FBI Agents Unsuccessfully Pressed Justice Dept to Investigate Clinton Foundation

Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton / AP

FBI agents tried unsuccessfully to convince the Justice Department to investigate the Clinton Foundation earlier this year for giving donors special political access and favors.

While the Clinton Foundation said it was never contacted by the FBI regarding an investigation, New York FBI agents are keeping inquiries alive as they continue to feud with the Justice Department, according to the Wall Street Journal.

New details show that senior law-enforcement officials repeatedly voiced skepticism of the strength of the evidence in a bureau investigation of the Clinton Foundation, sought to condense what was at times a sprawling cross-country effort, and, according to some people familiar with the matter, told agents to limit their pursuit of the case. The probe of the foundation began more than a year ago to determine whether financial crimes or influence peddling occurred related to the charity.

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Some investigators grew frustrated, viewing FBI leadership as uninterested in probing the charity, these people said. Others involved disagreed sharply, defending FBI bosses and saying [Deputy Director Andrew] McCabe in particular was caught between an increasingly acrimonious fight for control between the Justice Department and FBI agents pursuing the Clinton Foundation case.

The Justice Department was reportedly furious at New York FBI agents for pursuing the foundation case during the presidential election.

According to a person familiar with the probes, on Aug. 12, a senior Justice Department official called Mr. McCabe to voice his displeasure at finding that New York FBI agents were still openly pursuing the Clinton Foundation probe during the election season. Mr. McCabe said agents still had the authority to pursue the issue as long as they didn't use overt methods requiring Justice Department approvals.

The Justice Department official was "very pissed off," according to one person close to Mr. McCabe, and pressed him to explain why the FBI was still chasing a matter the department considered dormant.

The infighting between prosecutors and FBI officials over the foundation has become a heated issue, especially after Director James Comey reopened the probe into Clinton's private email server on Friday, the Washington Post reported.

The FBI already is under fire for taking actions that could influence the presidential election just days away, after FBI Director James B. Comey revealed agents wanted to look at a newly discovered batch of emails that were possibly relevant to the probe of Clinton's private email server. The leak of information about a separate Clinton-related matter fueled more criticism Sunday that the bureau was acting inappropriately.

The FBI's New York field office was one of a few that–in at least some small way–were looking into topics that touched on the Clinton Foundation's work, according to people familiar with the matter. Agents in New York wanted to examine allegations of corruption and conflicts of interest that have swirled around the charitable organization of the Clinton family, the people said.

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The revelation, though, that public integrity section prosecutors–who are not politically appointed–felt FBI investigators did not have a case is a strong defense for Clinton. The agents' aggressive posture regarding the Clinton Foundation also could add to the perception that the bureau is treating the Democratic presidential candidate unfairly.

The FBI's general counsel in the 1990s, Howard M. Shapiro, called the leaks from both prosecutors and agents "entirely inappropriate" because they went to the press anonymously. Shapiro said that Justice Department attorneys and FBI agents often disagree about about whether a case is strong enough to purse, but such disagreements are meant to be confidential, not leaked to the press.

"You cannot defend yourself against shadowy, imprecise allegations made by anonymous sources," Shapiro said. While he has no familiarity with the current case, Shapiro said leaks like this are forbidden because they "smear the reputation unfairly of individuals and organizations."

The FBI's New York field office referred all inquiries to the national press office, but officials there did not respond to the Post‘s email seeking comment. The Clinton Foundation, however, did provide a comment to the Post‘s inquiry.

"We are not aware of any investigation into the foundation by the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, or any United States Attorney's Office and we have not received a subpoena from any of those agencies," a Clinton Foundation official said.

Hillary Clinton's campaign did not not immediately respond to a phone call or email seeking comment from the Post.

Virginia Democratic Gov. and Clinton confidant Terry McAuliffe (D., Va.), who served as an unpaid director for the Clinton Foundation prior to becoming governor, is also being investigated by federal prosecutors. Investigators are determining whether McAuliffe violated rules regulating U.S. citizens lobbying on behalf of foreign governments.

Former President Bill Clinton created his family's foundation shortly after leaving the White House in 2001, and it has become one of the fastest growing philanthropies since then. It has raised over $2 billion since 2001 and received bipartisan support for many of its charitable initiatives. In recent months, however, the foundation has been scrutinized due to revelations in hacked emails and documents released by WikiLeaks, the Post reported.

The emails revealed details about the mix between foundation activities, the Clintons' personal income, and Teneo's rapid growth. A 2011 memo from Band to foundation lawyers laid out the role that Band played building the business and asking his corporate clients to contribute to the foundation and provide opportunities for Bill Clinton to make paid speeches.

A Clinton Foundation inquiry would be completely separate from the FBI's probe into Clinton's use of a private email server while she was secretary of state–an investigation that was ostensibly ended in July without charges for anyone, before Comey said in his recent letter there were new emails investigators wanted to examine.

At a congressional hearing in July over the email investigation, Comey notably declined to say whether agents had looked at the Clinton Foundation.