Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Having done countless interviews and interrogations for the FBI, and later in my capacity as a Security Manager with a Fortune 100 company, I’m convinced that the Federal Bureau of Investigation ‘jumped in the tank’ on this investigation. Harsh, you might say. I don’t think so. The reports of Hillary Clinton’s interview seem to show every indication that the FBI's interview was choreographed to cause Ms. Clinton the least possible inconvenience, and to create the best possible opportunity for her to rationalize past conduct involving her emails and her personal ‘server.’
First, let us establish a basis. The FBI was involved in a massive criminal investigation that lasted months, involved numerous FBI Agents and outside experts, and cost the taxpayers millions of dollars. The ‘subject’ of that investigation, the ‘suspect,’ was Hillary Clinton. And, the culmination of that investigation was Hillary Clinton being interviewed for a little over three hours; and apparently one, two or three Agents wrote 302s summarizing their understanding of what took place and what was said during the interview.
Ms. Clinton had previously stated that the FBI inquiry was little more than a “security review;” a characterization to which FBI Director James Comey strongly objected. However, as it turned out that was exactly what the FBI accomplished – a ‘security review’ of the State Department’s dangerously inadequate procedures in handling ‘classified’ and other sensitive documents. With the primary offender being the US Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
So what is a FD 302 to which the FBI has often referred? It’s been quite a few years now, but it sounds like the FBI has not progressed from that antiquated system. It’s basically a blank sheet of paper. The Principal Special Agent dictates his interview notes, and a stenographer types them up, corrects grammar and structural flaws (without theoretically changing the content), therefore giving the 302 a professional look. The Agent dictating the 302 reads the finished product and signs it as accurate. Other Agents that were present during the interview also sign the 302 as being accurate.
The interview format: FBI Director Comey has stated five or six Agents participated in the interview of Clinton. Yes, that’s hard to believe. But, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. OK, we’d have approximately six Agents, Hillary Clinton (of course) and she probably had two or three attorneys and/or staff people with her. Reportedly, the FBI’s interview seems more like a get-together, a social gathering, a conclave, rather than an official, fact-finding interview.
Normally, there will be one principal Agent conducting the interview. If two or more Agents are questioning a subject, it becomes too confusing and the interview begins to lose focus. Perhaps the Clinton interview was compartmentally separated with Agents conducting their own segment. But, this too can become very confusing; and usually obscures good follow-up questioning. The principal interviewing Agent has to manage the interview and be thoroughly prepared. He or she usually takes the notes because he already knows where they want to go with the interview. And, he is, should be, the most informed investigator in the room.
Additionally, one Agent is assigned to do the ‘Interview Log.’ What this consists of is a time sheet including notations such as: What time the interview began and what time it ended. When breaks were taken and the nature of the break; were breaks taken to consult with attorneys, go to the bathroom, serve coffee, etc.
In HRC’s interview, I imagine that there was at least one assigned woman Special Agent present in the room – if for nothing else than to soften appearances. The principal Agent would begin with introductions and then establish the foundation. This might take 30 to 45 minutes – perhaps an hour. The object being to create a comfortable atmosphere and to lay-out the general ground rules.
The interview: After the principal Agent finishes his questioning, he would ask other Agents in the room for follow-up questions. Follow-up questions usually develop other areas of interest based on the subject’s answers and the need for clarification. In an important case like this, the principal Agent probably would require a private meeting with the other Agents in an adjacent office or conference room to discuss the interview’s progress and to garner suggestions from the other Agents present. In most instances, this private meeting would generate new areas of questioning that need to be explored in more detail.
Subsequent: The principal Agent, utilizing his hand-written notes, would then dictate the findings of the interview. The FBI used to have a ‘five day rule,’ which meant that the interview notes had to be transcribed within five days.
Now, let’s be clear, if this is what occurred in such a very short time (the alleged 3+ hours), the FBI Agents had to have been already briefed that there was to be no prosecution in the matter. More importantly, they used this antiquated interview method to make sure that Clinton didn’t stumble and somehow throw a wrench into the previously decided decision. The FBI was simply going through the motions – little more than a PR exercise.
What should the FBI have done? At the very least, the FBI should have required a verbatim transcript. Even better would have been a video and transcript. Now, it’s my understanding that Clinton’s attorneys negotiated (demanded) the interview conditions, prior to the interview; and that there would be no transcript - a condition to which the FBI agreed. In other words, Clinton’s attorneys and the FBI colluded to establish the least effective interview format; and the most beneficial format for Clinton. What if Clinton had refused to be interviewed? From an FBI standpoint that would be fine too. They would simply refer their investigative results to the US Attorney with the postscript that the subject (Hillary Clinton) refused to be interviewed. This can also be an indication of guilt when a subject refuses to be interviewed.
Duration: I’ve undergone depositions, involving civil matters on investigations that I had conducted (civil and criminal matters which were infinitely less complex than the Hillary matter) that lasted more than a day. Every answer, every word, was transcribed. If I misstated or embellished under oath that would have subsequently been used against me in court to diminish or destroy my testimony. This is mentioned to show contrast with the FBI’s ‘hit and run’ interview of Clinton.
Hillary Clinton is an attorney. She is a master of obfuscation and evasion. Her attorneys, as is there custom, would object during the interview and ask to confer privately with Clinton. With breaks and attorney conferences outside the interview room, I would guess Hillary’s interview lasted no more than an hour – if that.
My advice to any Congressional Review Panel evaluating the quality, findings and conclusions of this FBI interview would be to request all hand-written notes completed by Agents, as well as the ‘Interview Log.’ This would be a pretty good indication of how thorough the interview was. Or should I say that it would probably confirm what most current and former FBI Agents already know.
Yes indeed folks, politics talks and justice walks.