Terry H. Schwadron
June 15, 2018
In time for President Trump’s birthday, two long-awaited law enforcement reports hit yesterday, generally undercutting Trump’s “witch hunt” claims by an FBI infested with political bias, but offering plenty of ammunition for turning the very reading of the reports into a political back-and-forth to favor pro- and anti-Trump factions.
In fact, despite the efforts for each of the reports to clarify, the coincidental publication is certain to spawn tons of I-don’t-believe-it remarks on all sides. In the end, the politics will dominate the findings.
“We found no evidence that the conclusions by department prosecutors were affected by bias or other improper considerations,” the report said.
Indeed, for me, issuance of investigation “facts” are generally going to serve as another political volleyball, with competing talking heads and resistance to acceptance of an outcome of any kind. In other words, we only want conclusions that match our previously held opinions and political positions.
The first of the two reports was from the FBI’s Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz, who reviewed the handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation and related complaints about bias inside the FBI. The top finding: Former FBI Director James B. Comey Jr. broke with tradition and protocol in announcing findings in the Clinton email case during the elections, later reopening and closing the case just before the election. The report was critical, but said Comey remained unbiased in doing so. Also of significance: More previously unknown emails from FBI agent Peter Strzok to Lisa Paige, his girlfriend, a DOJ lawyer, that showed Strzok and Paige opposed a Trump presidency, an FBI objectivity no-no. Strok, who took part in the Clinton investigation, was re-assigned from the Special Counsel’s staff after earlier emails had been disclosed.
The second was a broadside attack by the New York attorney general’s office on illegal operations of The Trump Foundation, with money going to support the political campaign of Donald Trump among many, many illegal uses of nonprofit monies. The report was part of a civil suit against the Foundation, demanding that the foundation be broken up, $2.8 million paid in restitution, and that Trump family members be blocked from serving on other nonprofit boards.
It took no time at all for the White House to explode politically at both. Trump’s tweeted responses struck out at the New York Attorney General’s office, vowing to fight it out in court, and, as usual, tying any misbehavior inside the FBI with a generalized attack on any investigation by the Special Counsel’s office into the Trump campaign or the president himself.
The tedious, absolutely expected part of all this is the primacy of the political spin rather than substance of the reports themselves. Overall, the New York state report makes Trump out to be a serial liar who well may have run afoul of several election and appropriate nonprofit rules and laws. The Horowitz report does not challenge the decision not to prosecute Mrs. Clinton. Nor does it conclude that political bias at the F.B.I. influenced that decision.
That should disappoint Trump himself and his forces who have been demanding that the investigators of all-things-Russia in turn be investigated.
And the state attorney general report makes clear, details aside, that the Trump Foundation exists primarily to help the Trumps. It documents how the Trump family repeatedly misused the nonprofit to pay off business creditors, to decorate a Trump golf club and to stage a multimillion-dollar giveaway at campaign events. Its board, which is the three children, has not met in 19 years or exercised any oversight.
Among other things, the attorney general report said that although Donald Trump’s name is on the foundation, in recent years most of its money was not actually his. Trump did not donate any money to the foundation between 2008 and 2015 — instead, its largest benefactors in recent years have been wrestling moguls Vince and Linda McMahon, who gave $5 million total in 2007 and 2009. Linda McMahon was later appointed by Trump as head of the Small Business Administration. The McMahons have declined to answer questions about the reasons for their gifts.
Hillary fans will find plenty of points in which to take umbrage, from mislaid procedures by Comey to his “insubordination” in pre-empting the actual Justice Department from making the actual announcements of the findings. Importantly, the IG report found nothing even vaguely illegal, or outside the general area of judgment calls by FBI figures.
Trump fans will point to the new Strok emails as evidence of an internicine government war to be first to oppose Trump the candidate.
Likewise, political fans will find lines that they like in the attorney general’s report. There is enough mud to go around.
If you’re scoring this from a legal point of view, Trump faces unneeded problems from his Foundation activities, and gained nothing towards his own defense in the Special Counsel investigation. But if you’re scoring all this as political theater, as an attempt to sway public thinking, all sides will have another couple of deep wells to mine for partisan arguments.