There always have been stories of marginal believability bubbling just beneath the surface of the Russia scandal, sometimes too weird to be true and typically lacking the credible sources the mainstream media would require before going public with them.
Among these not-ready-for-primetime stories are whether Republican opposition researcher Peter W. Smith, who said before his death that he was looking for Hillary Clinton’s “missing” emails and was in touch with Michael Flynn, whom he described as a clandestine middle man between the Trump campaign and Russian hackers, and whether there was a cover-up involving the murder of Democratic National Committee computer wonk Seth Rich. Then there is the strange but plausible story of senior FBI investigator Peter Strzok and the October Surprise.
This story, a small portion of which was broken by MSNBC‘s Rachel Maddow on August 18, has been picked up by a few media outlets but hasn’t broken into the Russia scandal revelation mainstream — which is to say The New York Times and Washington Post — possibly because the pieces don’t quite fit together. At least not yet.
The trigger for Maddow’s story was the news that Strzok, who headed the FBI’s Clinton email investigation, had been transferred on August 17 from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative team to the FBI’s human resources department. In other words, he had been kicked off the elite team conducting the Russia scandal investigation that most threatened the Donald Trump presidency and was now cooling his heels shuffling papers.
This would be strange in and of itself — kind of like a highly-decorated Navy SEAL being transferred from the hunt for terrorists to the motor pool, but Strzok happens to be perhaps the key player in the blockbuster that turned Hillary Clinton’s seemingly sure-thing 2016 election victory into a loss to Trump.
That blockbuster is the so-called October Surprise.
The October Surprise was FBI Director James Comey’s shocking letter to Congress 11 days before the election that the FBI was reopening its criminal investigation into Clinton’s private email server, which had been terminated with a July 5 statement by Comey, who rebuked Clinton for being “extremely careless” but recommended no criminal charges in connection with her handling of classified information as secretary of state, which included emails on a private server.
Comey explained in the October 28 letter that the investigation was being reopened because of Clinton emails found on a computer belonging to former Congressman and sexter Anthony Weiner, whose wife Huma Abedin was a top Clinton aide. Comey intimated that there was new evidence of wrongdoing by Clinton, who had been attacked repeatedly by Trump and his surrogates in “Jail Hillary” rants.
What takes the Strzok-October Surprise story from fanciful to plausible is that:
* The publicly stated circumstances that led Comey to reopen the Clinton investigation while sitting on evidence of Trump campaign-Russia collusion have always stunk to high heaven.
* Strzok, described by fellow agents as a “superstar,” worked in the FBI’s New York office and was such an important player in the Weiner-Abedin-Clinton investigation that he was tasked with interviewing Clinton himself.
* Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence agent and author of a dossier linking the Trump campaign to Russian election interference, had been unsuccessful in interesting the FBI in his findings.
* Steele says “The bureau kept stalling, instead focusing on Clinton. . . . The New York office, in particular, appeared to be on a crusade” against her and some agents “had a long working relationship with Rudy Giuliani.”
* Strzok may have been among the agents who disliked Clinton and leaked the discovery of the Weiner emails to Giuliani, who was an especially influential Trump surrogate.
* With Trump’s poll numbers plunging, Giuliani bragged on October 26 on the Lars Larson radio show that he was in contact with FBI agents and had “a surprise or two that you’re going to hear about in the next few days.”
* Comey’s hand was then forced, and in an effort to get out ahead of a story that was certain to be leaked, he informed several congressional committees by letter on October 28 of the new development.
* Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Trump toady, promptly leaked Comey’s letter, throwing the Clinton campaign into turmoil from which it never has an opportunity to recover.
* Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid wrote to Comey on October 30, accusing him of a “double standard” in reopening the Clinton investigation while sitting on “explosive information” on Trump campaign-Russia ties.
* Erik Prince, Blackwater founder and another Trump surrogate, told Breitbart Radio on November 4 that “criminal activity” by Clinton, her inner circle and Democratic members of Congress had been found on Weiner’s computer.
* With Clinton’s poll numbers now tanking, Comey announced on November 6, two days before the election, that the “new” emails were either personal or duplicates of those previously examined.
* Strzok violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activity, and that explains his sudden transfer and the likelihood he is the subject of an internal investigation.
The story of why Comey seemingly went slow and remained silent on the FBI’s investigation into Trump campaign-Russia ties, which had been all but confirmed before the election, remains untold. Therein may lie a huge scandal in and of itself, or in my view more likely something that was rather innocuous if troubling and can be adequately explained within the framework of the fast moving events of the last half of 2016.
In any event, it does not matter that Giuliani soon walked back his claim, that Prince had knowingly floated false information, that Abedin merely had used Weiner’s computer as a convenient backup, or that Comey was to testify six months later that it made him “mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election” because of his 11th hour disclosure.
The damage had been done, it was catastrophic and changed the course of American history.