow the field in which they're examining, then they'll have a better idea.
REHMIt's interesting that some sources are reporting a government source confirms that the meta data on the Wiener device has turned up positive hits for Hillary Clinton emails. Do you know about that, Eric?
LICHTBLAUWe do have some indication that sort of their first run through this prior to the Comey announcement was just looking at the date stamps on the time and the sender and that that gave them an indication that some of them involved at least the Clinton email dot com server. Not necessarily from Hillary herself because we know that there were several people who used that server, but enough to make Comey think that there may have been email that, again, in his words, were relevant to the investigation.
SIMENDINGERAnd keep in mind that Huma Abedin had already indicated in her interview with the FBI that she maintained four -- she described four separate email accounts, including one on the Clinton email server. What she hasn't described is how her emails got onto the laptop or the device or in some way showed up on what she describes as her husband's device.
LICHTBLAULook, and what hasn't been discussed much is that this is somewhat embarrassing for the FBI to now realize at the 11th hour, right before an election, that there's another batch of 65,000 emails that they haven't looked at.
REHMI thought it was 650.
LICHTBLAUI'm sorry, 650,000. I'm sorry. I’m leaving off a zero, 650,000. And, you know, they thought they'd done a full sweep now over a year ago of all the devices that might included relevant emails and now to find 650,000 emails at this late date is a bit of a mistake.
HIRSHIt may well be, you know, that James Comey, somewhat naïvely, and it's odd to apply that word to someone so sophisticated in Washington, but thought that he needed to just cover, you know, his own rear end and cover his reputation of the FBI by issuing a statement that he clearly didn't think was going to cause the firestorm. But then, that raises the question of why...
REHMBut that strikes me as very naïve, Michael, coming from the director of the FBI. Michael Hirsh, national editor of Politico. Short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Michael Hirsh, just before the break you were talking about Michael Comey -- I keep saying Michael Comey -- Comey's statement and the fact that he did not see that it was going to unleash this.
HIRSHWell, I think, well, look, we don't know. But I mean it was so brief and intentionally vague and it was the very vagueness of the statement that I think unleashed, you know, this firestorm as well as him just stating the fact that he was reopening an investigation. But apparently, you know, he felt that he needed to inform Congress that he had not been correct in, you know, in conveying the impression that the investigation was closed when he said so in July. You know, I think that we ought to just maybe apply what seems to be his own commonsense reasoning to that.
HIRSHBut then I was going to add that it makes it all the more strange that Comey refused to add his name to a statement that the national director of intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security had prepared on the fact that investigations were going on into the ties between Russia and the DNC hacking of emails. Ostensibly, Comey declined to put his name to it because he was concerned about the impact it might have on the election. So that really raises some serious questions. Why, you know, was he so assiduous in that case and, here, literally, you know, less -- a little more than a week before the election, sending a letter like this up to Congress?
REHMWhat's your reaction, Eric?
LICHTBLAUWell, it certainly is ironic, as Michael says, that he seemed to be taking the political sensitivities into account over the Russian issue, which to be honest was less politically sensitive than the Hillary matter and yet, here, he was willing to put this out 11 days before. We actually wrote today a long story about the Russian investigation. And that, in itself, was sort of fraught with complexities.
LICHTBLAUThey looked for a while, we know, at Donald Trump's connections to Russia, as we reported today. In fact there was quite an intriguing computer email chain that might or might not have led from the Trump organization to Moscow. And the FBI ultimately concluded that they did not think that Trump was involved in the Russia's hack -- Russia's hack of the DNC. So that adds just another layer of mystery to all this, the fact that he was not willing to put his name to that.
SIMENDINGEROne thing I can add to this from the political side of it is that the Clinton campaign last evening, looking at the reporting that Eric and Michael have described about the potential that there are connections and how the FBI decided to dispose of this in terms of following protocol, they had a complete hairfire (sp?) in a conference call last evening, trying to suggest that this was a double standard, clearly a double standard. That Director Comey, even though he breached the protocols dealing with their candidate -- which they object to mightily -- their argument is he should do the same thing, go ahead and breach all your protocols related to Donald Trump.
SIMENDINGERAnd so there was a, you know, a full-bore political effort to concentrate the media's attention on this connection with Russia, which is not a new thread that the Clinton, you know, the Clinton campaign has been using, trying to draw attention to Donald Trump or his former campaign aide's connections to Russia or the government.
