Index: Federal Bureau of Investigation
What's going on at Christopher Wray's FBI?
As a catch-all for societal blame, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is a bit like the Mainstream Media. Most FBI agents, and most journalists, are really good. But the hard work of these extremely dedicated, extremely talented, extremely professional individuals is overshadowed by the negligence of a specific sector (the Beltway press, the New York field office) and the bungling of the men (it’s usually men) at the top. In the case of the FBI, that man is the director, the Trump appointee Chris Wray.
Christopher Asher Wray is the epitome of straight white wealthy male privilege—a blue blood. He’s a Philips Academy boarding school kid, and, like his fellow Federalist Society confrère Brett Kavanaugh, a double graduate of Yale—undergrad and law school. He made bank representing shady characters at a boutique law firm whose main clients were the Russian natural gas concern Gazprom and Russian oil concern Rosneft. Obviously he’s a Republican. All of that is forgivable, except that almost halfway through his ten-year term, he’s done little to show the American people that he’s not still Trump’s hand-picked errand boy—the mobster’s choice.
Certainly the Bureau has not exactly distinguished itself during his tenure.
In the fall of 2020, a group of self-styled vigilantes calling themselves the Wolverine Watchmen planned to kidnap the governor of Michigan. As I wrote last year, “They were going to abduct her at her vacation home in the woods—like in a Friday the 13th movie. They were going to hog-tie and rape her. They were going to livestream her execution.” Well, those monsters were all acquitted. Their attorneys successfully argued that the whole dastardly plot was a case of entrapment. The FBI, they said, had tricked their clients into the whole thing.
Add this to the list of FBI failures that happened under Wray’s watch. He wasn’t able to nail these would-be kidnappers, just as he botched the U.S. Gymnasts investigation:
He sat on 4,500 Kavanaugh tips, and has been less than eager to tell Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse the reason. Oh, and he did fuck-all while Trump and his crew ran roughshod for three years.
Let’s review how Wray got the gig in the first place:
(Sept. 21, 2021)
The four-year occupation of the White House by a mobbed-up criminal has been so thoroughly normalized by the supine press that it is necessary, on occasion, to pull the camera way back and look, really look, at the big picture. This wide perspective helps neutralize the gaslighting.
Here’s what went down in 2016-17:
The Russian government engaged in an aggressive, multifaceted effort to influence the outcome of the 2016 election to help its longtime puppet, Donald John Trump, achieve the presidency.
After Trump realized the FBI had caught wind of his ties to Russia, he summoned the director, James Comey, to dinner à deux, where he demanded “loyalty”—which, in wiseguy parlance, meant that he wanted Comey to quash the investigation.
Comey refused, so Trump fired him, in the most craven, petty way possible.
The day after Comey was fired, Trump invited two senior Russian officials to the Oval Office, where he told them, between bursts of mirthful laughter, that he made the move specifically because of the FBI’s Russia investigation. He said something similar to Lester Holt of NBC News two days later.
After batting interim director Andrew McCabe around like a mouse for a few months, trolling his family, and screwing him out of some of his government pension, Trump named Christopher Wray, who had been the personal attorney of his good buddy Chris Christie, FBI director.
Points 1-4 can be distilled to this one sentence: Guy under criminal investigation fires guy in charge of criminal investigation. There is no reality in which that is not egregious obstruction of justice.
This is not some tinfoil-hat conspiracy theory. This is not something Nicki Minaj’s cousin’s friend posted on Swollen Balls Reddit. None of these facts are in dispute. It’s in the Mueller Report. It’s in Volume 5 of the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee Report (which I quote in #1, above). Trump himself admitted it. That’s what fucking happened, full stop. I’ll say it again: Guy under criminal investigation fires guy in charge of criminal investigation.
It took three months for Trump to find someone to replace Comey. Presumably, the Former Guy—no stranger to the inner workings of the Bureau—had but one criterium: Back off.
Add point #5 to our logline, and we get this: Guy under criminal investigation fires guy in charge of criminal investigation AND REPLACES HIM WITH A GUY HIS SHADY BUDDY RECOMMENDED.
So: The opening at the FBI was created for illicit reasons. The replacement was selected for illicit reasons. Why exactly are we keeping the new guy around? Because we don’t want to seem “partisan?” Because FBI directors traditionally serve for 10 years? What the actual fuck?
