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Or Maybe the FBI Really Did Have a Reason to Stay Off the Russian Attribution?

The Comey whiplash continues.

In the latest development, a single source — a “former FBI official,” offered with no description of how he or she would know — told CNBC that weeks ago Jim Comey refused to join onto the Intelligence Community’s attribution of the DNC hacks to Russia because it was too close to the election.

FBI Director James Comey argued privately that it was too close to Election Day for the United States government to name Russia as meddling in the U.S. election and ultimately ensured that the FBI’s name was not on the document that the U.S. government put out, a former FBI official tells CNBC.

The official said some government insiders are perplexed as to why Comey would have election timing concerns with the Russian disclosure but not with the Huma Abedin email discovery disclosure he made Friday.

In the end, the Department of Homeland Security and The Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued the statement on Oct. 7, saying “The U.S. intelligence community is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of emails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations…These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process.”

[snip]

According to the former official, Comey agreed with the conclusion the intelligence community came to: “A foreign power was trying to undermine the election. He believed it to be true, but was against putting it out before the election.” Comey’s position, this official said, was “if it is said, it shouldn’t come from the FBI, which as you’ll recall it did not.”

In spite of what Hillary said at the most recent debate, the statement was billed as a “Joint Statement,” though it did claim to represent the view of the intelligence community.

Until someone else confirms this story — preferably with more than one source, one clearly placed in a position to know — I advise caution on this.

That’s true, first of all, because a bunch of people who likely harbor grudges against Jim Comey are coming out of the woodwork to condemn Comey’s Friday statement. Given the reasons they might resent Comey, I really doubt Alberto Gonzales or Karl Rove were primarily motivated to criticize him out of a concern for the integrity of our election process.

The same could be true here.

The other reason I’d wait is because of reporting going back to this summer on the case against Russia. As I’ve noted, reporters repeatedly reported that while there seemed little doubt that Russia had hacked the Democrats, the FBI had not yet proven some steps in the chain of possession. For example, at the end of July, FBI was still uncertain who or how the emails from DNC were passed onto WikiLeaks.

The FBI is still investigating the DNC hack. The bureau is trying to determine whether the emails obtained by the Russians are the same ones that appeared on the website of the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks on Friday, setting off a firestorm that roiled the party in the lead-up to the convention.

The FBI is also examining whether APT 28 or an affiliated group passed those emails to WikiLeaks, law enforcement sources said.

As I noted, the IC attribution statement actually remained non-committal on precisely this step of the process, finding that the leaks of emails were consistent with stuff Russia’s GRU has done in the past, but stopping short of saying (as they had on the hack itself) that it is confident that Russia leaked the files.

Which is to say the same thing the FBI had questions about in July is something that remained non-committal in the October statement, which might be one of a number of reasons (including that FBI wants to retain the ability to prosecute whoever they charge with this, including if it is a currently unknown middleman) that the FBI might not want to be on the attribution. FBI was unwilling to fully commit to the accusation in July, and apparently unwilling to do so in October.

Note that CNBC’s anonymous source, even when confirming that Comey backed the statement, didn’t confirm he backed the whole content of it. The person contrasts the most aggressive quote from the IC statement:

… the U.S. intelligence community is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises …

With this, allegedly from Comey:

A foreign power was trying to undermine the election

Those statements are not the same thing, and it may be that FBI continued to have perhaps not doubts, but unproven holes in the case, that led to caution on the Russia statement.

In any case, it’s not that I believe the anonymous CNBC statement to be impossible. But there is another perfectly consistent explanation for Comey hesitating to name FBI on that IC attribution.

Update: Ellen Nakashima has a version of this story (sourced to more than one person) now. Here’s an excerpt, but definitely read the whole thing for the logic (or lack thereof) FBI used.

In the debate over publicly naming Russia, the FBI has investigative interests to protect, officials said. At the same time, other officials said, the aim of public attribution was to stop Russia from undermining confidence in the integrity of the election.

[snip]

But the White House, Justice Department, State Department and other agencies debated for months whether to officially blame Moscow or not.

Comey’s instincts were to go with the public attribution even as late as August, said one participant in the debate. But as the weeks went by and the election drew nearer, “he thought it was too close,” the official said.

When, by early October, the decision was made, the talk shifted to who would make the announcement. In December 2014, it was the FBI that publicly pointed the finger at North Korea for hacking Sony Pictures Entertainment and damaging its computers. That was because the attribution to Pyongyang was based on the FBI investigation, said a senior administration official.