HIRSHAnd I will add, you know, that there remain very serious questions about the connections that Trump and the Trump organization has had with Russia over the years, which makes it all the more striking that he hasn't released his tax returns, which would, you know, which I think would give us a lot of insights -- give the voters a lot of insights into exactly what kind of business dealings he has overseas.
LICHTBLAUWell, I agree. There are a lot of outstanding questions about Trump and Russia. The FBI, it turns out, has been going down this road quite vigorously for the last -- for much of the summer and, I think, to the surprise of a lot of people, has not turned up any definite connections. Some people will certainly challenge that finding.
REHMHere's an email from Brody, which says, Hillary Clinton resigned as secretary of state in February 2013. Anthony Weiner is being investigated for perversions occurring in the past year. How is it legal (Fourth Amendment anyone?) for the FBI to be looking at things prior to that? What probably cause could there be to allow them to look at Huma Abedin's computer for anything other than Anthony Weiner's perversions?
SIMENDINGERWell, I'm not an attorney, but I have read through some of the debate that is going on in the legal community about this. And so I'll defer to Michael and Eric if they want to bring in the legal parts of this. But this is not a new debate in terms of law enforcement searches for discovery of information and evidence. In this particular case, the question is, is this allowable that the FBI, in looking at one thing, discovered what it described as potentially pertinent -- that was the description used by Director Comey -- to a different investigation that had been, according to Comey, completed.
SIMENDINGERIn this particular case, part of the debate seemed to be that the FBI was going to need to seek an additional warrant to, you know, and that's -- that, in the legal community...
REHMWhich it had not done before he made the announcement.
SIMENDINGER...which had not been obtained, but was obtained at least by Sunday. The interesting part of the debate though that emerges from that element of it, that the FBI decided to go seek the warrant, is that there's debate in the law enforcement community about the threshold that you have to achieve to seek a warrant. And often the threshold is a suspicion of criminal activity. So what would have been the evidence, if they hadn't read the emails, that they had in their pocket that suggested that the warrant was necessary? And that part of it also is, you know, part of the debate.
SIMENDINGERI don't know the answer to that because we haven't got any more information other than two things. One was Director Comey's letter to Capitol Hill. And then, a memo he issued to FBI employees that leaked immediately -- Eric was talking about the range of things that have leaked -- in which he's defending what he did to his own employees, knowing of course that that would leak, like, in 20 seconds. And it did.
LICHTBLAUWell, sure. I mean, Comey is on a P.R. offensive. He hasn't come out publicly, but the FBI is -- wants to make its case for why they did what they did. But they have some questions to answer, especially about the search warrant and the fact that they hadn't gotten that until after this had become such a public controversy.
HIRSHI -- it's again one of many wide-open questions about this. And I think the bottom line is this does not look good for the FBI on any level, whether it comes to the decision to disclose information and when, the way they conducted this investigation in the first place, the fact that they, you know, just now or at least several weeks ago -- and that's another odd thing about what's going on inside the FBI, is that apparently they had discovered this back in early October and waited a few weeks before they even told Comey about it. So, again, far more questions than answers.
REHMAnother email from a retired federal employee who says, I'm getting very irritated by those who say Comey did not violate the Hatch Act, because there is no intent. I've personally read accounts of federal employees who've been found to violate the Act without knowing they were doing so. So are those employees innocent? Every federal employee gets Hatch Act training. So let's stop using intent to excuse the director. Who knows details of the Hatch Act?
HIRSHWell, the Hatch Act goes back to 1939. It was signed by FDR in the wake of a lot of suspicions that his administration was using federal employees, particularly Works Progress Administration employees at the time, to get into politics. It was actually sponsored by a conservative Democrat, Carl Hatch, and has been upheld by the Supreme Court since then twice. But it's not clear entirely what it means to violate the Hatch Act. In fact there are different strictures, depending on how high up or whether you're a political appointee or not in the federal government.
HIRSHBut it does appear to require a overt involvement in the election. For example, Kathleen Sebelius, the former HHS secretary, in 2012 admitted that she had violated it when she gave a speech endorsing a candidate. So I think you, you know, there was some debate about whether Comey's act violates it. But I think it's not really clear at this point.
