Nine months after Donald Trump upset Hillary Clinton to win the presidency, congressional Republicans and conservative legal watchdogs are continuing to probe the scandals that dogged the Democratic campaign. And in conservative media, the churn of possible investigations has created a news cycle that operates independently of the one seen in most of the press.
The latest round of pressure for new investigations gained steam last week, when Judicial Watch and then the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) released the latest fruit of a federal lawsuit against the Justice Department — email traffic inside the agency about the June 2016 decision by Bill Clinton to walk across the tarmac at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor airport and have a conversation with then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch. The meeting, first reported by a local news station that also reported being told not to photograph Lynch or Clinton, caused an instant scandal, despite a hasty attempt by Hillary Clinton’s campaign to describe the meeting as nonpolitical.
On Nov. 2, six days before the presidential election, ACLJ chief counsel Jay Sekulow announced that he would be suing for documents after the Justice Department and FBI claimed that a Freedom of Information Request turned up nothing. On Friday, Sekulow, who is now a member of the president’s legal team and a frequent advocate for him on television, reported that the lawsuit had turned up hundreds of pages of emails.
“It is clear that there were multiple records within the FBI responsive to our request and that discussions regarding the surreptitious meeting between then AG Lynch and the husband of the subject of an ongoing FBI criminal investigation reached the highest levels of the FBI,” Sekulow wrote. “There is clear evidence that the main stream media was colluding with the DOJ to bury the story.”
In a pattern similar to the long-running investigation of the September 2012 attacks in Benghazi, the emails have turned up not the redacted talking points but evidence that public affairs officers in the Justice Department, FBI and White House were communicating on how to spin the story. (The ACLJ has also “unmasked” an email pseudonym Lynch sometimes used, though that’s not uncommon for high-profile public officials, and the emails were obviously discoverable as part of lawsuits.) On Monday night, Sekulow appeared on Fox’s “Hannity,” which frequently editorializes on the need for more Clinton investigations, to share the findings.
“Does this potentially expose its own version of collusion that they’re trying to cover up the fact they were in the fix, if you will, for Hillary Clinton and they didn’t want it exposed?” asked Sean Hannity. “And add to that that it’s not an investigation, it’s a matter? That seems to be building a case.”
Sekulow said: “Yes, but add to that also, Sean, that the basis upon which James Comey said he went public was because of these meetings that we’ve got the documents on now. That’s the reason he said he made that public statement, because he said the integrity of the agency, the FBI, was put at risk, and the Department of Justice, by Loretta Lynch’s action. But remember that she never recused herself from the actual outcome of the proceeding.”
On the Tuesday episode of his radio talk show, Rush Limbaugh focused on the dismissive tone reporters used to ask questions of the government spinners and the Lynch email alias. “It turns out these people are using aliases, fake names so that they would not be discovered,” he said, overstating the meaning of the attorney general’s dummy email. Later in the day, the president himself drew attention to the lawsuits, without naming them.
E-mails show that the AmazonWashingtonPost and the FailingNewYorkTimes were reluctant to cover the Clinton/Lynch secret meeting in plane.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 8, 2017
Separately, the Senate and House judiciary committees have been carrying out or exploring investigations into aspects of the 2016 campaign and Clinton’s years at the State Department. In July, before the start of the August recess, the House committee hollowed out a Democratic resolution intended to expand the investigation of Comey’s firing and replaced it with one demanding answers about Clinton. On July 26, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) held hearings on the Foreign Agent Registration Act, suggesting that as an aide to Clinton at the State Department, Sidney Blumenthal carried out lobbying activity but never registered.
“News articles reported that Mr. Blumenthal transmitted documentation to Secretary Clinton on behalf of the Georgian Dream, a political party in the country of Georgia,” Grassley said. “The Justice Department never explained why it failed to require Mr. Blumenthal and his partner, John Kornblum, to register under FARA.”
In a letter, which he copied to The Washington Post, Blumenthal demanded an apology from Grassley, saying he had never represented Georgia Dream or partnered with Kornblum.