[snip]

The announcement did not mention the White House, which also had been very concerned about appearing to influence the election.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

33 replies
  1. rugger9 says:

    At the very least, Comey needs to come clean on why he’s holding this back (with the well-documented Putin ties to Trump) but not Weiner’s laptop which by definition would not be expected to have any emails written on it originally by HRC.  Copies, sure, but no originals.

    Foreign money / influence in a USA election IS a crime, BTW.

    • bevin says:

      “Well documented Putin ties to Trump!!!”

      What arrant nonsense. There is no evidence of these “ties” existing.

      Similarly there is no evidence that any properly constituted court would accept of Russian state involvement in the publication of DNC emails. It seems clear that Podesta fell for an elementary phishing trick and not to a Russian spying agency either.

      The torrent of falsehoods and wild allegations pouring out of the Democratic Presidential campaign should make people very wary of putting these people anywhere near the power of the US government.

        • jawbone says:

          I’d say Slate managed to overlook several important things Hillary did while SoS, such as treating the Guatemala coup as a “legal” action; Libya, which shows so many bad decisions; the push for more boots on the ground in and around Syria.  And this is just off the top of my head. And, concerning the variou odious trade treaties, does anyone really believe Hillary will not find that the flaws she detected when Bernie was a political threat to her will suddenly and completely be “taken care of”??

      • rugger9 says:

        Bevin – you may want to rethink your position.  Harry Reid does not put markers like this out there unless he does have something.

        Link: http://crooksandliars.com/2016/10/reports-trumps-ties-russia-are-deep-and

      • SpaceLifeForm says:

        The torrent of falsehoods and wild allegations pouring out of the Republican Presidential campaign should make people very wary of putting these people anywhere near the power of the US government.

         

         

        HTH.  HAND.

  2. Evangelista says:

    Marcy,

    There is evidence of considerable dust in the air within the walls at the FBI.  Comey’s dismissal of the Clinton Server investigation results did not correlate to the recognizable inestigation results and areas of difficulty indicated by the investigating, before the Wikileaks releases.  The Wikileaks releases presented more, and blew a bloom of publicity.  Investigators at FBI saw Comey’s dismissal as a politically motivated, and partisan, act.  The public, upon being made aware, by the Wikileaks, saw Comey’s action as politically partisan.  There is reaction within the FBI.  See the DoJ report re:  General Cartwright, specifically the FBI attorney’s unequivocal statement that the FBI investigates all levels.

    Comey’s ‘Friday Surprise’ forewarning of more Clinton server related investigation, for engendering difficulties for him whatever he might have announced, whichever way he might have ‘spun’ any statement he made, indicates his announcement not voluntary, forced by internal forces, probably ones set in motion by persons in the FBI
    refusing to back-burner their Weiner-to-Hillary-server emails connection (being ‘non-political’ can mean carrying on regardless as well as suspending for duration).  An investigating team going forward regardless would force Comey to have to forewarn, or face explaining an apparently political (a second, seeming affirming) suppressing;  a rock-and-hard-place dilemma.  The FBI attorney’s direct statement in the DoJ Cartwright announcement pained the floor around Comey’s cornr and suggests the statement there a direct challenge, and deliberate move to curb any future investigation mushing.

    The FBI, at some level, appears to be trying to recover its investigation purpose and its reputation as an investigating bureau, instead of administration-extension political one.  The apparent caution in jumping on the “the Russians did it” bandwagon, for which there is, as is publicly bruited, no actually substantial evidence, appears to be for internal resistance to unprofessional conclusion-jumping, ‘again’, with consequent further damage to the Bureau’s professional investigation agency reputation.  “We do not yet know.” is a professional, and correct, investigator response, even if public or polititians wants an answer ‘now’.  The FBI does not need more egg on its face, more evidences of bending and warping for politics, or more indications of incompetence and amateurism.  Some agents and executives in the Bureau appear to now be becoming insistent in asserting this.  It is about damn time.  And if it discomfits some politicians, pundits and partisans, maybe it should.

  3. John Casper says:

    Jawbone,

    FWIW, I sent Bernie $550. Haven’t sent HRC a nickel.
    Since I’m in a blue state, I feel comfortable voting Jill Stein for POTUS, just like 2012.

  4. P J Evans says:

    jawbone says: October 31, 2016 at 8:14 pm

    It’s interesting that you think that the Secretary of State is the deciding input on all those decisions, with more influence than DOD and the intelligence agencies.
    With that much power, shouldn’t she be so far ahead of Trump that he has no chance of winning any electoral votes? (And shouldn’t that kind of power show up in all those GOP-inspired investigations?)