SIMENDINGERThe one thing that I can add to this is yesterday the White House, of course, was asked this -- a range of questions about Director Comey. And while the president's spokesperson was reluctant to weigh in one way or the other about the wisdom of how Director Comey pursued this information or evidence, whatever we decide it is, the one thing that Josh Earnest, the president's spokesman, did seem to indicate is that it is the president of the united states' view that Director Comey did not weigh in on this with the intent to tilt the election one way or the other. In other words, the -- he wanted to describe the president's view that Comey's intent was honorable and not in any way a desire to tilt the election.
LICHTBLAUWell, some members of Congress -- Democrats especially, obviously -- have been trying to make this case. I think it would be a tough case to make because Comey is the, in effect, the chief law enforcement officer in the country. He had jurisdiction for the Hillary Clinton email investigation. So while people may object to how he did what he did, he clearly was acting within his lane. Usually Hatch Act violations, you're veering, you know, well outside your normal professional duties. And I think it would be tough to make a case, in this case, that he was not inside that lane. Maybe close to the edge, but not outside it.
REHMAll right. Let's open the phones. First to Leesburg, Va., Samantha, you're on the air.
SAMANTHAHi. This question may have been answered already. But Comey didn't come out publicly and say these things. This was a letter to Congress. And what I'm wondering is, was this a confidential letter? And will there be an investigation because someone leaked this letter? And are we just going to, you know, crucify him because he should have known that Congress was going to leak it? And I guess that's really my...
SAMANTHABecause if he's just doing his job and hoping that Congress does their job, should he have known this? I mean, I know you're talking about him being naïve. But I'm wondering if Congress broke any laws with whoever leaked this?
REHMAll right. Alexis.
SIMENDINGERIt's a great question. I have Director Comey's letter in my hand. It has 16 members of Congress listed on it, Republican and Democrat. In Washington, D.C., if you bat your eyelash, if you send a letter, you know that it is going to leak out. And in fact, Director Comey, through his -- I guess his, you know, spokespeople -- quietly talking to reporters was saying that he decided to do it this way because he was concerned that the effort inside the FBI to look at this information would leak anyway. It would come out from the -- his own department, the Bureau. So he decided to approach it this way, knowing how things work in Washington and that you send a letter to 16 people and, within 10 seconds, reporters all over town know about it.
LICHTBLAUYeah. I suppose if he had marked it classified, then...
LICHTBLAU...then maybe we'd have a problem.
LICHTBLAUYeah. Well, yeah, it wasn't marked confidential. And, you know, it came out within minutes. I think Jason Chaffetz has been one of the -- Hillary's biggest -- the biggest aggressors in the Hillary (word?) I think was the first one to put it out on Twitter. And I think Comey knew that this was going to come out. I don't think there's any doubt about that.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And let's go to Joe in Philadelphia. You're on the air.
JOEHi. Yes. I'd like to make the case that the director is simply caught in the crossfire and he really hasn't done anything wrong. Congress put him on the stand and through the hearing he was forced to make a statement that he did not believe it was prosecutable. And while that's not a political statement, it had political ramifications. So in the light of new information that the investigation was reopened, if he held on to that information or attempted to until after the election, and Secretary Clinton had won, the ramifications would have been much greater.
JOEIf he held on to the information and the Republicans won, I don't think anyone would have cared, but it would have fueled the base, the Republican base, that the election was rigged and the system is in Clinton's favor. So I don't think he had a choice. And I think he's absolutely, 100 percent correct.
HIRSHWell, first of all, let's talk about how odd this whole thing has been from the beginning, okay? First of all, when you don't prosecute, you normally don't announce it. And it's done -- the non-announcement is by the DOJ, not by the FBI, who just does the investigating. They don't make the decisions on the prosecutions. In this case, you have the truly odd circumstance of Attorney General Loretta Lynch being approached by Bill Clinton on the tarmac. And so she then decided, apparently, that she couldn't look like, you know, she was going to cover up. And she deferred to FBI Director Comey, who in most cases, is not, you know, is not supposed to come out and say anything about these investigations, particularly not when they're not going to prosecute.
HIRSHAnd then he decided, on his own, to talk about how careless Hillary Clinton had been in her use of this email server, which was also considered very unusual. So that set in chain this whole strange set of circumstances where Comey, having put himself on the line in July, apparently felt that he needed to supplement, as he said, that information with this letter to Congress. But this is not really the job of the FBI director in the first place.
LICHTBLAUWell, you know, the caller is really echoing the FBI's position as to why Comey did what he did. And their case is that, we pledge transparency. And, look, we're going to hold to that pledge. And if we had covered this up, if we had tried to let this slip until after the election and Hillary had been elected, it would have blown up in our faces. Now I don't know that it would have been quite the scandal that this has been now. So I think that's sort of an unknowable question. But, you know, that's their position and you can at least understand where they're coming from.
