Throughout Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s massive report on the Hillary Clinton email investigation are lots of strange things. One of the weirdest is the extent to which the FBI went to make up words and phrases to disguise reality.
An early draft of the 2016 FBI report on the email scandal was reportedly subjected to linguistic surgery to exonerate Mrs. Clinton, who at the time was secretary of State. Mrs. Clinton was originally found to be “grossly negligent” in using an illegal email server. That legalistic phrase is used by prosecutors to indict for violation of laws governing the wrongful transmission of confidential government documents.
Yet the very thought of a likely President Clinton in court so worried the chief investigator, FBI Director James Comey, that he watered down “grossly negligent” to the mere “extremely careless.”
FBI investigators also had concluded that it was “reasonably likely” foreign nations had read Mrs. Clinton’s unsecured emails. Mr. Comey intervened to mask such a likelihood by substituting the more neutral word “possible.”
Former President Barack Obama was found to have improperly communicated with Mrs. Clinton over her illegal server while she was in a foreign country. Mr. Obama had denied that fact by falsely claiming that he never knew of her server until much later, after it was publicized.
The FBI hierarchy under Mr. Comey tried to hide the embarrassing details of Mr. Obama’s conduct. As a result, the FBI deleted Mr. Obama’s name from its report. In its place, the FBI inserted the laughable “another senior government official” — as if the president of the United States was just another Washington grandee who had improperly communicated on an illicit email server.
According to Mr. Comey’s congressional testimony, Attorney General Loretta Lynch ordered him not to use the supposedly incriminating noun “investigation” in connection with his investigation of the Clinton emails. Instead, she instructed Mr. Comey to use the benign-sounding “matter.”
One of the oddest mysteries of the IG report is the FBI’s delay in addressing the fact that disgraced former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner had a number of Mrs. Clinton’s private emails on his unsecured laptop. They were all forwarded to him by his wife, Huma Abedin, an aide to Mrs. Clinton. Their Washington-insider marriage had been widely publicized.
Yet Mr. Comey, the nation’s premier public investigator, claimed he had no idea that Mr. Weiner and Ms. Abedin were married. Mr. Comey would have the inspector general believe that Ms. Abedin had forwarded numerous emails from Mrs. Clinton, some of them classified, to a mere acquaintance.
Stranger still, Mr. Comey asserted his ignorance of the Weiner-Abedin marriage in an Orwellian manner: “I don’t know that I knew that [Mr. Weiner] was married to Huma Abedin at the time.” Translated, that means Mr. Comey claimed that he was not sure at one point that he was sure at another point that Mr. Weiner was married to Ms. Abedin, at least at the time when the emails came to his attention. Therefore, he did not act as he should have.
What were the common themes in the FBI’s linguistic distortions?
Two realities: One, the FBI made sure that Mr. Obama, the boss of most of the wayward FBI and DOJ officials, was not to be entangled in any scandal.
Two, seemingly everyone at the Department of Justice and FBI assumed Hillary Clinton was going to be president. They were sure Donald Trump was headed for a humiliating and well-deserved defeat. Therefore, in the heat of the 2016 campaign, the FBI and DOJ did what they could to ingratiate themselves with those they expected to be in power during a likely eight-year Clinton presidency.
The inspector general’s report on the Clinton email covers just one scandal. Presumably, the IG and other investigators will issue reports on a number of other ongoing scandals that involved the 2016 campaign.
How did government officials, by hiding information about the so-called Steele dossier, mislead the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to get warrants to spy on U.S. citizens associated with the Trump campaign?
How was it decided that the Clinton campaign would pay Richard Steele for gathering dirt on the Trump campaign, and how did the information from the dossier get to intelligence agencies?
How was an FBI informant inserted into the Trump campaign?
How were names of U.S. citizens unmasked by Obama administration officials and leaked to the press?
If the IG report on the Clinton email scandal is any guide to these upcoming investigations, expect widespread abuse of the English language to warp reality.
The media is using the antiseptic “informant” in place of the cruder but more accurate “spy” or “mole.”
The off-putting but accurate “wiretapping” has become the more professional “surveillance.”
The sanitized “improper” always sounds cleaner than the more accurate “illegal.”
In sum, “2016” could make a logical sequel to “1984.”
• Victor Davis Hanson, a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, is the author of “The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won” (Basic Books, 2017).