Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Crossfire Hurricane: Inside Donald Trump's War on the FBI, by Josh Campbell (author, narrator)

Highbridge, September 2019

Josh Campbell was an FBI special agent for twelve years, and special assistant to FBI Director James Comey for eighteen months. He was directly involved in Crossfire Hurricane, the initial investigation into the Trump campaign's connections to Trump's connections to Russia.

Let me first say, this is a great, well-written, informative look at how the FBI works, and what it was like to be working in the upper levels of the FBI while under sustained attack by Trump and his allies, while trying, genuinely, to conduct an honest investigation of the Trump campaign and its ties to Russia. I'm about to start ranting about my problems with what he has to say, so don't lose track of this. It's a very good book, and you will learn a great deal from it.
Once Comey was fired, and Robert Mueller was appointed as Special Prosecutor, Campbell was no longer directly involved in the investigation, but he continued to be, along with the rest of the FBI, on the receiving end of Trump's attacks on it, the determined undermining of the institution's reputation and its ability to do its job.

On the one hand, the FBI continued to do its job, despite the attacks, without bias, with dedication to "just the facts."

On the other hand... Even though he describes it himself, Campbell seems not to recognize the extent to which they really were affected both by those attacks, and by the pre-existing attitudes of, especially, the older agents, including Comey. He says at one point that the older agents were hostile to Clinton because they thought badly of Bill Clinton as having gotten away with something (you know, being impeached, tried in the Senate, losing his law license for several years, all for having told a lie under oath about a consensual sexual affair in a matter that wasn't relevant to the charges in the case he told the lie in--totally "getting away with it.") He says younger agents like himself didn't share that dislike and saw Hillary Clinton as separate from her husband.

What he doesn't seem to register as important is that the older agents, including Comey, were making the decisions in the Clinton investigation.

Comey was determined not to be seen as biased in the Trump investigation, and absolutely determined that a revelation of the investigation would damage the principle of innocent until proven guilty. Campbell emphasizes this point over and over again--the FBI doesn't make the fact of an investigation public, because opening an investigation doesn't mean the person is guilty, and just the fact of the investigation could damage their reputations.

It sounds great. It sounds exactly like how we want the FBI to operate.

Meanwhile, several important decisions in the Clinton investigation seemed to reflect an unexamined assumption of "guilty until proven innocent." Loretta Lynch's brief meeting with Bill Clinton: There was no evidence that they discussed the investigation into Hillary Clinton, but because it couldn't be proven that they hadn't, the meeting was Very Bad, and Lynch should have  recused herself. It "forced" Comey, when the investigation was done, to give a press conference announcing the results, without information Lynch beforehand, despite this being almost unprecedented and in direct contravention of FBI and DOJ policy. And, "because the American people have a right to know," he committed an even greater breach of normal FBI policy, and proceeded to spew every negative thing he had found, cast in as negative a light as possible, despite winding up exactly where he started--no responsible prosecutor would bring charges based on these facts and evidence.

But, hey, guilty, guilty, guilty, right? The American people needed to know everything the FBI had found about Clinton that could be read in a negative light, because, after all, she was a candidate for President!

Repeatedly emphasized is the fact that, even though in the end they found nothing, there could have been criminal acts found in the Clinton investigation. The Trump investigation, on the other hand, was a counterintelligence operation and there was no reason to believe there would be crimes found...  Also, there was no hard evidence that Trump was directly involved. He might have no idea at all what all those campaign aides and longtime friends and supporters were up to!

Including, you know, his son, his lawyer, his friend Roger Stone who had been committing political dirty tricks since at least the Nixon administration.

So we are supposed to see that the lack of definitive evidence of innocence in the Clinton investigation means that it was reasonable, however mistaken, for Comey to believe that the public needed to know about everything that had been found, cast in as negative a light as possible. And we are supposed to see that it was completely reasonable, correct, not at all mistaken, for the entire freaking FBI to believe that no matter how much crap they found the Trump campaign doing, it could be crimes because this was a counterintelligence operation, and in any case, there was no direct proof that Trump himself was directly involved, and therefore the FBI couldn't risk damaging his reputation unfairly by letting the American people know there was even a question.

I think it's pretty damned relevant that the FBI decided it was necessary to open a counterintelligence investigation on the campaign of a major party nominee for President. And I have no doubt at all that if it happens with a Democratic nominee, someone will decided we need to know about that.

And of course, that's without the nasty trick Comey pulled in late October 2016. Another team, investigating Anthony Wiener, found some of Huma Abedin's emails, including emails from Hillary Clinton, on Wiener's laptop. Why? Because while she was still married to Wiener and still with him, she sometimes used his laptop to look at her email. Was there any reason to believe there was anything new to be found? No, not really. But it was important to check (reasonable), and very, very important to send a letter to the House Intelligence Committee, a letter Comey knew damned will would be immediately leaked to the press, on October 28, 2016, saying that the investigation had been "reopened" due to "possible new evidence."

Days later, of course, he announced, oops, sorry, we didn't find anything that changes the outcome of the investigation.

At that point, of course, Clinton's numbers had already tanked.

Josh Campbell insists that we can't possibly know if Comey's late intervention cost Clinton the election. In one sense, of course, he's right. There were a lot of factors--but this one came right before the election, and was instantly followed by a drop in poll numbers, especially in midwestern states that were close, enough to increase the likelihood that she would, while winning the popular vote, lose the Electoral College.

Absolutely 100% certain? No. Incredibly likely? Yes.

And yes, unless Comey were a virtual vegetable, for which, let's note for the record there is absolutely no evidence; he appears to be a very smart guy, he had to know was a likely effect.

Comey, Campbell, and others remain obsessed with the counterfactual of Clinton winning the election and then the news of the "new" emails coming out and maybe, just maybe, containing something that would have changed the result of the investigation....

Oh, dear. How awful. And we should all just understand how awful it was to contemplate that counterfactual, and why this made it totally understandable for Comey to totally toss longstanding, firmly held department policy that the FBI should do nothing that could affect the outcome of an election in the last sixty days before the election, and announce that there had been new emails found.

Sure, Comey. Sure, Campbell. Sure, every other person who supports this sick, stupid argument. Hope you're proud of the Trump presidency.

Remind me again what was the justification for not telling us that highly placed members of the Trump campaign were actively cooperating with our major foreign rival, Russia? Something about not damaging someone's reputation without proof? Presumption of innocence, vital principle of the American legal system? Something like that?

As I said back at the beginning, highly recommended. Wanting to argue with a book isn't necessarily a reason it's not good. This one is very good.

I bought this audiobook.

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