“You have a responsibility to yourself as well to me and to the American public to determine who gave you this false information, encouraged you to make your recent statement and the reason why,” Blumenthal wrote. “In light of current events, it appears to have been instigated as a means to distract and diminish the public attention from the Russian intervention in the presidential election of 2016.”
In an emailed statement, Grassley spokesman George Hartmann said that the fault was with Blumenthal for declining to explain himself.
“Senator Grassley has publicly written the Justice Department several times since 2015, citing news reports about Mr. Blumenthal’s alleged activities with respect to foreign interests, and never received any contact from Mr. Blumenthal about it until now, nor any substantive response other than the Justice Department’s noting that its Foreign Agents Registration Act Unit was aware of the news reports,” Hartmann said. “In his letters, and at the recent hearing on the Justice Department’s failure to adequately enforce the Foreign Agents Registration Act, Senator Grassley cited news reports and noted that if Mr. Blumenthal did not have to register, the Justice Department should explain why not in order to be fair to him. Mr. Blumenthal should direct his attention to the news reports and the Justice Department rather than a senator who cited the reports in the context of whether the Justice Department has been as transparent as it should be with the American people’s business.”
Blumenthal’s letter is below.
To Senator Charles Grassley:
You owe me an apology for lying about me.
On July 26, 2017, you made a public statement about me that was completely false in every particular.
You stated: “News articles reported that Mr. Blumenthal transmitted documentation to Secretary Clinton on behalf of the Georgian Dream, a political party in the country of Georgia. The Justice Department never explained why it failed to require Mr. Blumenthal and his partner, John Kornblum, to register under FARA.”
In fact, I have never represented Mr. Bidzina Ivanishvili or his political party, Georgia Dream, or any other foreign entity, nor rendered them any services. I have had no contact with Mr. Ivanishivili, or his political party Georgia Dream, and made no agreement with anyone, ever, to represent him or his party. I have received no payment or benefit from Mr. Ivanishvili, his political party Georgia Dream, or any other foreign entity for representation or rendering of services covered by the Foreign Agent Registration Act.
Indeed, I have received no payment or benefit from Mr. Ivanishvili or any person I have reason to believe associated with him or his political party, ever. I have made no agreement, written or oral, with any foreign entity, at any time, relating to any matter covered by the Foreign Agent Registration Act.
Nor was John Kornblum my “partner.” We have never had any business or financial relationship of any kind. Ambassador Kornblum is one of the most distinguished diplomats to have served the United States. I first met him in 1986 when he was the U.S. Consul-General in Berlin and I was a reporter for the Washington Post. He played an instrumental role in the creation of President Reagan’s speech calling on the Russians to tear down the Berlin Wall. He also served as the U.S. ambassador to Germany.
I forwarded to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Ambassador Kornblum’s personal observations on the 2012 Georgian election and a letter from Mr. Ivanishvili that Ambassador Kornblum informed me he had already sent to Secretary Clinton. I made a point of writing Secretary Clinton that I was sending them to her “without comment.”
I also included an article from The Economist, reporting on the “blood feud” of “Georgian politics,” that contained negative facts about all sides, including concerning Mr. Ivanishvili. I neither expected a response from Secretary Clinton, nor received one.
Nor were there, as you claimed, any “news stories,” because there are no facts. There can be no “news” without facts. Whatever you may have read could only have been baseless smears.
Thus, there is not a scintilla of evidence for your statement. Nor would it ever be possible to have such evidence because there is none.
Whoever provided you with this false information was harming you and your reputation as well as intending to harm me.
You have a responsibility to yourself as well to me and to the American public to determine who gave you this false information, encouraged you to make your recent statement and the reason why. In light of current events, it appears to have been instigated as a means to distract and diminish the public attention from the Russian intervention in the presidential election of 2016.
I request that you therefore investigate the sources of the false information to determine whether they have been engaged in an attempt to mislead the Congress and obstruct the ongoing investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
I look forward to your early reply.