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James Comey, the former FBI director, knew that a document crucial to the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server was fake and created by Russian intelligence, but it played a large role in how he approached the investigation, CNN reported on Friday.
The purportedly fake document, first disclosed by The New York Times in late April and described in more detail by The Washington Post on Wednesday, described an email sent by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was then the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, to an official at the billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Foundations.
The memo contained a summary of the email, in which Wasserman Schultz supposedly described how Loretta Lynch, the attorney general, had privately assured a Clinton staffer during the campaign that the Justice Department wouldn’t take the email probe too far.
Comey, whom President Donald Trump fired earlier this month amid the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s election interference, apparently doubted the veracity of the memo early. But he told lawmakers about the document in his later briefings and did not imply that it could be fake, according to CNN.
Instead, he told them he feared the document would be leaked and cast doubt on the credibility and independence of the FBI’s email-server probe – part of why he decided to bypass the Justice Department and announce the findings of the investigation in an impromptu press conference in July.
CNN reported that sources close to Comey said he “felt it didn’t matter if the information was accurate, because his big fear was that if the Russians released the information publicly, there would be no way for law enforcement and intelligence officials to discredit it without burning intelligence sources and methods.”
The revelation that a doctored memo planted by the Russians may have affected Comey’s treatment of the investigation is likely to raise more questions about his decision to revisit the probe 11 days before the election. Comey has said he felt compelled to tell Congress that the bureau had discovered new emails that were possibly relevant because he had gone public with the details of the case – and given congressional testimony about it – three months earlier.
FBI officials briefed Lynch on the existence of the document one month after Comey announced the end of the email investigation. She said she “never communicated” with the Clinton campaign staffer in question and offered to be formally interviewed by the FBI about the matter. The bureau did not take her up on the offer, but it did tell her that some of the intelligence in the document was dubious, the reports said.