For a time after Donald Trump’s shocking victory in the presidential election, there was a lot of talk on Daily Kos that rogue elements in the FBI deliberately conspired to deny Hillary Clinton the presidency. Supposedly, they were so angry that their boss, FBI director James Comey, decided there was no basis to indict her that they took matters into their own hands. This may have made for good theater or a good crime novel, but there didn’t appear to be anything to back it up.
However, on Tuesday, Seth Abramson, an English professor at the University of New Hampshire and a practicing attorney, revealed that there was a lot to suggest that there was indeed a cover-up. He concluded that if you assemble the narratives about the events leading up to Comey’s shocking letter to Congress on October 27 into a logical timeline, they strongly suggest that Hillary was the victim of a “bigger-than-Watergate” conspiracy.
That scenario suddenly became even more believable when it emerged that longtime Hillary aide Huma Abedin, whose emails supposedly prompted the letter, revealed that she never got a copy of the warrant–a serious breach of procedure. At least one outlet, the New York Post, has openly wondered if any warrant was issued at all.
I spoke with Abramson at length about his discoveries on Thursday via Twitter Direct Message. He told me that what initially piqued his interest was the 24-day delay between the time the agents found the emails from longtime Hillary aide Huma Abedin on the laptop of former Congressman Anthony Weiner and when they finally told Comey they needed a warrant. And yet, the agents almost certainly knew that they couldn’t even read any emails from Abedin to anyone other than Weiner without a warrant.
Abramson knows how investigations are supposed to work. He was a public defender for seven years before going into academia–six years in New Hampshire, one year in Massachusetts–so he’s used to seeing law enforcement do end runs around the rules. What really set off alarm bells for Abramson was when he saw that Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump’s closest advisers, knew about the emails before Comey did. As it turned out, the agents on the Weiner case didn’t have the time to tell Comey they needed a warrant, but did tell the agents on the Hillary email server case–who in turn told Giuliani.
When Abramson realized that a close confidant to Trump knew about a potentially politically explosive investigation before Comey did, “the fact that this was a conspiracy suddenly seemed clear.” Abramson was even more convinced when he noticed the “consciousness of guilt” Giuliani displayed when he tried to walk back his comments about speaking with the agents. It led him to wonder if this was the real reason Giuliani pulled out of consideration for a post in Trump’s cabinet, even though he had been all but promised a secretaryship. He believes it’s “downright laughable” that Giuliani backed out because of supposed foreign conflicts of interest, considering that they aren’t even a fraction of those that ensnare Trump.
It turns out that least one other person outside the FBI seems to have known about the emails before Comey knew about them–former New York City FBI head Jim Kallstrom. You may recall that just before the election, Kallstrom admitted that he was in contact with agents involved in the case after initially denying it. Kallstrom is best known for leading the investigation that ultimately resulted in several Mafia figures being packed off to prison for life in the Commission Trial of 1985 and 1986. However, he has very close ties to Trump; Wayne Barrett of The Atlantic recently wrote about the links between Kallstrom, Giuliani, and pro-Trump FBI agents.
When Abramson added it up, he was convinced that there was something outrageously illegal going on. He minced no words in his assessment of Giuliani and Kallstrom’s role in this situation.
“Any leaks to political operatives before the Director had been briefed would be not just illegal (any leak in this instance would be) but evidence of a conspiracy.”
Another red flag for Abramson was the fact that Abedin didn’t even know there were any emails there. Indeed, the FBI never asked Abedin’s permission to look at the computer–and indeed, hand’t even talked to her as late as October 29–even though she was a cooperating witness and had no reason to risk jail time by sitting on the emails. It led Abramson to wonder, “How compelling was the evidence that these were anything new, rather than the result of some sort of a backup/synch process?” As it turned out, most of those emails were duplicates of material that the FBI already had.
Abramson believes that for all the talk about Russian hackers interfering with the election, it’s very hard to prove whether it had any actual effect on polling. In contrast, the Comey letter was “a discrete event (that) could be captured in/by domestic polling.” And it can be proven with near-mathematical certainty that the letter changed the course of the election. After this letter broke, a Politico/Morning Consult poll showed that 33 percent of likely voters were “much less likely” to vote for Hillary–including seven percent of Hillary voters.
After the election, Nate Silver found data that strongly suggests the letter was what flipped Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin to Trump.
There's more evidence, too: Late-deciding voters broke strongly against Clinton in swing states, enough to cost her MI/WI/PA. pic.twitter.com/8r801ahDQO
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) December 11, 2016
The other big-name election forecaster, Sam Wang of the Princeton Election Consortium, also concluded that the Comey letter definitely changed the course of the election.
And now it looks like the events leading up to that letter were shot through with behavior that was unprofessional at best and criminal at worst. But if two people with close ties to Trump knew about a potentially politically explosive investigation before Comey did, it’s hard not to agree with Abramson’s overall assessment of the situation.
Rank-and-file FBI investigators on the Clinton case seem to have said, "If we can't indict her, we'll deny her the presidency." So they did.
— Seth Abramson (@SethAbramson) December 14, 2016
Sounds like those agents better have lawyers on speed dial.
(featured image courtesy UNH931, available under a Creative Commons BY-SA license)