SIMENDINGERThe only thing I wanted to add about this particular string of conversation is -- and the caller is right -- but when Director Comey decided to step forward in July, as Michael said, and set off a chain of events, and then agreed to testify publicly, one of the things he did say that the FBI had determined is that there would be -- there was no grounds to prosecute Secretary Clinton for a criminal act and her top aides. And so I just wanted remind everybody that we're talking about two things that he wrapped into one, which was the discussion about what Secretary Clinton had done and also the investigation of what her top aides had done. And he put those two together, saying that the investigation was complete.
REHMAlexis Simendinger, and she is White House correspondent for RealClearPolitics. When we come back, we've got lots more callers. I'll look forward to your email. Stay with us.
REHMWelcome back, and for the second day in a row, we are talking about the email investigation into Huma Abedin's emails, apparently somehow ending on her estranged husband's computer, which are now under investigation by the FBI announced by Director Comey last Friday, some 650,000. And today marks one week before the election, and of course we are talking about this one long email from James, and I'm just going to present a short portion. Why is the FBI not investigating the foreign involvements of Mr. Trump, especially his repeated claim of close friendship and admiration of Mr. Putin, the chief executive and mover and shaker of the Russian Federation, Eric?
LICHTBLAUWell, our reporting, actually in today's paper, shows that the FBI spent much of the summer looking at that very question. They weren't talking about it, unlike the Hillary investigation, but they were looking at financial connections, they were looking at people around Trump. There are a number of his current and former advisors who have ties to Russia and Russian business.
LICHTBLAUAnd they're also looking particularly closely at a mysterious computer stream between a bank in Russia and a server connected to the Trump organization, which seemed to indicate activity between the two, and they spent a lot of time trying to figure out whether or not this was, in effect, a secret, back-door channel between the Trump organization and this Russian bank. They concluded ultimately that it was probably not. They haven't completely ruled it out but that it did not appear to reflect a secret path to Moscow, if you will.
LICHTBLAUAnd they've, to the surprise probably of a lot of people, seemed to preliminarily be saying to us, in our reporting, that they do not think there's a direct link between Trump and anyone in Moscow, Putin -- Putin included, that while Trump has made these sometimes startling pronouncements about his affections for Putin as a leader, about his policies in Crimea and NATO and et cetera, et cetera, that they do not think that he's basically in cahoots with Moscow and even that the Russians are not necessarily trying to help him win, per se, through these hacks of the DNC, which have gotten so much attention, but rather that the Russians' intention is to just disrupt the election and undermine the democratic process. So that's what our reporting has shown.
REHMHere's the question though. Why hasn't the FBI been talking about this if they're talking about Hillary Clinton's emails, and they have become front-page news? How come they're not talking about their investigations into Trump?
LICHTBLAUThat's an excellent question. The Democrats are now raising that the last few days, why are you talking so publicly about Hillary but not about the stuff that you've now been quietly doing for months with Trump. Their -- the FBI's explanation, I think, would be that we did not have an open, public investigation involving Trump and Russia that we've testified before Congress on, that we've pledged transparency.
LICHTBLAUThere was this highly unusual situation with Hillary, whereas Michael says everything was public in ways that it hadn't been before, and we've gone down that road, and we need to continue down that road. That didn't exist with Trump and Russia in terms of a public investigation.
REHMBut hasn't Trump himself made it a public issue?
LICHTBLAUYou could certainly make that case.
HIRSHYes, he has. You know, he's expressed admiration openly for Vladimir Putin. Some people speculate that it's really he just likes Putin's style, you know, he likes strong leadership, which of course has led to all these questions about whether Trump is really a Dem or an authoritarian and would be so, you know, as president. But as Eric was saying, I think the press has also been all over this, and to the extent that there are connections being investigated, it was mainly about people around Trump, particularly Paul Manafort, his former campaign manager, another aide Carter Page. A lot of that was focused on the Ukraine in the case of Manafort because Manafort did have a business relationship there.
HIRSHBut no, we've turned up -- it's been, you know, really a dry well when it comes to connections between Trump himself and the Kremlin.
REHMHere's an email from someone, who says, Comey leaking information to Congress to damage Hillary Clinton has destroyed all of my trust in the integrity of the FBI. The USA and its institutions sinks ever lower in my eyes. I would imagine, Alexis, that a number of people may have that same feeling.
