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Ed Klein Book Excerpt: 'High Noon in the Oval' Over Hillary Email Probe

Image: Ed Klein Book Excerpt: 'High Noon in the Oval' Over Hillary Email Probe

By    |   Monday, 03 Oct 2016 05:13 PM

Ed. Note: This is a Newsmax exclusive excerpt from Ed Klein's new book "Guilty as Sin," which is being released Tuesday Oct. 4.

Chapter 16 "High Noon in the Oval"


You could always tell from the look in his eye when James Comey had his Irish up.

And the FBI director had that killer look right now.

It was January 29, 2016, and an aide had just handed Comey a printout of today's White House press conference by Josh Earnest, the president's spokesman. There, marked for Comey's attention, was Earnest's response to a reporter who had asked whether Hillary Clinton was likely to be indicted as a result of the FBI's investigation into her personal emails.

"Based on what we know from the Department of Justice," Earnest said, "it does not seem to be headed in that direction."

Based on what we know!

"How does Earnest know anything?" Comey asked.

It was a rhetorical question.

Uniformed FBI agents on Attorney General Loretta Lynch's protective detail had informed Comey that Lynch had locked an armful of documents on the FBI investigation into her briefcase and delivered them to the White House. More than once, Lynch had brought along a Justice Department prosecutor who was working on the Hillary case to brief the president's staff.

These briefings between Lynch and the White House (which Lynch publicly denied because they were unethical) had been going on since Comey's investigation began in the summer of 2015. Comey was aware, of course, that his criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton was inevitably linked with the highest possible stakes in American politics. If his agents turned up evidence of criminal wrongdoing on Hillary's part, it would ignite the greatest political firestorm since Watergate. And more likely than not, that would derail Hillary's candidacy for the White House.

But Comey was determined to keep up appearances that he would not be swayed by political considerations. The FBI director's job was to assemble all the facts and make a "referral," or recommendation, to the Justice Department. His say-so carried a lot of weight, but in the end, it was up to Lynch, the nation's chief law enforcement officer, to make the call whether to indict.

And Comey had reason to fear that the outcome was controlled by political forces beyond his control.

It was one of the great ironies of present-day politics that Barack Obama, who viewed the Clintons as his implacable enemy, was now eager to give Hillary a Get Out of Jail Free card, and that his potential opponent to doing this was the man Barack Obama himself had appointed director of the FBI.

Nothing had changed about Obama's feelings toward the Clintons: he still couldn't stomach Bill, and he could barely tolerate Hillary. But he was stuck with Hillary as his party's presidential nominee, and whether he liked it or not, he had to call a truce to their blood feud.

The alternative was unthinkable.

If Hillary was indicted, it would convulse the entire political system, monopolize media coverage, and wreck Obama's final months in office. Even if Hillary hung on and ran for president while under indictment (which she was privately vowing to do), she would almost certainly go down to defeat. A Republican would waltz into the White House. A Republican president, with a complaisant Republican Congress, could undo all of Obama's signature achievements — Obamacare, the Iran nuclear deal, and hundreds of Obama's executive orders.

To avoid that nightmare scenario, Obama had been doing his best to defend Hillary and her indefensible use of an unsecure and easily hackable email system. Back in October 2015, in an interview with Steve Kroft of "60 Minutes," he underplayed the consequences of Hillary's action.

"This," said Obama, "is not a situation in which America's national security was endangered."

At the time, Comey was outraged by those remarks, but he chose not to complain directly to Obama. Instead, he fired a shot across Obama's bow. He told a congressional committee that since he wasn't briefing the Obama administration, and since only he knew all the facts about the FBI investigation, the president of the United States didn't know what he was talking about.

"I hope the American people know the FBI well enough and the nature and character of this organization," Comey told the Senate panel. "As I've said many times, we don't give a rip about politics."

But today's press conference by Josh Earnest was a game changer. Earnest had let the cat out of the bag when he said, "Based on what we know from the Department of Justice...."

It was a public admission that the White House and the Justice Department were working in cahoots. They weren't even trying to hide their collusion. They were rubbing Comey's nose in it. And given "Big Jim's" essential nature — proud, ambitious, moralizing — he could not let that pass.

He picked up the phone and said, "I want to see the president."

According to multiple sources who were later briefed on the meeting between Comey and Obama, when the FBI director entered the Oval Office, he didn't know what kind of reception he would get.

The president bounded from his desk and greeted Comey warmly. At 6-foot-8, the FBI director had more than a half-foot on the 6-foot-1 president, forcing Obama to look up to meet Comey's eyes. It was common knowledge in Washington that this president did not like to look up to anyone — literally or figuratively.

Obama did a good job hiding his discomfort. He shook Comey's hand, patted him on the back, and led him over to a sofa. From the effusive way he treated Comey, nobody would have guessed that the two men disliked each other.

In fact, they held each other in contempt. Comey complained to his top assistants that in the few encounters he had had with Obama, the president treated him with a tone of condescension. To Obama, the FBI was like any other cop shop, not the premier law enforcement organization in the country.

More important, Comey and Obama were engaged in a war of words over the most sensitive issue on Obama's desk — race relations in America.

"White House officials were said to be livid about a speech that Mr. Comey gave... in which he said the increase in crime in big cities this year might be a result of police officers' concern about getting out of their patrol cars because their interactions with [African Americans] could be caught on video," the Washington Times reported. "Mr. Comey also appeared to dispute the administration's view that the imprisonment of thousands of criminals in the 1980s and 1990s during a high-crime era was an example of 'mass incarceration.'"

The president had wanted Valerie Jarrett to sit in on the meeting with Comey. She was both his senior adviser and best friend, and Obama freely admitted he did not make a single decision without first consulting her. But Jarrett felt that her presence would only antagonize the FBI director.

Obama ordered coffee and biscotti, and he and Comey chatted for a few minutes about their families. Then Comey got to the point of the meeting.

He said he understood why people were losing patience with the long-drawn-out FBI investigation. No one wanted to see it over more than he did. But he couldn't be rushed.

He couldn't make a referral until his technical specialists had finished retrieving every speck of evidence they could lay their hands on (including, if possible, the thirty-thousand-plus "personal" emails Hillary had erased from her server), and his field agents had completed their interviews, including with members of the intelligence community as well as with Hillary and her closest aides.

Obama nodded gravely, but didn't say anything.

Valerie Jarrett had warned Obama that Comey might resign if Attorney General Lynch refused to issue an indictment, and that a mass resignation by Comey and his top lieutenants could set off a political tornado to rival what followed Watergate's "Saturday Night Massacre."

But Comey did not mention the "R" word.

He didn't have to.

The fact that the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation was staring down the president of the United States, and implicitly warning him against political interference, was threat enough.

After Comey left, Jarrett slipped into the Oval. The expression on Obama's face told the whole story.

"I've never seen Barack look angrier," she later told a friend.

 

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You could always tell from the look in his eye when James Comey had his Irish up.
ed klein, book, excerpt, guilty, sin
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2016-13-03
Monday, 03 Oct 2016 05:13 PM
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