  5. bevin says:

    This excellent article in The Duran-a Russian oriented web site- ought to be read by anyone who is taking these claims that Trump is tied to Russia seriously:
    http://theduran.com/hillary-clinton-planted-a-bomb-under-american-democracy/

    “….By far the most irresponsible and dangerous Hillary Clinton has done is however to accuse a foreign power – Russia – of meddling in the election in order to prevent her winning, and to impose Donald Trump on the American people.

    “This is dangerous and irresponsible at so many levels that it is difficult to know where to start.

    “Firstly, it is not true. There is no evidence Donald Trump is a Russian agent or has any connection to Russia, or that Russia backs him. All the ‘evidence’ cited to prove he is and that it does – down to the misquotation of a single comment of Putin’s and the claims about Trump’s supposed Russian business connections – has proved to be so unconvincing that even Hillary Clinton has stopped talking about it.

    “Secondly, it is polluting the US political system by using agencies of the US government to spread this false story.

    “I have previously put on record my own strong doubts that Russia is behind the DNC and Podesta leaks. Now Craig Murray – a former British ambassador who (unlike me) is a personal friend of Julian Assange – has come forward to say that he knows 100% as fact that Russia is not behind the leaks (see here).

    “Craig Murray is a man of proven integrity who as a former senior diplomat has handled classified intelligence material and who therefore knows how to separate fact from fiction. If he says he knows 100% for sure that Russia is not responsible for the DNC and Podesta leaks, then given the sources he has that is good enough for me, as it should be for all reasonable people.

    “What that must means is that the recent statement by US intelligence that Russia is behind the leaks is untrue. I have previously discussed the deeply manipulative language used in this statement, which in fact proves that US intelligence does not have the evidence to back up what it says.

    “I have also pointed out that it is actually unprecedented for US intelligence to interfere in a US election in this way. ..”
    And there lies the real scandal, not in Comey’s intervention but in the steady drip of interventions from the “Intelligence Agencies” backing the Trump is a Russian agent nonsense. An series of interventions of which the most recent is the “17 intelligence agencies are confident…’ line

    There are some things more important than Presidential campaigns, no matter how many soft jobs are on offer, and one of those things is the relationship between nuclear armed powers.

    • rugger9 says:

      Of course Putin denies it….now…  He’ll collect off Trump later.  This is also a Manafort problem, who just happened to be Trump’s campaign chair until the Putin connection got too hot.

      Think like an American, not a Putin apologist.

  6. rugger9 says:

    Another link, better analysis: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/10/veteran-spy-gave-fbi-info-alleging-russian-operation-cultivate-donald-trump

    Since Trump refuses outright to open his books (unlike HRC who has for decades) even though promising to do so several times before holding non-existent emails as a hostage, it would be highly risky to believe there’s nothing here.  Speaking as a Cold War vet, this is SOP for the Russian intel apparatus and America deserves a better POTUS than a Russian puppet.

  7. wayoutwest says:

    I made a joking comment, at another site, about how the Clintonites needed to somehow depict Comey as Putin’s mole to improve their faltering weak damage control and salvage this train wreck.

    I never expected that EW was where, however obliquely, this nonsense would surface.

  8. laura says:

    It’s no secret that Trump et famile have sought to do business with Russia -there’s plenty of public statements on the subject. No secret that Trump had had to go far afield to find financial backing for his business ventures as few if any Stateside banks will lend to him due to a well established pattern of over-leveraging followed by serial bankruptcies and stiffing vendors of both goods and services. It’s unclear why he hired Manafort. It’s unclear why he has positive comments for Putin. Unclear why he won’t release tax returns.

    Correlation isn’t causation but at some point, what is currently unclear must be made clear.

     

    • bmaz says:

      Ties to unsavory interests in the east, Russian and otherwise? Sure. A straight up Russian mole?? Come the fuck on.

          • bmaz says:

            Useful, even if stooge like, tool is pretty easy to buy. But, at heart, he is too much of a coward, and too worried about his business “image” to do go to full on mole/agent status.

            And, in the unlikely event it could be/might be true, open allegation of the same is ridiculous. I  am an open and notorious former Sanders/now Clinton supporter. Some actor in Russia maliciously hacking, to date selectively against Dems and Clinton, is easy to give some putative credence to. Are they really Putin/Kremlin? Yeah, that is a far different question. Still malign and notable though. But this mole meme is just a bridge too far in my eyes.

