Some emails of Hillary Clinton, including at least one that was classified, fell into the hands of “foreign actors,” according to a 2016 email from FBI Agent Peter Strzok to high-level FBI officials.
The email, first obtained by Fox News, spells out what was only insinuated by then-FBI Director James Comey when he de facto exonerated Clinton in a 2016 statement on the probe of her use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state.
Comey said that the small group conducting the investigation at the FBI headquarters assessed “that hostile actors gained access to the private commercial email accounts of people with whom Secretary Clinton was in regular contact from her personal account.”
That wording left it to the listeners to connect the dots—that the “hostile actors” had access to emails sent by Clinton.
But Strzok put it unequivocally when he said, “We know foreign actors obtained access to some of her emails (including at least one Secret one) via compromises of the private email accounts of some of her staffers.”
Strzok’s May 17, 2016, email was already pushing back against Comey’s broader assessment that “it is reasonably likely that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s private email account.”
Strzok deemed that assessment as being “too strong,” but he did note that “a sophisticated foreign actor would likely have known about her private email domain, and would be competent enough not to leave a trace if they gained access.”
Indeed, the FBI found no direct evidence of an intrusion, he wrote.
The email’s authenticity has been backed up by the House judiciary and oversight committees, which prepared a memo that apparently uses information from the email. The memo was obtained by Fox.
“Documents provided to the Committees show foreign actors obtained access to some of Mrs. Clinton’s emails—including at least one email classified ‘Secret,'” the memo says, noting that “secret” classification means divulging the information could “reasonably be expected to cause serious damage to the national security.”
It’s not clear who the “foreign actors” are.
Strzok was one of the main investigators in the Clinton email probe and also in the counterintelligence probe into the campaign of then-candidate Donald Trump. He’s one of the main subjects of the new Justice Department Office of Inspector General (IG) report on the Clinton investigation, specifically over text message he exchanged with FBI colleague and mistress Lisa Page. In the texts, Strzok expressed a voracious bias against Trump.
The IG report clarifies that the Clinton aides with compromised email accounts included Jake Sullivan, senior policy adviser to the Clinton campaign, and Sidney Blumenthal, Clinton’s long-time confidant.
The IG also found that the server Clinton used during her tenure was compromised at least once, but the account breach didn’t belong to Clinton herself, but to an unnamed former staffer of her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
The IG also found documents that noted the FBI was limited in its intrusion analysis of the server due to the “FBI’s inability to recover all server equipment and the lack of complete server data for the relevant time period.”
But there were other avenues by which hostile actors could have accessed Clinton’s emails.
Shortly before the presidential election, in October 2016, Comey reopened the investigation after thousands of Clinton’s emails were found on the laptop of disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner. His wife, Huma Abedin, was a close aide to Clinton. An FBI analyst later probing the laptop told the IG that “it appeared that Abedin’s personal devices had been backed up on the laptop at various points in time.”
“Documents we reviewed indicated that Abedin told the FBI that she did not know how or why this occurred,” the IG noted.
The IG found Strzok and others only seriously started to look into the new emails several weeks after they learned about them and only after an alarm was raised about the delay by the New York FBI Office agent handling the Weiner case, which concerned sexually obscene electronic communications with a minor.
After only about a week of looking through some 350,000 emails found on the laptop, Comey closed the investigation again only two days before the election, again recommending no charges for Clinton.
But whether these emails, which also included classified information, were breached by hostile actors hadn’t been settled at that time, the IG found.
“The Lead [FBI] Analyst told us that the further investigative steps needed to complete the investigation included at least a ‘malware analysis’ to examine the laptop for intrusion and a re-interview of Abedin,” the report stated.
“If it’s simply on Weiner’s laptop and that’s where it ended, then that’s one thing,” the analyst said. “It’s another thing if through … their actions that [information] got on Weiner’s laptop and a foreign power obtained those classified [emails], that’s a separate question. So to me that’s not … an insignificant aspect of this that was still completely unresolved at the time.”
It’s not clear whether the FBI has since looked into these matters.
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