Update March 29 8:10 pm: The article cited in this piece said that 147 FBI agents had been detailed to the investigation, citing a lawmaker briefed by FBI Director James B. Comey. Two U.S. law enforcement officials have since told The Washington Post that that figure is too high. The FBI will not provide an exact figure, but the officials say the number of FBI personnel involved is fewer than 50. The headline has been corrected accordingly. I apologize for the error.
About halfway through Robert O’Harrow’s terrific — and terrifically detailed — WaPo piece on the origins of Hillary Clinton’s email problems, there is this paragraph:
One hundred forty-seven FBI agents have been deployed to run down leads, according to a lawmaker briefed by FBI Director James B. Comey. The FBI has accelerated the investigation because officials want to avoid the possibility of announcing any action too close to the election.
One hundred and forty seven agents? Doesn’t that seem like a ton for a story that Clinton has always insisted was really, at heart, a right-wing Republican creation?
It sure seems that way to me. As O’Harrow notes, the number of agents is likely the result of the FBI’s desire to bring this investigation to some sort of conclusion long before the November election. That’s in keeping with a report from Del Quentin Wilber in the Los Angeles Times that the investigation is moving into its final stages, which will include interviews with some of Clinton’s top aides and even the former secretary of state herself. Writes Wilber:
The interviews by FBI agents and prosecutors will play a significant role in helping them better understand whether Clinton or her aides knowingly or negligently discussed classified government secrets over a non-secure email system when she served as secretary of State.
The meetings also are an indication that much of the investigators’ background work — recovering deleted emails, understanding how the server operated and determining whether it was breached — is nearing completion.
Both stories make clear that, according to legal experts, Clinton is very unlikely to be punished for her exclusive use of a private email server during her time at State since the practice was not forbidden. (Worth noting: Lots of other secretaries of state used private email accounts to supplement their official accounts; none used only a private email account and server.) Potentially more problematic for Clinton is her insistence that she never knowingly sent or received any messages that were marked classified at the time. It’s been shown in the year-plus of investigations into her server that there were a number of items on Clinton’s server that were classified after the fact, but there is no evidence to make her initial statement untrue.
That the investigation is nearing its end and that it is taking the time of nearly 150 agents is a bad news/good news situation for Clinton. On the good news front, the push to wrap it up one way or the other soon means that if she is largely cleared of wrongdoing, this story won’t continue to dog her in a general election race — or it at least won’t be an active investigation during that contest. On the bad news front, you never really want 150 FBI agents chasing down leads in relation to anything you have a hand in. That’s just a lot of people digging through your professional life.
For me, the 147 number was eye-popping — suggesting this investigation was far more wide-ranging than I, at least, believed. That doesn’t mean Clinton is guilty — or anything close to it. But it does suggest that this is not a sort of obligatory look-see by the FBI. This is a wide-reaching examination of all of the communications between Clinton and her aides — and no one running for president wants that to be happening as they try to wrap up the party’s presidential nomination.