Monday, January 09, 2017

And That Was That?


The October Surprise

As the presidential campaign drew closer to its conclusion, everyone was waiting for the "October Surprise", the event or information that would change the course of the election. First there was the audio tape of Trump admitting to sexual misconduct. This was a huge "scandal", and the GOP was jumping ship in droves, trying to figure out how Trump could be replaced on the ballot so that their loss would not be total and humiliating. But strangely Trump's ability to BS his way through it allowed him to weather the storm as his core support stuck with him. Amazingly in a few days those abandoning the ship were climbing back up the ratlines. As Trump had said, he could shoot somebody in the middle of 5th Avenue and not lose a vote.

And then eleven days before election day, against tradition, protocol, and the strong suggestions of FBI and DOJ officials, Comey sent a letter to the Oversight Committee suggesting that the case against Clinton was being "reopened" because new information related to the case had suddenly been found. It was bad enough that Comey was making such an announcement within days of the election, but the decision was based on such vague "evidence" that Comey admitted in the letter that the FBI had no idea as to the scope or relevance of what they had found. The import of the information was completely unknown, but the impact of the announcement was potentially devastating to Clinton's campaign. National polls had Clinton up by 6% in the week prior to the Comey letter but by only 3% (within the margin of error) the week after.

In an effort to be "fair" to Clinton Comey declared that the FBI would expedite its investigation into the new "evidence" which consisted of metadata from 650,000 emails found on the laptop of Anthony Weiner who was being investigated for sending lewd pictures to an under age female. Weiner was the husband of Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton's closest adviser. The metadata was information regarding sender, recipient, date, and subject, but not the actual content of the emails. A preliminary scan of the laptop found Hillary Clinton's name in the metadata, and this triggered the reaction. The current wisdom among the campaigns, the media, and "experts" was that the task of sorting out the information could not be done by the election. The damage had been done. Miraculously, the FBI did manage to determine that the subject emails came to be on the laptop when Abedin checked her work emails on her husband's laptop, and the laptop was synced to her work account. All the emails were copies of what the FBI already had. This information was announced by the FBI on the Sunday before election day. Some pollsters have theorized that the "clearing" of Clinton in this matter spurred her haters to make greater efforts to go to the polls and vote for Trump.

Why Did Comey Do It?

Comey said that he wrote the letter to the Oversight Committee eleven days before the election because he felt that he owed it to them to advise them on any new developments related to the previously concluded Clinton investigation. However, it is common knowledge that tradition dictates that no government agency should take any action likely to impact an election within 60 days of that election. Reportedly, high level officials at the FBI and the DOJ reminded Comey of that tradition and even characterized it as "protocol". Furthermore, Comey's own words betray the idea that the FBI even knew they had some new information, a "new development". So logically the Director's action was unwarranted and certainly ill-advised. Why then did he do it?

In July when Comey announced publicly that the FBI would not pursue an indictment against Hillary Clinton he said that the decision had been unanimous among the investigation team. This may have been true, but reporting after the election revealed that there was considerable dissension within the broader agency. Most people, myself included, have traditionally held the opinion that the individual agents of the FBI were passionate about solving crimes but were dispassionate when it came to politics. This turns out not to be the case. There were agents within the bureau who had long-term grudges against the Clintons, basically because they could never prove any wrong-doings by them. Remember in an earlier post that I described the only way the FBI could FINALLY get a solid case against Bill Clinton was to set up a perjury trap using Monica Lewinsky. There are agents in the FBI today who wish to see the Clintons destroyed once and for all.

