Mid-Year Exam, Part 1: The Investigation Begins

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The Inspector Generals from the State Department and intelligence community determined that classified information had been exchanged over Clinton’s private server.  Because it involved classified information, they jointly decided to refer the matter to the FBI’s counterintelligence unit.  The FBI labeled the investigation Midyear Examination, or MYE.  It was only then that the server was turned over to the Justice Department. 

On July 24, 2015, the New York Times reported that a criminal inquiry into Clinton’s use of a private server had begun at the FBI.  What began was a silly argument and series of clarifications by government agencies with the IC Inspector general claiming it was a “security” referral, not a criminal one.  The insistence that no criminal charges were being looked into led the Times to correct their story, first by saying that Hillary Clinton was not the subject of the investigation and, second, by stating it was not a criminal referral. Clinton’s IT contractors turned over her personal email server on August 12th, as well as thumb drives containing her emails.

David Kendall, one of Clinton’s lawyers, notified that before the server was turned over to the Justice Department, some data had been erased at the request of Clinton earlier in the year.  As for the thumb drives, Kendall said that he and another lawyer, believed to be Beth Wilkinson, were placed in charge of them.  Kendall claimed that the State Department granted him a security clearance.  By the end of November 2015, the FBI and Justice Department had expanded their inquiry to determine if Clinton or any of her aides jeopardized national security secrets and, if so, who should be held responsible for doing so.

Usually in a case like this where there is a suspected violation of a law or a security breach, the investigation is opened in an FBI field office.  Since the private server was maintained in either Chappaqua or Manhattan and since the use of the server was the issue at hand, under normal circumstances the investigation would be headed out of the New York City field office which is well-staffed and one of the largest in the country.  Instead, the case was handled by the FBI field office in Washington DC.

The investigation faced obstruction almost from the start.  The person who set up and maintained the private server and email accounts- Bryan Pagliano- had to be granted immunity from prosecution for his cooperation.  Several electronic devices used by Clinton while Secretary of State had been destroyed for some unexplained reason.  During the course of the FBI investigation, they discovered the following facts:

  • Hillary Clinton or her aides deleted her private email archive within two weeks of the New York Times revealing she used a private server;
  • Clinton apparently did not know that a “C” meant classified and her aides often paid no attention to different classified designations;  
  • In all, 17,488 emails were never turned over;
  • She had 13 mobile devices and 5 iPads…for convenience, of course;
  • Although she had 13 mobile phones associated with two of the email accounts, her lawyers could not find any of the 13;
  • Despite being warned against it, Clinton had carried her Blackberry into a SCIF at the State Department, and;
  • Someone tried at least once to hack into her iCloud account.

Besides the decision to move the investigation to the DC field office of the FBI, there were reports of a large contingent of agents working the case.  Although there may have been technicians and forensic investigators involved given the technology in the case, we later found out that the investigation was actually run by a small number of people in the Justice Department and FBI.  This is important since many of the key people higher up in the email investigation, after the case is settled and put aside, immediately jump into the investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.  In effect, we have a converging of two independent investigations.  

However, what makes the story interesting is the rearrangement of personnel in the FBI and DOJ at the time.  The referral from the inspector generals occurred in July 2015.  At that time, Trump was not a candidate and Hillary Clinton, although the presumptive Democrat nominee, had Bernie Sanders to deal with.  But as the campaigns dragged on into the primary season and it started to look like it would be a Trump-Clinton final, some of the personnel working on the emails were changed early in 2016.  Among those involved were the following: FBI Director James Comey,  Andrew McCabe the Deputy Director of the FBI, Sally Yates- the Deputy Attorney general, Peter Strozk- head of a subdivision within the FBI’s counterintelligence division, and Lisa Page- a legal counsel in the FBI and a deputy to Andrew McCabe.  Page was a liaison between the FBI and DOJ in both cases. 

As 2015 was drawing to a close, the IT companies that handled her server became worried that they may become ensnared in a cover-up as the FBI seized more servers from the State Department to determine how the flow of communication worked.  A second company was discovered that backed up her email traffic and Platte River Network had already been instructed to delete emails “of a personal nature” and maintain a 60-day retention period.  In fact, one employee emailed another employee who said: “…this whole thing is really covering up some shady shit.”

Very early in the investigation, it was later learned that an unusual system of communication was set up between Lisa Page, a DOJ/FBI lawyer, and Andrew McCabe that, in effect, bypassed the normal chain of command and means of communication.  Specifically, Page relayed information to McCabe from FBI agent Peter Strozk.

  Sometime in September 2015, Loretta Lynch asked Comey to refer to the email probe as “a matter” rather than an “investigation.”  This essentially lined up the FBI/DOJ talking points with those of Hillary Clinton.  Forensic examination of the server determined that Clinton’s emails had additional storage devices.  When her lawyers turned over the server to the DOJ in August, they neglected to inform them of the additional storage devices.  One such device was called a Stargate Hard Drive that, when discussed in the FBI report, contained information which was heavily redacted given its sensitivity.  

As we were to find out later on, the investigators, DOJ officials, and lawyers, particularly Lisa Page, had very strong views about the upcoming election which can minimally be described as favoritism of Hillary Clinton and a strong dislike of Donald Trump.  We know this because of a series of text messages between Peter Strozk and Page.  

Unbeknownst to many at the time, Strozk and Page were having an affair.  Beginning in February 2016, while the investigation was gaining steam, as was Donald Trump as a viable Republican candidate, Page texted Strozk about an incident involving Trump and another candidate, Ted Cruz: “I’m no prude, but I’m really appalled by this. So you don’t have to go looking (in case you hadn’t heard), Trump called him the p-word. The man has no dignity or class. He simply cannot be president.”  She included a link to a New York Times article.  Strozk responded: “Oh, [Trump’s] abysmal. I keep hoping the charade will end and people will just dump him. The problem, then, is Rubio will likely lose to Cruz. The Republican party is in utter shambles. When was the last competitive ticket they offered.”  

At first thought, there is nothing nefarious about two government employees discussing politics.  A lot of people besides Strozk and Page were saying the same thing at that time.  However, it must be placed in proper perspective since Strozk was investigating not only the server, but a side investigation into possible improper connections between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department while Hillary headed that agency.  In fact, it was McCabe who was in charge of that investigation also.

Next: MYE- a dubious “investigation”