GOP chairmen: Comey may have cleared Clinton before interviewing her

GOP chairmen: Comey may have cleared Clinton before interviewing her
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Two Senate Republican chairmen investigating President Trump’s firing of James Comey say newly revealed transcripts show the former FBI director exonerated Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGrassley blasts Democrats over unwillingness to probe Clinton GOP lawmakers cite new allegations of political bias in FBI Top intel Dem: Trump Jr. refused to answer questions about Trump Tower discussions with father MORE of criminal charges before an investigation was completed.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGrassley blasts Democrats over unwillingness to probe Clinton GOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration Thanks to the farm lobby, the US is stuck with a broken ethanol policy MORE (R-Iowa) and Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration We are running out of time to protect Dreamers US trade deficit rises on record imports from China MORE (R-S.C.), who chairs a key Judiciary subcommittee, say transcripts from a federal watchdog agency show Comey decided to draft a statement clearing Clinton of criminal charges related to the mishandling of classified information before his agency had a chance to interview her and top deputies.

The senators suggest the evidence may provide support for President Trump’s decision to fire Comey earlier this year, which he initially said was because of the director’s handling of the Clinton case.

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The firing caused a political firestorm because Comey was looking into Russia’s involvement in last year’s presidential race and possible links between Moscow and Trump’s campaign. The president later said the investigation was on his mind when made the decision to dismiss Comey. The firing led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is now leading the investigation. 

Grassley and Graham are pointing to newly released transcripts from the Office of Special Counsel, which interviewed of two key FBI officials, Jim Rybicki, Comey’s former chief of staff, and Trisha Anderson, a principle deputy general counsel.

The Office of Special Counsel is an independent federal investigative agency tasked with protecting federal employees from prohibited personnel practices, according to a description on its website.

Grassley and Graham say one of the officials told investigators that Comey decided in early May 2016 to draft a statement clearing Clinton of criminal charges but also criticizing her handling of classified material on a private email server.

At that point the FBI had yet to interview Clinton as well as several other important witnesses, including Cheryl Mills, a senior aide to Clinton, Bryan Pagliano, a former tech aide to Clinton, and Hannah Richert, a staffer at the Clinton Presidential Center, to name a few.

According to portions of the redacted transcripts made public by Grassley and Graham, the official they believe to be Rybicki acknowledged that in the spring of 2016 investigators had an idea of what the outcome of the investigation was going to be. At that point, the bureau had been looking into Clinton's email server since July of the previous year. 

"– but was there – I guess, based on what you’re saying, it sounds like there was an idea of where the outcome of the investigation was going to go?" the special counsel investigator asked. 

"Sure. There was a – right, there was – based on –" the FBI official replied — but the reasoning was redacted.

Grassley and Graham say that the timeline of events indicates investigative malpractice. 

“These individuals had intimate and personal knowledge relating to Secretary Clinton’s non-government server, including helping her build and administer the device,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter sent Wednesday to Christopher Wray, the new FBI director.

“Conclusion first, fact-gathering second — that’s no way to run an investigation. The FBI should be held to a higher standard than that, especially in a matter of such great public interest and controversy,” Grassley and Graham wrote in the letter made public Thursday.

Grassley and Graham are demanding the FBI turn over to the Judiciary panel all drafts of Comey’s July 5, 2016, statement wrapping up the FBI’s investigation as well as records of communications among FBI officials familiar with the decision.

Trump fired Comey on May 9 after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein issued a memo criticizing Comey’s closing of the FBI’s Clinton investigation.

Rosenstein wrote in a May 9 memo that “almost everyone agrees that the director made serious mistakes.”

Days later, however, Trump said he had fired Comey because of his handling of the investigation into Russia.

In an interview with NBC News, he also said he had decided to fire Comey before receiving Rosenstein’s May 9 memo.

Defending the firing in that interview, Trump said it was about Russia.

“And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said: ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.’ ”

Trump earlier in the year said he had asked whether he was under investigation in a separate conversation with Comey. The president has repeatedly insisted that he personally is not under investigation. 

The former FBI director, weeks after his firing, testified to Congress that he believed Trump had asked him to end an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn that involved ties to Russia.

“It's my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation,” Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee. “I was fired in some way to change, or the endeavor was to change, the way the Russia investigation was being conducted.”

The GOP chairmen are also questioning what they view as “highly unusual immunity agreements” that the Justice Department entered into with Mills and Heather Samuelson, a former Clinton staffer who worked for Mills, in June 2016, after Comey began drafting his statement.

They believe the immunity agreements prevented the FBI from reviewing records related to a conference call Mills had with Paul Combetta, an employee at Platte River Networks, a Colorado-based tech firm that Clinton used to archive emails on her private server.

Combetta eventually admitted to the FBI that he destroyed copies of Clinton’s emails after a conference call with Clinton’s lawyers.