FBI agents wanted Clinton Foundation probed, but Justice Department rebuffed justification as weak

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 November, 2016, 1:54pm
UPDATED : Friday, 04 November, 2016, 10:07pm

FBI agents seeking an investigation into the Clinton Foundation made a presentation to Justice Department lawyers about the allegations they wanted to pursue, but public corruption prosecutors rejected the suggestion because they believed the information was too weak, two people familiar with the matter said Thursday.

The meeting at the Justice Department took place in February and reflected the conflicting views of prosecutors and investigators, according to two individuals who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations within the government.

Though the FBI agents believed they had grounds to investigate the foundation, Justice Department lawyers were far more sceptical. During the February meeting, the lawyers did not direct the FBI to stop looking into the matter, but public-corruption prosecutors in Washington expressed disinterest in working with the FBI, unconvinced by information presented at the briefing, the people said.

In extraordinary move, Obama condemns FBI for Clinton email disclosure: ‘We don’t operate on innuendo’

It’s unclear whether FBI agents have continued to look into the Clinton Foundation, a nonprofit corporation that raises funds from private, corporate and some government donors for international projects to reduce poverty, improve health and other global needs. Critics have also accused the Clinton family of using the foundation to enrich themselves and give donors special access to the State Department when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.

But the Justice Department’s public integrity section has not changed its stance on the matter since the briefing earlier this year, according to one of the sources.

The FBI has also has looked into aides of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, including business ties in Ukraine of Paul Manafort, who resigned in August as Trump’s campaign chairman following revelations that his firm had orchestrated a secret Ukrainian lobbying campaign in Washington. The New York Times reported this week that the FBI had examined possible connections between the Trump campaign and the Russians, but had found no direct ties.

Why Clinton probably won’t ever be charged - even if latest email haul includes classified information

The February meeting about the Clinton Foundation followed the publication of Clinton Cash, a book by Republican political consultant Peter Schweizer that alleges foreign governments that donated to the foundation received favours at the State Department during Clinton’s time as secretary. The State Department has not found any ethics violations related to the foundation while she ran the department, and Clinton campaign aides have cast Schweizer as a Republican operative working to defeat her.

It couldn’t immediately be learned what specific allegations had attracted the attention of the FBI.

Longstanding Justice Department protocol discourages investigative actions in the run-up to an election that could be seen as affecting the electoral process. That’s why Justice Department officials disagreed with the decision by FBI Director James Comey to alert Congress last week to the discovery of new emails that he said might be connected to the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. That investigation ended in July without charges.

Comey has said he felt obligated to notify Congress in order to keep the public informed and because he had previously told lawmakers that the investigation had been completed.

An FBI spokeswoman declined to discuss the Clinton Foundation discussions or any possible Trump-related investigation.

Meanwhile, the FBI and US intelligence agencies are examining faked documents aimed at discrediting the Clinton campaign as part of a broader investigation into possible attempts by Russia to disrupt the presidential election, people with knowledge of the matter said.

US Senator Tom Carper, a Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, has referred one of the documents to the FBI for investigation on the grounds that his name and stationery were forged to appear authentic, some of the sources who had knowledge of that discussion said.

In the letter identified as fake, Carper is quoted as writing to Clinton, “We will not let you lose this election,” a person who saw the document told Reuters.

A spokesman for the FBI confirmed the agency was “in receipt of a complaint about an alleged fake letter” related to the election but declined further comment.

In addition to the Carper letter, the FBI has also reviewed a seven-page electronic document that carries the logos of Democratic pollster Joel Benenson’s firm, the Benenson Strategy Group, and the Clinton Foundation, a person with knowledge of the matter said.

The document, identified as a fake by the Clinton campaign, claims poll ratings had plunged for Clinton and called for “severe strategy changes for November” that could include “staged civil unrest” and “radiological attack” with dirty bombs to disrupt the vote.

Like the Carper letter, it was not immediately clear where the fraudulent document had originated or how it had begun to circulate.

But on October 20, Roger Stone, a former Trump aide and Republican operative, linked to a copy of the document on Twitter with the tag, “If this is real: OMG!!”

Benenson’s firm had no immediate comment. Craig Minassian, a spokesman for the Clinton Foundation, said the document was fake.

Additional reporting by Reuters