To be fair, Wray is clearly a smart guy. This isn’t a Betsy DeVos situation, where Trump put an absolute moron in the post to sabotage the organization. Nor is Wray one of the obviously bad Louis DeJoy / Matthew Whitaker / Ric Grenell types. But here’s the thing: Americans deserve better. The Federal Bureau of Investigation should be led by someone who wasn’t picked by a mobbed-up criminal. That’s just common sense.
The best thing I can say about Wray is that he didn’t hand a presidential election over to a mob-owned money launderer in direct violation of Bureau protocols, like his beleaguered predecessor:
Director James Comey bungled things so badly in October 2016 that the very fate of the nation hangs, present tense, in the balance. First, as discussed, he allowed himself to be played by the rogue “Trumplandia” agents at the FBI’s New York field office, who coerced him into sending the letter to Congress concerning the re-opening of the Clinton email investigation. According to the New York Times, Comey sent the letter because he was certain, given leaks in the FBI New York field office, that “word of the new [Hillary Clinton] emails [found on Anthony Weiner’s computer]...was sure to leak out” and he did not want to “risk being accused of misleading Congress and the public ahead of an election.”
He explained his decision to write the letter thus, to his charges at the FBI: “Of course, we don’t ordinarily tell Congress about ongoing investigations, but here I feel an obligation to do so given that I testified repeatedly in recent months that our investigation was completed. I also think it would be misleading to the American people were we not to supplement the record. At the same time, however, given that we don’t know the significance of this newly discovered collection of emails, I don’t want to create a misleading impression. In trying to strike that balance, in a brief letter and in the middle of an election season, there is significant risk of being misunderstood, but I wanted you to hear directly from me about it.”
This all makes perfect sense, but for one glaring problem: In October of 2016, the FBI was actively investigating 1) Hillary Clinton’s missing emails, and 2) Donald Trump’s ties to Russia. Comey chose only to inform the public about the former. How exactly was it not “misleading…the American people…not to supplement the record” about Trump’s clandestine dealings with Moscow?
The difference boils down to the Bureau’s “Glomar” policy [neither confirming nor denying] concerning active investigations. . . . Here is my quibble. When Comey testified before Congress on 20 March 2017, he abandoned “Glomar” and instead confirmed that the FBI was indeed “investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.” And I think this was the right move. But if the Director could ignore “Glomar” on 20 March 2017, in breach of protocol concerning on-going investigations, why did he not see fit to do so five months sooner, when it might have done some good? If he wrote the same letter to Congress about Hillary’s emails, but added that Trump’s campaign was also under investigation for possible coordination with the Russians, the two investigations would have canceled each other out—reinforcing previously held biases, not tipping the scale. The abominable Times story of 31 October 2016 would never have run. Jason Chaffetz may have had second thoughts about leaking the memo. Hillary Clinton would absolutely be president right now.
That letter is a black mark against James Comey, and will be the first thing mentioned in his Times obituary.
As mentioned in that excerpt, Comey was played by Trump loyalists in the New York field office. As it turns out, there were Trump loyalists in the New York field office because Trump cultivated them.
Blind Eye of the FBI
(Oct. 15, 2021)
Secret immunity would certainly explain why the FBI has given Trump a wide berth. But there are other, more human, motives at work as well, as the investigative journalist and author Craig Unger explains on today’s PREVAIL podcast. Why, he wonders, didn’t the FBI pay more attention to all the criminality surrounding Trump, especially during his run for president? Why did they turn a blind eye? “And I say this knowing that they had to know this,” he says, “because a lot of my material came from FBI files! So they certainly knew about it,” it being Trump’s dalliances with the Russian mob. Unger suggests that it was the culture of the Bureau, and the New York field office specifically, that made agents think twice about going down the Trump-Russia rabbit hole:
What American lawyer wound up representing Semion Mogilevich? It was of course William Sessions, who had been Director of the FBI. And you had people like James Kallstrom, who was a very high-ranking FBI official in New York, who was very close to Donald Trump. . . . Think about that. Let’s assume you were a career FBI guy, and you’ve been there 20 years, and you’re in the New York office. How vigorously are you going to pursue someone like Donald Trump? How vigorously are you going to pursue the Russian mafia when your former boss is [Mogilevich’s] lawyer? . . . And Donald Trump has given your immediate bureau director, James Kallstrom of the New York office—has given $1.3 million to his favorite charity. And several other FBI officials, when they retire, they end up doing security for Donald Trump, getting cozy jobs maybe making a couple hundred thousand dollars a year while they’re still collecting their FBI pensions. Are you really going to put everything on the line to go after these guys?
