Operation Crossfire Hurricane

The FBI's J. Edgar Hoover Headquarters, acros the street from the Deparment of Justice, in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

That was the name of the FBI’s initial investigation into the extent of Putin’s meddling in the 2016 election cycle. And it’s a cool moniker, coming from an old Stones tune (maybe I’m gettin’ old, but the song still rocks, IMO). The key theme is that the FBI was extremely cautious about how to proceed in the last 100 days of an intense presidential campaign.

The facts, had they surfaced, might have devastated the Trump campaign: Mr. Trump’s future national security adviser was under investigation, as was his campaign chairman. One adviser appeared to have Russian intelligence contacts. Another was suspected of being a Russian agent himself.

In the Clinton case, Mr. Comey has said he erred on the side of transparency. But in the face of questions from Congress about the Trump campaign, the F.B.I. declined to tip its hand. And when The New York Times tried to assess the state of the investigation in October 2016, law enforcement officials cautioned against drawing any conclusions, resulting in a story that significantly played down the case.

Mr. Comey has said it is unfair to compare the Clinton case, which was winding down in the summer of 2016, with the Russia case, which was in its earliest stages. He said he did not make political considerations about who would benefit from each decision.

But underpinning both cases was one political calculation: that Mrs. Clinton would win and Mr. Trump would lose. Agents feared being seen as withholding information or going too easy on her. And they worried that any overt actions against Mr. Trump’s campaign would only reinforce his claims that the election was being rigged against him.

The F.B.I. now faces those very criticisms and more. Mr. Trump says he is the victim of a politicized F.B.I. He says senior agents tried to rig the election by declining to prosecute Mrs. Clinton, then drummed up the Russia investigation to undermine his presidency. He has declared that a deeply rooted cabal — including his own appointees — is working against him.

While Comey made public a letter to Congress in October 2016 regarding Hillary’s emails, he hardly said a single word about an ongoing investigation into hacked emails and the contacts between Trump aides and Putin operatives. Even though the FBI didn’t want to make a political calculation, they ended up making a political calculation in assuming that Hillary would win.

And it wasn’t just the FBI. Obama made the same political calculation by barely mentioning what was going on in the run-up to the election. Other than making a mean face at Putin, he did damn little. Comey actually offered to add his name to the White House October 7th statement, but he was muzzled by Obama and his inner circle. The irony is incredible, because the FBI that is accused by Donald and the Trumpalistas of corruption and a “witch hunt” most likely improved the chances of the GOP nominee by their silence and their slow-roll investigation.

One other thing. Buried near the end of the NYT piece, we find that the Steele “dossier” was late to the hurricane.

The F.B.I. bureaucracy did agents no favors. In July, a retired British spy named Christopher Steele approached a friend in the F.B.I. overseas and provided reports linking Trump campaign officials to Russia. But the documents meandered around the F.B.I. organizational chart, former officials said. Only in mid-September, congressional investigators say, did the records reach the Crossfire Hurricane team.

Mr. Steele was gathering information about Mr. Trump as a private investigator for Fusion GPS, a firm paid by Democrats. But he was also considered highly credible, having helped agents unravel complicated cases.

In October, agents flew to Europe to interview him. But Mr. Steele had become frustrated by the F.B.I.’s slow response. He began sharing his findings in September and October with journalists at The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker and elsewhere, according to congressional testimony.

So as agents tried to corroborate Mr. Steele’s information, reporters began calling the bureau, asking about his findings. If the F.B.I. was working against Mr. Trump, as he asserts, this was an opportunity to push embarrassing information into the news media shortly before the election.

That did not happen. News organizations did not publish Mr. Steele’s reports or reveal the F.B.I.’s interest in them until after Election Day.

Crossfire Hurricane members could have effed Trump over had they answered affirmatively to press queries about the Steele documents and, had it happened, the candidate’s complaints that the election was rigged against him might have contained some truth, but alas.