SIMENDINGERI think that's definitely the case, and what we have seen in this election is an enormous array of institutions coming under all kinds of scrutiny and criticism in a way that I haven't seen all coalesce in one election. And it has not been new to the 2016 cycle, but it's certainly an accretion, adding on to what we have seen over many decades in terms of the American public's concern about the institutions of government.
SIMENDINGERWhen I talk about the array, I'm talking about now we have the FBI, we've been critical of the Supreme Court, and there's a discussion about the politicization of the Supreme Court, and the president has bemoaned this from time to time, his concern that this has demoralized people's view of, you know, of what it is that's happening in Washington. We know that part of the election is very much about that. And in recent polling, what's highest in public estimation, recent polling? It's a faith in the military. You know, and so you can see that both candidates are very much embracing the military because they know that there's great confidence there.
REHMDo you think that's fair criticism, Michael?
HIRSHVery much so. I mean, look, on the front page of the New York Times today, there's a story comparing, you know, what's happening with the FBI to the bad old days of J. Edgar Hoover, who Comey himself, I think, has come out and said in the past he wants to sort of make sure the FBI never sinks back into that particular slough. Well, you know, that's what seems to be what's happening right now, and a lot of it has to do with Comey's own doing, although as I suggested earlier, part of it is that it just sort of landed in his lap.
HIRSHBill Clinton, in an odd way, kind of started this when he made that walk across the tarmac to try to talk to Loretta Lynch, the attorney general. So to some extent the Clintons have their own -- you know, they have to blame themselves to a certain extent.
REHMAll right, to Miriam in Miami, Florida, you're on the air.
MIRIAMHi, thank you so much for taking my call.
MIRIAMI'm hoping that your panel can help me out here because I've been pulling my hair out for, you know, weeks and weeks now, just I can't understand why this -- that Clinton emails, and before Friday the 30,000 that everyone was searching for was so at the forefront and front page. And our memory is so short-term, you know, when we look back just to the Bush-Cheney administration and the private servers that, you know, where they admittedly specifically were avoiding creating a record of communication and during the congressional investigation of the attorneys and whatnot, they found that 2007, the 22 million lost emails.
MIRIAMSo I just feel like our nation is so short-changed because nobody is talking about it now, and is the FBI even investigating it still? You know, what -- what can we say to that? And then we're here, I understand it's an election, and Hillary's at the forefront, but, you know, it's just beyond a double standard.
SIMENDINGERI just want to add, I was a reporter for National Journal at the time, and I was the one -- was a reporter who wrote a story about Karl Rove, broke the story about how Karl Rove used his backchannel through the Republican National Committee email to do most of his, 95 percent of his government work. That set off -- that reporting set off a chain of events that involved a clash, an executive-legislative clash on Capitol Hill. So I remember it. At least I can tell her I remember it.
SIMENDINGERYes, it's true that the American people have short memories, but it is the case that the Bush administration became embroiled in something very similar, dealing with presidential records. You know, we know -- we all know that the National Archives since Nixon owns the presidential records on behalf of the American people, and Karl Rove and some other officials in the White House were going around the legal requirement that they copy and maintain and retain the information.
SIMENDINGERThe Republican National Committee had to spend a lot of money trying to search and recover what they could and did. And the National Archives did get the information back.
REHMAnd was there any FBI investigation of those emails that had gone around?
SIMENDINGERNot of the contents of the email. There was no accusation or assertion that the top officials in the White House were using the information in ways that was classified. In this case, one of the reasons it came to light is you may remember, we're really going back in history, but Eric does remember this, the firing of U.S. attorneys.
SIMENDINGERHe's nodding, so he remembers. The firing of the U.S. attorneys set off a request, subpoenas from Capitol Hill and a production of emails. Those emails contained some copies that showed -- that offered the clues about how the White House was talking behind the channels, using Republican National Committee, political email system to talk about government operations.
LICHTBLAUWell, this was, as Alexis says, you know, a scandal in 2007, 2008. It was not nearly as big a scandal as the one we're dealing with today, I think for the main reason that Hillary Clinton is running for president. I mean, that's basically what it comes down to is she was secretary of state. You know, Karl Rove obviously was not -- was not at quite as high a level. He wasn't a Cabinet member. He was an advisor, but he was not a Senate-confirmed...
