Former FBI Director James Comey’s decision last year to clear Hillary Clinton of gross negligence in handling classified information was met with so much frustration within the FBI that Comey felt compelled to put out a bureau-wide memo to employees defending his actions.
He chose to further explain himself in meetings with groups of disgruntled veteran FBI agents during visits to field offices around the country.
The moves appear to contradict last week’s congressional testimony by acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, who swore his newly fired boss “enjoyed broad support” among the FBI’s rank-and-file and that bureau “morale has always been good.”
In a September 2016 “memo to FBI employees,” Comey insisted the decision not to recommend charges against Clinton or any of her aides “was not a cliff-hanger; despite all the chest-beating … there wasn’t a prosecutable case.”
“I’m okay if folks have a different view of the investigation,” he added. But, “Those suggesting that we are ‘political’ or part of some ‘fix’ … are full of baloney.”
Comey hinted that the two-page memo wasn’t his first attempt to explain himself to skeptical staff. He told employees that he understood that “you may be sick of this,” then ended by saying, “I will try not to bother you with this any longer.”
“Mr. Comey had to release a memo to his staff defending himself,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in an interview. “It seems to me he wouldn’t have done that if even those in the FBI were happy with the way he performed then.”
In the weeks following his much-criticized July 5 decision, Comey traveled to FBI field offices around the country to reassure veteran agents who were upset with his handling of the email probe and decision to not recommend charges.
“In recent weeks, Comey has met with groups of former FBI agents as part of his routine visits to field offices around the country,” CNN reported on its website on Sept. 7. “In at least one recent such meeting, according to people familiar with the meeting, former agents were sharply critical of the FBI’s handling of the Clinton probe and particularly the decision to not recommend charges against Clinton.”
Last week, CNN seemed to revise its previous reporting by casting doubt on White House assertions that FBI employees had lost confidence in Comey. The cable news network put more stock in McCabe’s testimony that “the vast majority of FBI employees” backed Comey and his actions.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders asserted that one of the reasons President Trump fired Comey was because “rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director.”
FBI sources confirm that the majority of FBI employees disagreed with Comey’s handling of the Clinton investigation. They say case agents in particular were offended with what they complained was the repeated breaking of normal investigative protocols throughout the one-year espionage probe of the former secretary of state and her private unsecured email server.
“The public needs to know that both agents and ex-agents are unhappy with the politicization of the bureau,” said retired FBI official Dennis V. Hughes.
“I had conversations with agents that are currently employed who have expressed concerns but are afraid of retribution if they express their opinions,” agreed veteran special agent Steven G. Nash.
They say that morale got so bad within the bureau that at one point, Comey made all FBI employees who worked on the email case – from the two agents who interviewed Clinton down to the forensic analysts who examined computers – sign non-disclosure agreements gagging them from talking about the case even with fellow employees with top security clearance.
“Espionage and public corruption are priority investigative programs at the FBI,” former FBI agent Michael M. Biasello said. “But Comey was unable to muster the fidelity, bravery and integrity to uphold his duty and oath as FBI director and complete a robust investigation.”
He said case agents were frustrated over, among other things, “the granting of multiple immunity agreements, the repetitive lying to agents with no legal consequences, the destruction of computers and other evidence, and the lack of prosecution for anyone who had access to the emails who did not have clearance” to view classified government material, as well as the capitulation to Clinton and her lawyers over ground rules.
Immunity deals were handed out to Clinton’s top aides who were targets of the investigation even though Comey received little if any cooperation in return. Internally the deals became such a cynical joke that some agents renamed the FBI the “Federal Bureau of Immunity.”
“The outcome was by design. The director made a disgracefully cowardly decision,” Biasello said. “I am certain he was more concerned with personal job security, post-election.”
A criminal investigator who worked under Comey said that after his former boss came out in front of the cameras and exonerated Hillary, he was so disgusted he packed up and sent his service awards he received from Comey back to him with a note saying that he had tarnished them.
“I worked under Comey and thought he was beyond this. I never, ever imagined him being compromised,” said John O’Malley, a recently retired federal criminal investigator.
“I had won two attorney general awards in D.C. during my time,” he added. “I recently wrote a letter to Comey and sent my awards to him telling him that at one time they sat proudly on my mantel over my fireplace. I told him I was once proud to have them but no more. I sent them to him and told him I no longer want them in my house.”
Attempts to reach Comey for comment were unsuccessful. But a former assistant, who worked for Comey when he was the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, vouched for his integrity.
“I can say that the idea that he would conduct some sort of whitewash is contrary to everything he stands for,” former assistant U.S. attorney Steven R. Peikin said in an exclusive interview. “He is a non-partisan person of absolute integrity.”