FBI appears to have undermined its own investigation with ill-considered witness agreements.
When FBI Director James B. Comey announced that there would be no criminal charges in the Clinton email scandal, there was an outcry by many who saw glaring contradictions, attempts to destroy evidence, and knowing failures to protect classified or sensitive information. At the time, I acknowledged that Comey’s decision was understandable and, while criminal charges might have been possible, this was not out of bounds of prosecutorial discretion. However, the news this week of a previously undisclosedimmunity deal with a top Clinton aide raises serious questions over the handling of the FBI investigation.
The latest recipient of an immunity deal from the Justice Department is one of Clinton’s closest aides and a figure at the heart of the email scandal, Cheryl Mills. She joins two other central figures in benefiting from such deals: former State Department staffer, Bryan Pagliano and tech specialist Paul Combetta. In addition to at least two other immunized witnesses according to the Associated Press, they represent the big three of officials involved in the underlying allegations of Clinton’s potential criminal conduct. Their collective immunization is baffling.
For the Obama Administration, the criminal investigation into the Democratic presidential nominee and its prior secretary of State came with a heightened level of public scrutiny and skepticism. Many doubted that the administration would seriously pursue the Clintons, a family of political royalty in both Democratic and establishment circles. The easiest way for prosecutors to scuttle a criminal case is to immunize those people who are at the greatest risk of criminal indictment. Often prosecutors will avoid immunity deals in favor of offering plea bargains to key players, tying their cooperation against others to reduced sentences. Although a witness can lose an immunity deal by withholding evidence or lying, a witness can undermine cases against superiors by tailoring their accounts or memories to avoid statements showing intent or knowledge.