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Handling of Clinton probe tarnishes FBI

WASHINGTON – The American people, with forgettable exceptions, have great faith in the FBI and its leadership.

We believe in the integrity of its top brass, its processes and most certainly in the average FBI special agent. The FBI is perhaps the only federal agency in which the public does still believe.

That trust is being put to a test, however, because of the handling of its investigation into the private email server used by Hillary Rodham Clinton when she was secretary of state, and related FBI investigations into her staff.

It is taking too long. And the subjects of the investigation, including Clinton, are the beneficiaries of more than due diligence.

One critic is a former FBI agent and former Erie County district attorney – Edward C. Cosgrove. He and other former agents form an informal, close-knit club.

“Most former FBI agents cannot understand why the FBI investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has not been concluded,” Cosgrove said.

The prominent practicing attorney and Georgetown law graduate wonders why the bureau’s probe “has not been turned over to the attorney general [Loretta Lynch] for her prosecutive judgment.”

Cosgrove was recommended in 1977 by a bipartisan group of congressmen for the director’s job.

Federal law equips FBI agents with the power to get ugly jobs done quickly. When the bureau comes calling, any false statement made to an agent, either in person or in writing, subjects that person to the potential charge of a felony. No lawyer need be present. Bureau rule FR: 302 requires that the interviewing agent file a written report within five days.

This email probe is different. The Washington Post reported this week that a longtime Clinton aide, Cheryl Mills, briefly walked out of an FBI interview when her lawyer said she was being asked questions that were off-limits. Mills’ interview was also off the record.

There is no obligation on the part of the FBI to allow any question to be off-limits, or testimony to be off the record.

This probe is 10 months old. reported in mid-July that “federal officials” then asked for a probe of Clinton’s emails.

Still, Clinton has not been interviewed by the FBI.

FBI Director James Comey has been pressed by reporters as to when Clinton will be interviewed. He responded that he, Comey, would personally interview her “in coming days.” That was six weeks ago.

Last week, Comey suggested the same thing in a pad-and-pen session with reporters. There is nothing in federal rules that prohibits more than one interview.

In this same briefing, Comey said there is no hard deadline to completing these investigations. But it is idle to suggest that there isn’t a hard deadline concerning Clinton.

One occurs in nine weeks. That is the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, where Clinton expects to be nominated for the presidency. Is anyone suggesting that Comey or Lynch would bring any charges against Clinton after she becomes the nominee?

No one is seriously suggesting Clinton did anything criminal by creating a personal email system. Careless, yes. But hardly disqualifying.

But this slow roll is helping neither her, nor Comey, nor Lynch.

The delays are only feeding the rumor mill, and empowering her enemies.

Carl Bernstein, Watergate author, said one reason Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., stays in the race is the possibility the FBI could leak something damaging.

Somebody in the Clinton camp, as well as the government, should move promptly and decisively to end this back-and-forth lest the smudge on the FBI’s shield becomes a smear.