Former FBI Director James Comey’s controversial decision to detail the FBI’s findings in the Hillary Clinton email case without Justice Department input was influenced by a dubious Russian document that the FBI now considers to be bad intelligence, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.
The secret document, which purported to be a piece of Russian intelligence, claimed that former Attorney General Loretta Lynch had privately assured someone in the Clinton campaign that the investigation into Clinton’s handling of classified information would go nowhere.
But according to people familiar with the matter, by August the FBI had come to believe the document was unreliable — and in fact may have been planted as a fake to confuse the FBI.
Comey made his announcement in July.
The document reportedly described an email supposedly written by then-Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and sent to Leonard Benardo, who is an official with the George Soros organization Open Society Foundations.
According to the document, Wasserman Schultz claimed Lynch had assured senior Clinton campaign staffer Amanda Renteria that the investigation would not go too far.
Supporters of Comey claim that the document gave him good reason to take the microphone in July, without consulting with Lynch, to announce the close of the Clinton probe — in great detail.
“It was a very powerful factor in the decision to go forward in July with the statement that there shouldn’t be a prosecution,” a person familiar with the matter told the Post. “The point is that the bureau picked up hacked material that hadn’t been dumped by the bad guys involving Lynch. And that would have pulled the rug out of any authoritative announcement.”
That decision set off a chain of events that Democrats believe contributed to Clinton’s shocking loss in November. The White House has also cited Comey’s handling of the close of the probe in its official rationale for the former director’s dismissal earlier this month.
Comey has publicly testified that he was concerned that had the announcement come from Lynch, it would not be considered credible after she met with former President Bill Clinton on an airport tarmac last year during the presidential race.
But the FBI had debated the veracity of the document internally from the moment they acquired it in March 2016, the Post said.
By August, although officials continued to rely on the document as justification for Comey’s decision, the bureau had come to the conclusion that there was nothing to substantiate its claims. Wasserman Schultz, Benardo and Renteria told The Post they were never interviewed about the matter.
“It didn’t mean anything to the investigation until after [senior FBI officials] had to defend themselves,” one person familiar with the matter told the Post. “Then they decided it was important. But it’s junk, and they already knew that.”
The document has attracted fierce Republican interest. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asked Comey about it during a hearing held shortly prior to Comey’s dismissal.
Comey declined to discuss the matter in public.
“The subject is classified, and in an appropriate forum I’d be happy to brief you on it,” he told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “But I can’t do it in an open hearing.”
He was fired before the briefing could take place.