FBI Director James Comey. CREDIT: AP Photo/Susan Walsh
The Bureau is supposed to stay out of politics. Instead it’s providing opposition research dumps a week before the election.
Tuesday afternoon, the FBI Records Vault Twitter account abruptly shared records “from the FBI’s files related to the William J. Clinton Foundation” on Twitter. The 129 pages of heavily redacted documents appear to pertain mostly to “a 2001 FBI investigation into the pardon of Marc Rich,” which was closed in 2005 without any finding of wrongdoing.
Though some of the records portray Bill Clinton in a less than flattering light, the documents released Tuesday reportedly contain little new information. Eyebrows were raised, however, by the Bureau’s decision to share them just seven days before Election Day and at the same time controversy is swirling around FBI Director James Comey’s decision to resurrect the Hillary Clinton email case. (Though he was appointed by President Obama, Comey told Congress this summer that he has been a registered Republican “for most of his adult life.”)
NBC reports that the release of the Bill Clinton FBI files “was sent by the FOIA office under normal guidelines.” But there’s no indication the Bureau was obligated to publicize them so close to the election.
FBI is supposed to stay out of politics
During recent election cycles, Department of Justice (DOJ) employees, including the FBI, have been advised to refrain from activities that could be interpreted as partisan, particularly as Election Day approaches.
A memo sent by Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates to all DOJ staff this March says employees must “ensure that politics does not compromise the integrity of our work. While always important, we should be particularly mindful of these rules in an election year.” That guidance seems to advise against sharing the sort of records the FBI shared Tuesday, a week before a presidential election.
On the other hand, on Saturday, the FBI Records Vault shared records pertaining to Donald Trump’s father Fred.
That tweet, published the day after Comey’s sent a letter to Republican congressional committee chairs that effectively resuscitated the Clinton email probe, was the account’s first tweet it more than a year. It also elicited criticism.
There doesn’t appear to be any smoking guns in the Fred Trump documents either. But in both cases, the FBI’s decision to release the documents when it did, in addition to Comey’s recent actions, raises questions about how seriously the Bureau is taking its directive to stay out of politics.