The FBI had discovered the Weiner laptop metadata characterized as new information early in October, but Comey wasn't informed about it until just before he sent his letter to the Oversight Committee. Comey by now knew there were agents who wanted to hurt the Clinton campaign, and it was clear that a leak of the "new" information was likely. Former New York Mayor and US Attorney Rudy Giuliani was fluffing Fox News with hints that the Trump campaign had some big news coming out at any time. So Comey wanted to stay ahead of the curve, so to speak, by telling Congress before it was leaked to Fox. Apparently he had lost control of the agents within his agency, and this was the only way to cover his ass. In my opinion, if he was to say anything it should have been that there are rumors that the Clinton investigation is being reopened. Those rumors are without foundation and should be ignored. There have been several reports that Comey was not necessarily reluctant to hurt Clinton, and I personally believe that was a factor.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Sooner or Later We'll Find Something

The Ken Starr team worked for years to find dirt on the Clintons regarding Whitewater, Vince Foster, Travelgate et al, but after so much work and $30 million fruitlessly spend, they were ready to close up shop when luck fell right into their laps. Yes, Linda Tripp and the stained blue dress.

History repeated itself with the House Oversight Committee's investigation of the #Benghazi attack. Republicans outright admitted that the sole aim of the investigation was to bring Hillary Clinton down and hinder her presidential candidacy. They investigated and hinted and released partial cherry-picked testimony if efforts to make Clinton look bad. In my previous post I outlined the basics of the Benghazi "scandal" and why it was nonsense. And in a tour-de-force 11 hour grilling of Clinton by the Oversight Committee, the case was laid bare and spent by her effective if not humiliating debunking of the Republican narrative.

So what now? Shut down the investigation and move on to doing the people's business? Hell no! Clinton is still the most electable and qualified candidate for president. We shall not give up our war on Hillary Clinton. She must not be allowed to become president.

In the course of the Oversight Committee's investigation it was learned that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had used a private email server to do State Department business. She said that she did it as a matter of convenience. Like me when I was working, She had one cell phone for official use and for personal use and the emails on those phones were from a "secret" private server. "We've got her now!"

Like so many government systems, the email systems of most government agencies are not the most up-to-date and easiest to use. Many people had complained about how inconvenient they were to work with. It was not uncommon for people in government to work around the system. Condi Rice did not use email at all, but her staff used non-government email to conduct some of their business. Colin Powell used private, non-government email for State Department business. He used a dial-up system. AOL? Maybe. At Clinton's request he explained his methodology but later denied it. Ironically Clinton was able to produce the emails debunking his denial.

Using a private email system for government business is against the rules, but it is not illegal per se. Clinton was warned about it by her staff but apparently ignored those warnings. She shouldn't have done it, and she admitted later that she shouldn't have done it. That wasn't good enough. This was Hillary Clinton, for Christ's sake. She's hiding something. Why else would she be using a non-government email system? Furthermore, the fact that the server wasn't a government server supposedly made her emails uniquely susceptible to hacking, and therefore she had put the security of the United States of America at risk. So either Clinton is hiding something or she's allowed bad guys to access her emails or both. "Oh boy! We've really, really got her now!"

First the security part. The FBI said that there was no evidence that the Clinton server had been successfully hacked. Hacks might have been attempted, but no evidence of success. This is ironic in the context of known successful hackings of multiple government servers including the Office of Personnel Management. So was national security jeopardized? Not any more likely than with a other of a number of government systems.

On to the meat of the issue. Clinton must be hiding something. The Secretary was directed by the House Oversight Committee to turn over her emails for their investigation by the FBI. Clinton agreed to comply with the understanding that she would turn over all State Department-related emails but no emails that were purely personal in nature. She directed her lawyers to determine which emails were which, and handed over the work emails to the FBI. Having no use for the private emails, she said they could be deleted.

Work vs. Personal Email

What was work-related and what was private? A member of Clinton's legal team was assigned to make this determination. According to the FBI this was her process:

she automatically deemed any email sent from or to a .gov and .mil address as related to work; she searched the tens of thousands of emails for names of senior State Department officials, lawmakers, foreign leaders and other government officials; she conducted a keyword search for work-related terms; and she looked at the sender, recipient and "subject" of every email for other potentially work-related emails, but she did not read the contents of those emails. - Source:
This shows that Clinton was not the person who decided what was and wasn't personal. Furthermore, ANY email received or sent by Clinton to a government or military email address would be archived on that system. A perusal of those system archives searching for emails with Clinton's private server address would easily make such emails available, and in fact some Clinton emails were apparently reproduced by this means. She wasn't hiding anything.

