Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), the Democratic vice presidential nominee, told The Collegian in an exclusive interview that recent reports of FBI agents attempting to influence the election raise serious questions about the integrity of the bureau.
Kaine sharply criticized FBI Director James Comey's decision to release politically sensitive information days away from the election. “I think he demonstrated poor judgment," Kaine said.
While Kaine said that he was puzzled by Comey's decision, he distinguished between the director and the bureau as a whole.
“I don’t question (Comey's) motives. I know Jim Comey. ...I don’t question his integrity and I don’t think he is trying to influence the outcome of the election. But there are two very long established justice department and FBI protocols. ...Director Comey knows about those protocols."
Comey has taken harsh criticism from both sides of the aisle for his decision to send a vague letter to congress on Oct. 28 explaining that new, pertinent information to Clinton’s email investigation had been discovered in a separate, unrelated investigation. The FBI had no evidence of wrongdoing by Clinton, but Comey chose to alert Congress because he announced in July that the investigation into Clinton’s emails was closed.
The letter broke long-standing traditions that the FBI neither comments on active investigations nor releases controversial information right before an election, thrusting the FBI’s politics into the spotlight during the final week of the campaign.
“He has followed those protocols even recently, saying, ‘No I can’t talk about that,’ or ‘This is too close to an election, we’re not going to get into it,'" Kaine said. "So the fact that that letter was released I just found very troubling because it violated clear protocols. And exactly why that happened, that was what was puzzling to me.”
Kaine and Comey know each other from their mutual time in Richmond, when Comey was working in the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Kaine was mayor. Both have taught at University of Richmond, and Comey was the commencement speaker for the University of Richmond Law School Class of 2016 this past May.
President Barack Obama, who appointed Comey to be FBI director in 2013, criticized the decision without mentioning Comey by name earlier this week.
"There is a norm that when there are investigations, we don’t operate on innuendo and we don’t operate on incomplete information and we don’t operate on leaks,” Obama said to NowThisNews. “We operate based on concrete decisions that are made.”
One possible explanation Kaine offered for Comey’s break with protocol was insubordination within the FBI. On Friday, the Guardian reported that the internal atmosphere at the FBI was decidedly pro-Trump, with one agent even calling the bureau “Trumpland.” There have been multiple reports this week of insubordinate FBI agents leaking pro-Trump information in a potentially serious breach of both the law and bureau protocol.
The FBI announced on Thursday it was launching an internal investigation into one of its own Twitter accounts, according to ThinkProgress. An official FBI account, @FBIRecordsVault, had been dormant until it suddenly began tweeting politically charged information related to the election last week.
A tweet on Oct. 30 that painted Donald Trump’s father as a philanthropist was the account’s first tweet in more than a year.
Fred C. Trump: Fred C. Trump (1905-1999) was a real estate developer and philanthropist. This release consists of... https://t.co/21KgtPpmzk
— FBI Records Vault (@FBIRecordsVault) October 30, 2016
The account’s most recent tweet addressed the highly controversial Clinton Foundation.
William J. Clinton Foundation: This initial release consists of material from the FBI's files related to the Will... https://t.co/Y4nz3aRSmG
— FBI Records Vault (@FBIRecordsVault) November 1, 2016
The unusual Tweets are not the only questionable political activity from the FBI this week. Former New York Mayor and Trump campaign member Rudy Giuliani told Fox News earlier this week that FBI agents had told him that a “big surprise” was coming for Clinton before the election. Giuliani later walked back his sources to be former, rather than current, agents. Giuliani cultivated strong relationships with the FBI’s New York field office during his time as mayor of New York during 9/11.
“All I heard were former FBI agents telling me that there's a revolution going on inside the FBI and it's now at a boiling point,” Giuliani told Fox & Friends.
Democrats have sharply condemned any FBI officials leaking information to a political campaign.“We’ve got Russia engaged in efforts to influence the outcome of the race and now we have stories that at least some FBI agents were trying to do the same thing, and that’s unfortunate,” Kaine said.“Is this a problem that is systemic, a problem that is limited to the New York field office?” Kaine asked. “I don’t know the answer to that question. But the news that has come out, especially in the last 24 hours, suggests that there were people who didn’t respect the chain of command, and respect that there is a director who is supposed to be making these decisions. And when they use a Twitter account, or they leak information to Rudy Giuliani, who is working on the Trump campaign, information about pending investigations, it is highly troubling.
"Maybe the way to understand this is Comey did something to try to foresee all these leaks coming out from his subordinates. But that raises very, very tough questions about the integrity of the bureau that are going to have to be resolved and understood better.”
Kaine said that the FBI’s reputation for integrity was paramount given the reach and influence of the bureau.
“There have been periods in our history where the bureau lost that (reputation), when it was pursuing vendettas against Martin Luther King Jr. and civil rights leaders in the ‘60s and they lost their credibility,” Kaine said. “The power of a federal investigation is so significant that it’s very important that the bureau have a reputation for integrity, and I think that’s been damaged with the news in the last week.”
The Clinton campaign and many Democrats have derided the timing of Comey’s letter to Congress as inappropriate, but if Clinton and Kaine prevail on Tuesday, the timing of Comey’s actions may have been a blessing in disguise for the Clinton White House. If Clinton had won and then news broke that the FBI sat on new evidence in her email investigation until the election was over, Clinton and the FBI would have been at the epicenter of a political maelstrom, bolstering Trump’s accusations of election rigging.
When Kaine was asked if he were to win on Tuesday, would he be relieved that Comey sent Congress this information before the election, he was caught off guard.
“...Maybe in a way. ...It’s funny, I hadn’t thought about it,” Kaine said. “In a minor way, yes.”
Contact reporter Danny Heifetz at firstname.lastname@example.org