In American Kompromat, Unger describes the relationship between Trump and Kallstrom, whose unlikely friendship began in 1973. The former was pretty clearly cultivating the latter; since when does Trump give $1.3 million to anyone, and not expect something in return? Since when does he give that much money to charity? His M.O. is to promise but not deliver. (Somewhere in Washington, David Fahrenthold is nodding his head while brandishing his Pulitzer). As Unger tactfully put it in his book, “Their relationship was such that Kallstrom said things about Trump that were diametrically opposed to the way most Americans saw him.”
During their decades-long friendship, Kallstrom rose to a position of prominence at the Bureau: assistant director in charge of the New York field office, the FBI’s largest—and the one right in Trump’s backyard. He worked closely with Rudy Giuliani on the Mafia Commission Trial. And while he retired in 1997, he remained an influential figure in New York law enforcement until his death this July. Would Trump have continued to cultivate the friendship if Kallstrom had wound up leaving the FBI in the 80s to work in, say, property management? Would agents in the New York field office have handled differently the Anthony Weiner laptop that ultimately cost Hillary Clinton the election, if their old boss Kallstrom had not been such a vocal supporter of Donald Trump? If Kallstrom had not done interviews claiming that HRC was a criminal?
NPR interviewed Kallstrom in 2016, a week before the election, in the wake of the Comey letter. He said, “I don’t say this politically; I just say this is a matter of law. The Democrats nominated someone to run for president that had a long trail of things that could be considered by a grand jury as being criminal.” But he was being political. He had allowed his personal bias—the wool Trump spent 40 years pulling over his eyes—to override his professional objectivity.
High-ranking FBI sympathizing with, and sometimes later working for, their felonious Confidential Informants is nothing new, alas. One former director went on to become the attorney for the worst criminal on the planet: Semion “Seva” Mogilevich, the Brainy Don.
Mob Lawyers & FBI Directors
(Oct. 5, 2021)
President Clinton fired FBI Director William Sessions in 1993, after the Washington Post published an expose on his alleged ethical improprieties. In 1997, as Unger reports in House of Trump, House of Putin, Sessions traveled to Moscow, where he railed against the scourge of Russian organized crime. Ten years later . . . Sessions was Semion Mogilevich’s attorney. That means that when Mogilevich was included on the FBI Ten Most Wanted list in 2009, his attorney was a former director of the FBI.
I’m going to say that one more time, and put it in bold, because I’m having a hard time wrapping my brain around this: When Mogilevich was included on the FBI Ten Most Wanted list in 2009, his attorney was a former director of the FBI!
Why would Sessions do such a thing? He understood better than anyone how dirty his client’s money was, and he must have known how bad the optics would be. Was he that hard up for coin? Were the ethical improprieties that got him pink-slipped from the Bureau indicative of a defective moral compass? Or. . . was his post-FBI working relationship with the Brainy Don merely a continuation of a prior working relationship?
Sessions died last year, so we can’t ask him. But I can’t help but recall the oddly specific answer Mogilevich gave to Tom Mangold in the BBC interview, which ran in December of 1999:
MANGOLD: Would you give evidence on Russian organized crime to a Congressional committee if you were guaranteed immunity?
MOGILEVICH: I would do so if anybody asked me to. It wouldn't bother me at all. But no one has asked me to.
“Seva” was probably lying about that last part. By then, if the reports are to be believed, the Germans had already asked him to cooperate. Two decades later, according to one of his closest associates, the Russians would do the same. Might Williams Sessions’ FBI also have asked?
“There are two things that I dislike about the Unites States,” Mogilevich told Mangold, “their bread and the FBI.” Then why retain its ex-director as your attorney?
Let me reiterate: most FBI agents are very good. The Bureau does fantastic work on the regular that we don’t even hear about. And it is involved right now in the January 6 investigation, the largest criminal investigation in the history of the country. But the Bureau’s leadership gives me pause.
Earlier this month, Semion Mogilevich was put back on the FBI’s Wanted List. Why now, so many years after the fact? Does it have to do with war in Ukraine and the sanctions on Russia? Does this mean the Bureau will stop playing Confidential Informant footsie with this monster? Or is it just an indication that Wray is going to quit soon to be his lawyer?
Photo credit: FBI. Wray’s official swearing in ceremony, September 2017.