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Comey’s FBI Double Standard

kimberly_strassel.jpegby Kimberly Strassel, WSJ, August 19, 2016

To view Hillary’s FBI file, lawmakers must go to a secure room under lock and guard

As for the suspicion that there is one standard for the Clintons and one for everyone else, witness the FBI’s interaction this week with Congress over Hillary Clinton’s agency file. The G-men are back to being G-men—at least now that the Democratic nominee is off their hook.

FBI Director James Comey gets credit for agreeing to Congress’s demand for documents related to the bureau’s investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s email server. The FBI shares such files only on the rarest of occasions. Yet given the cloud surrounding this affair, not to mention Mr. Comey’s stated interest in “transparency,” he would have been hard-pressed to deny Congress’s request.

It’s the manner in which lawmakers are getting access to the documents that is more interesting.


Bear in mind what the FBI investigation revealed: We know that Mrs. Clinton for years emailed top secret information willy-nilly over a home-brew server that lacked security. We know that this classified information leached into the private email accounts of those with whom she communicated. We know that she cavalierly used her private email while in hostile countries, making it possible that those countries gained access. We know that Mr. Comey nonetheless chose not to prosecute Mrs. Clinton for her “extremely careless” behavior.

Compare that standard with the one the FBI is now imposing on Congress, where the Clinton files are being guarded at a level that brings to mind the Vatican Secret Archives. Aides from an array of House committees described to me the extraordinary limits that have been placed on who can see the files and under what circumstances.

The FBI has provided just one set of Hillary files to be accessed by both the majority and minority members (and their staffs) of the House Oversight, Appropriations and Judiciary committees. That’s a single set of documents for hundreds upon hundreds of people. The files are being held in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) underneath the Capitol, a secure room reserved for viewing the highest-level secrets. That room is under lock, key and guard, and viewing is by appointment only.

Many of these lawmakers and aides hold some of the highest clearances available to Congress, yet they are nonetheless barred from examining vast portions of the record. The FBI in some cases redacted entire documents, presumably at the request of various intelligence agencies, and to protect national security. Initially, visiting congressmen and staffers were not allowed to take any notes. After intense negotiations, the FBI on Thursday relented, but only on the condition that all notes remain behind in the SCIF.

Some of this is as it should be. These are, after all, national secrets. Yet the process highlights not only the absurdity of Mrs. Clinton’s claim that her server was no big deal, but also the irresponsibility of the FBI’s decision not to prosecute. Duly elected members of Congress are traversing layers of security and guards, clearances in hand, to view a few top-secret documents. Ask Mr. Comey why what is demanded of them was not demanded of Hillary.

But the contradiction gets even more extreme. The FBI has placed additional, and unnecessary, strictures on the Hillary file. It warned lawmakers against publicly sharingany information from the documents—even unclassified information. So the FBI chief won’t prosecute Mrs. Clinton for spreading secrets across the globe, but he bars Congress from talking about unclassified issues that potentially get to the heart of today’s presidential race. One might wonder why.

Nor does the double standard end with Mrs. Clinton. Oversight Committee aides who have seen the documents note that some of the redactions look to have come at the demand of the State Department (rather than the intelligence community). Indeed, the FBI allowed the State Department to review portions of the file before handing it to Congress. This is the same department that essentially served as a co-conspirator in the operation of Mrs. Clinton’s secret server and which has spent more than a year stonewalling investigations and making excuses for its former boss.

One doubts that Mr. Comey has ever previously allowed an accomplice in bad behavior to tidy up evidence. Then again, Mr. Comey was not until recently in the habit of waiting until the last days of an investigation to interview the target. Mr. Comey’s past procedure has been to interrogate immediately, the better to catch perjury later on. Mrs. Clinton got special treatment.

The entire spectacle—from the investigation to this week’s handover of files—demonstrates how much damage Mr. Comey has done to the FBI’s credibility. It’s good to see the bureau now taking national security seriously. Yet the director’s willingness to ignore those standards for Mrs. Clinton has sent the message that Americans can’t expect equal treatment under the law.

That’s why Republicans shouldn’t hold out hope that the FBI will go after Mrs. Clinton for lying under oath. Politics trumps. If your name is Clinton, it outranks justice, Congress, everything.

Write to kim@wsj.com.

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published this page in Home 2016-08-19 12:13:30 -0600