            Also, this is my first encounter with you that I recall, welcome to the Emptywheel community.

  9. Ben says:

    So much is speculative.  Wiener’s hacks apparently recede to 2011.  I just can’t get my head around the notion of some….Breitbarters at the helm of this?  What?

    • bmaz says:

      If extant reports are correct, some of the Abedin material found on Weiner’s laptop actually predate January 2009 – i.e. – before the time Clinton was SOS. No clue if this is correct or not yet, of course.

  10. Curious says:

    I think whenever one or more officials (as in a group) makes the explicit point as being (merely) “confident” in or about something, then perhaps one should soberly regard such a point as being an act of desperation, or perhaps rather, of it being an act of “wishful thinking” in a game of attribution, and thus not necessarily as if they are expressing their personal convictions.

  11. klynn says:

    Having studied and interned in Russia many years ago, my perspectives on this report come from a cross-cultural viewpoint…one of vranyo and more. Sadly, I am seeing Mr. T display the practice. Here’s a nice piece about this cultural tradition of a special form of lying:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/magazine/from-russia-with-lies.html

    From my vantage point, I find myself noticing buried but loaded paragraphs from different reports and finding the vranyo as well as finding the unsuspecting facts that are overlooked while also noticing the formation of six degrees of separation of the facts. Trump likes to build Potemkin Villages into his speeches to manipulate. He has the practice down to a fine art and that alone gives me tremendous pause in addition to his offensive commentary and actions in general.

    So here are some pieces I recommend reading. If I have time at some point, I’ll try to go into the weeds.
    http://www.newsweek.com/vladimir-putin-sidney-blumenthal-hillary-clinton-donald-trump-benghazi-sputnik-508635

    http://www.smh.com.au/world/us-election/dncleak-five-times-wikileaks-and-russia-have-crossed-paths-20160728-gqfq8b.html

    http://www.politico.com/story/2016/10/wikileaks-russia-hillary-clinton-campaign-democrats-229707#ixzz4MyEHI35J

    http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/roger-stone-claims-communicated-assange-clinton-emails

    Some might call having concern about Trump ties to Russia “conspiracy thinking” but he has had three advisers (make the 4 counting Roger Stone) with deep ties — even what I would consider uncomfortable and unwise ties, he brought on to his Presidential campaign team. Which makes me ask, “Why in the world would someone run a Presidential campaign and bring on leadership like this, with deep ties like this?”

    Asking these questions and seeking answers to them is valid and vital in terms of national security.

    • emptywheel says:

      klynn

      That Eichenwald story is one of the most discredited mainstream article of this election, IMO. Here’s my piece on it, with link to others. Read through to the bottom for the description of the carrots and sticks Eichenwald used to try to get the Sputnik guy (who got fired for this) to not tell his side of the story. While his claims may be bullshit, you’ll note Eichenwald insinuated the IC was involved in this.

      Which is another way of saying some of those making accusations against Trump are themselves engaging in a special form of if not lies, then delusion.

      Yes, there’s reason to be cautious about it, just as there’s reason to be cautious about Hillary’s too-close ties to the Saudis. But there is also reason to read the stories coming out with the same skepticism we would anytime our NatSec types start using NatSec as a substitute for logic and evidence.

  12. klynn says:

    I agree with you on the Eichenwald story; however, despite being discredited, there are a few references in the story that are worth overlaying with some other pieces from later items in other articles. When I get time, I’ll try and get in to the weeds as to why.

    And I do not disagree with you about skepticism and caution for both candidates and NatSec ops. Unfortunately, I weigh the Russian threat a bit more than the Saudis threat.

    • bmaz says:

      KLynn, LOVE seeing you be around here more again!

      As to Eichenwald, I thought the relevant community had been liberated from him after his, analogous to now, relentless craptastic self promotion off of shit work during early Snowden/NSA days. He is the same guy, and that is not a reliable voice.

  13. Curious says:

    Btw, Chaffetz (republican) tweeted this newsarticle today:
    “FBI deputy director whose wife took Clinton friend’s cash is asked why he is still involved in email probe as Congress turn heat up on Clinton”
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3897560/FBI-deputy-director-wife-took-Clinton-friend-s-cash-asked-involved-email-probe-Congress-turn-heat-Clinton.html

    Heh, I have like 100 twitter tabs open that I shuffle through all day long (they are set to load when viewed individually,else I end up into issues with loading all the tabs in my browser.

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