LICHTBLAUYes, and Bush's brain, yes, we all remember Karl Rove. But the thinking is that I think Hillary Clinton, most people, even Hillary, would agree she should have known better in hindsight, and everyone knew she was running for president. I think that's the difference why this has been a bigger scandal than that was.
SIMENDINGERAnd because of the national security element of it being classified information.
REHMAll right to Valerie in Newport News, Virginia, you're on the air.
VALERIEHi, thanks for having me. I am wondering what the demographic makeup is of the FBI because it seems to me that most of them would be a part of Donald Trump's base, and maybe that's why they're revolting.
LICHTBLAUYou know, I think it's a mix. It's certainly more men than women. In fact we -- a colleague of mine just did a story the other day on the gender gap at the FBI. So certainly it's still male-dominated. So the numbers may skew Trump's way. I'm not sure we have any way of knowing for sure whether there are more Republican or Trump supporters than Hillary supporters, though.
REHMAll right, and Michael, to you. What impact do you think all this could be having? We haven't had any real polling yet, extensive polling. What might it have on the election a week away?
LICHTBLAUWell, I mean, the latest poll came out today, the ABC Tracking Poll, which actually had, for the first time since May, Trump up by one nationally. Now really that -- all it counts is the average of the polls, the RealClearPolitics average is what we all look at, and so that may be an outlier, but it may also be an early indication because of you look into the numbers, part of what seems to be going on is less enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton. So people who were perhaps leaning toward her or against Trump decided that this was -- sort of put the kibosh on that. We don't really know yet. So it's still early days.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Anything to add to that, Alexis?
SIMENDINGERWell Michael's right, we're going to find out soon, but one of the other elements of that that is interesting is there is a suggestion that because this is so murky to the average voter, and they've already been thinking about the emails and have decided that -- you know, whatever they've decided, whether they are supportive of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, that this may be something that they just factor in and have not changed their mind.
SIMENDINGERWe should mention 25 million people have already voted, many of them, millions of people voted before they knew a single thing about this.
HIRSHI will just add one thing, that if there's any silver lining to this story at all, it may be that it at least has blunted the accusations that it's a rigged election, which of course before the Comey letter, which -- was something that Trump was saying every day. Suddenly he decided that Comey and the FBI were all right. And so at least we don't have as much of that cloud hanging over this election now. There was some concern that even if Hillary Clinton won that the Republicans and Trump would not accept the results. So perhaps that is, you know, one benefit to this breaking story.
REHMDo you believe that, that suppose she does win, what about the investigation, is it ongoing?
LICHTBLAUWell, I think that if Hillary wins, she's almost certainly going to go into office with congressional oversight investigations and potentially even this lingering, you know, criminal investigation. And that's going to be her kickoff as president.
REHMDo you agree?
SIMENDINGERIt's -- there is no way that this could be concluded by election day, but whether it can be concluded by inauguration day is a question that I cannot answer. But what we already know is that Hillary Clinton as a candidate has among the lowest, historically lowest, trust and honesty ratings of a presidential candidate, seconded only by Donald Trump. And in that case, you know, as Eric suggests, we've already had lawmakers say that they have material to investigate her for two straight years, and probably more in their minds, if she is elected.
SIMENDINGERSo no matter who is elected, you're walking into all the things we've already talked about, the toxic environment, the lack of faith in our institutions, the blockade in Congress, and, you know...
REHMBut you know, are the American people going to accept that after four years or eight years of absolute do-nothing in the Congress? Are the people going to allow that to happen?
SIMENDINGERWell, one of the things that Democrats have been campaigning furiously for and where this, the Comey suggestion, might -- they're concerned about this is the Democrats have been trying to say, look, Senate, the Senate race, we really want to flip the Senate to Democratic control. The concern inside the Hillary Clinton campaign and among Democrats on Capitol Hill is that if enthusiasm for Democrats, not necessarily just for Secretary Clinton, takes hold because of the Comey email imbroglio, that these knife's-edge races where these -- Republican or Democratic control of the Senate could shift, could be the collateral damage. It's a suggestion.
REHMA suggestion. And so many more emails to go through and so little time to do it in. Well, I want to thank you all for being with us, Alexis Simendinger, White House correspondent for RealClearPolitics, Eric Lichtblau, reporter for The New York Times, Michael Hirsh, national editor for Politico and author of "Capital Offense: How Washington’s Wise Men Turned America’s Future over to Wall Street." Thank you all for being here.
SIMENDINGERThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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