Top Secret Information

The FBI found no emails containing "Top Secret" information. They did find some emails that contained content with a lower level of classification. That is, at one point in time or another some federal agency concluded that the content should have been classified even if it was not designated as such at the time Clinton sent, received, or possessed it. It is common for different federal agencies to have differing opinions on the sensitivity of information to the point of meaningful disagreement. All this is to say that almost all of the content deemed sensitive by someone somewhere down the line was not in any way marked or designated with any classification at any time Clinton was dealing with it.

The exceptions were three emails that included sections within them that actually did have a classification notation adjacent to those sections. The notation was a simple "C" for classified. However, the protocol for documents containing classified information is that any such documents should include headers and footers clearly denoting that the document contains classified information. The three subject emails DID NOT have any such header or footer. FBI Director Comey said it would not be unreasonable for a person reading such improperly formatted documents  to assume that they contained no classified information REGARDLESS of any notations within the body of the document. This is an important fact: There is no evidence that Hillary Clinton was aware that she had received, sent, or possessed classified information using her private email server.

The Criminal Investigation Conclusion

The anticipation of a criminal indictment of Hillary Clinton based on the FBI investigation of her emails was palpable in early Summer of 2016. This was especially true for Fox News viewers as various Fox "contributors", such as Monica Crowley, revealed that their sources said an indictment was imminent. The excitement built up until early July when something extraordinary happened. Normally an FBI investigation would would end with an indictment or a low key "no bill" or finding of no prosecutable case with little if any explanation. In an unusual step, FBI Director James Comey held a press conference in which he announced that the Clinton investigation was completed, and the FBI was not recommending an indictment. He said the investigation team was unanimous in its conclusion. This was an apparent attempt to stifle expected outrage from the "lock her up" crowd. But Comey went on to characterize the actions Clinton as extremely careless but stopped short of calling them grossly negligent. This was an apparent attempt to confirm Clinton opponents belief that she did something bad. But the crux of Comey's defense of the FBI's recommendation was that the relevant criminal statutes required intent by the Secretary to share, transmit, destroy, or hide classified information for the purpose of causing harm to the United States of America. [I have asked people in social media who believe Clinton to be a criminal to please cite the law that she broke. The law cited is 18 US Code 793.They cite the elements of criminal action but to a person they simply ignore the word "intent", "willingly", and "knowingly".] A careful reading of the Code reveals that Comey and team were absolutely correct in their decision that "no reasonable prosecutor" would try to prosecute this case.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Benghazi: All's Fair In Politics IYAR


There are dangerous places in the world. There always have been. And there have always been brave people who have accepted those dangers in service to their countries, both as soldiers and as diplomats. Over the decades the US has lost hundreds of countrymen not engaged in direct military action with its enemies. The loss of US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others was tragic but not extraordinary. The political fallout, I would assert, was.

The fatal attack on the Benghazi Consulate in Libya was immediately preceded by violent protest across the world, in countries such as Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Sudan, India, Pakistan, and Indonesia. In Egypt the US Embassy walls were breached by protesters, and the US flag was replaced by a black Islamist flag. The subject of these protests was a video called "The Innocence of Muslims" released on the Internet that Muslims considered to be an insult to the Prophet Mohammed. Radical leaders used this video to stir up Muslims to commit acts of violence against the US in these several countries. In this context, the initial idea that the attack on the Benghazi Consulate was a protest against that same video can be seen as a very realistic explanation.

The tragedy of the loss of life in Benghazi immediately became a political tool. In the heat of the 2012 presidential campaign, any attack against Americans, especially one characterized as an act of terror, could be seen as detrimental the Obama reelection campaign and ammunition for the Romney campaign. And Romney was quick to fire at Obama while the consulate was still smoldering from the attack. As usual, Obama was more deliberate in his initial response in which he referred to "an act of terror" without explicitly saying that the attack on Benghazi was one. By the weekend, UN Ambassador Susan Rice, given the assignment to represent the administration on the Sunday talk shows, performed the "full Ginsberg" by appearing on all five of the major networks and proclaiming that the attack was the result of a protest against a video clip viewed as insulting Islam. Republicans immediately said that the protest characterization was an obfuscation of the "fact" that the Obama administration was failing in its fight against radical Islam. Politically, the most immediate victim of the attack was Rice, who was blamed for the obfuscation (lying), and who was subsequently denied the planned succession to Secretary of State upon Hillary Clinton's departure. But that was ONLY the beginning.

The Talking Points

The administration and the State Department recognized immediately that the attack on the consulate was an act of terror, probably planned. They began putting together talking points for the president and for the State Department when the attack was discussed with the media. The talking points went through a number of iterations, but the most important edit was the CIA's assertion that the attack emanated from a "spontaneous" protest over the insulting video. Thus, the Rice talking points were a reflection of the CIA's early assessment of the situation. To some degree this interpretation of the tragedy took the onus off of the campaigning Obama; however that was not acceptable to the GOP. As the days went by it became clear that the attack was much more than a spontaneous protest; it was a deliberate, planned attack by organized radicals. Ergo, what the administration had said initially was a lie deliberately manufactured to save the Obama campaign, according to administration opponents. Rice, who did no more than deliver the CIA talking points, was black balled by the Senate GOP.

After multiple Congressional investigations as well as investigations by the State Department and a number of news organizations, it is now known that the attack on Benghazi was a planned attack by Islamic radicals, BUT that the leaders admittedly used the insulting video to enrage and recruit the attackers. Thus, the Rice/CIA talking points were not lies and were consistent with what was known at the time and within the context of world-wide protest over "The Innocence of Muslims".

Hillary's Email to Chelsea

Clinton enemies believed that the focus on the video was a misdirection by her and Obama to relieve them of blame for the Benghazi attack. When Clinton met with the families of the Benghazi victims, two of the family members claimed that she explicitly blamed the death of their loved ones on the video. The GOP believed it was a lie, and they used this claim to stir up outrage against Clinton, even bringing the grieving mother of one of the dead before the Republican National Convention four years later. The investigation into Clinton's emails (more later) brought to light the fact that on the night of the attack Hillary emailed her daughter and also informed a foreign state diplomat that the Benghazi Consulate had been attacked by terrorists. This revelation provided, the GOP believed, the "smoking gun" that Clinton knew all along blaming the video was a lie.

However, to accept this finding as a "smoking gun" one must believe that on the night of the Benghazi attack Hillary Clinton had available intelligence that was immediate, complete, and unambiguous. That this would be the case is laughable. It is very reasonable that her initial reaction would be mitigated by the conclusions of the CIA days later. What Clinton said to the survivors is debated and likely to be clouded by the circumstances, but even if the video were mentioned, it would not have been a lie.

Hillary Left Four Americans To Die

This claim is so absurd it make eyes roll. The State Department is not a military organization and does not have direct control over any military forces. There is simply no context within which it could be said that Hillary could have done anything to save the lives of the Benghazi victims. There is no way in which Clinton could have directed a military counter attack or a rescue operation, and therefore, no circumstance in which she would have or could have issued a "stand down" order of any kind.

Any capability to assist in rescuing the Americans lay with the Defense Department (the military) and the CIA which had personnel only a mile away. The President met with the head of the CIA and the Chairman of the JCOS in the Oval Office at the time of the attack. All have reported that the President instructed both to do what ever was necessary to assist the Americans. There is no evidence or reason to believe that there was a stand down order given by Clinton, Obama, or the top officials of the military or the CIA. Whatever order that may be characterized as a stand down order originated in Libya with local command and was tactical in nature due to the lack of knowledge about opposition forces.

There continues to be dispute over whether and when Chris Stevens requested additional security for himself in Libya. It is the State Department's position that any such request would have been handled at levels below the Secretary. It is also believed that Stevens did not want security beyond his immediate personal guards and the locals who were hired for protection in order to maintain a low profile within Benghazi.

Hundreds of Americans were lost during the Reagan administration at the bombing in Beirut, and many more diplomats have died in service to America over the years. Congressional investigations = 0. But all's fair in politics if you are Republican (IYAR).