Category Archives: Culture

My First Job

Movie house Usher: Death Wish in Tustin Theater

“Steve, we’ve gotta a problem down here!”

by Stacey Warde

I got my first job as an usher at an independent movie house, the Tustin Theater, in 1974. I was 16, feeling the invincibility of my teenage years, learning to scrap and wrestle with other high schoolers, the rough and tumble of sports play. I thought I was pretty tough but never pretended to be anything more than a high school kid with ambitions of one day getting a “real” job and becoming a man. Having a job, my dad would say, was one way to prove your worth. Protecting and providing for your family, as well as holding down a good job, were about the best a man could hope for, he said. Do those things, and I’d be ok.

My ushering duties entailed taking tickets from moviegoers, checking inside the movie theater to make sure customers found their seats, scooping up cigarette butts out of the sand-filled ashtrays outside the theater doors, and making sure there were no hazardous spills or other troublesome issues like kids throwing popcorn at the screen.

My uniform, like my duties, was simple: black pants, white shirt, skimpy black bow-tie, sports coat and flashlight. My boss, Steve, a good-natured man who loved his job, encouraged me to watch the films we showed. We offered popular titles that year such as Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Benji, Death Wish, and The Longest Yard. I’d watched them all, sometimes more than once, popping inside the theater to rewatch favorite humorous or dramatic scenes and taking delight in listening to the audience guffaw or gasp. I earned about $1.25 an hour.

Sometimes, depending on which movie was showing, the line outside the box office would go clear around the block. It could get pretty hectic. Whenever the line to get inside wasn’t moving quickly, the crowd would turn restless. My job on these busy nights was to support the box office attendant and make sure the line kept moving, so customers wouldn’t get impatient.

One particular busy night, the line snaked its way to the box office, where a recent hire, a young, quiet Southern gal, Miss Charlotte, “Char” for short, deftly worked the steady flow of moviegoers, taking money and dispensing tickets. Together, we were moving things along. “There’s plenty of room inside folks, not to worry!” I’d shout after taking someone’s ticket, hoping to allay fears of getting turned away.

Char was a bit older, 20-something with fine features, fuller and more womanly than the gals my age. I thought she was pretty in her grown-up Southern blonde poofy hairstyle, makeup and drawl, which some employees teased her for. I wanted to flirt with her but seldom did because she was married to a Marine who had just transferred to the area. I’d met him a few times when he came to get her at the end of her shift. He seemed high-strung and not very friendly. I could tell she was afraid of him. Nonetheless, she would smile, even if she wouldn’t talk to me.

We were showing the movie “Death Wish,” where Charles Bronson plays the role of a vigilante after his daughter is raped and his wife murdered. The movie shocked me, even as a teen curious about the “real” world. The rape scene left an unpleasant imprint on me. I couldn’t shake it, or get it out of my mind. How could anyone be so brutal? Why would anyone ever commit such an atrocious crime? I knew little of these absurdities, growing up in the relative safety of suburban Orange County, where I had been schooled in fair play and treating women with respect, and knew nothing of a death wish. This movie shocked me.

I had never actually witnessed, and knew little of, the type of real violence I’d heard about on rough city streets, or seen in TV coverage of the Vietnam War. Still, if I was to encounter aggression toward myself or any other person, I reasoned, I wanted to be like Paul Kersey, the architect turned vigilante that Bronson portrayed, bold in the face of threats, ready to do justice on the street, and to protect the harmless and innocent from thugs.

I’d been roughed up a few times in fights with kids my own age over the years, bullied by older ruffians, but never faced any real threats to life and limb. Nonetheless, I wanted to give a good accounting of myself if ever such a threat was made. So far, I’d shown promise in my scuffles with friends and bullies but lost at least half as many—if not more—battles than I’d won.

Once, a couple of Marines harassed me on the back side of the local grocery located at the far end of the lot from the theater. I was riding my bicycle home from a high school wrestling workout when a bright yellow muscle-car screeched around the corner of the Market Basket and barely missed hitting me. I automatically threw up my middle finger, out of fear as much as anger at the close call. The car whipped back around and screeched to a stop in front of my bicycle so that I couldn’t pass. Two Marines jumped out and wanted to know, did I have a message for them?

“Yeah, fuck you!” I blared. “You almost hit me!”

They moved toward me and I was certain they would pummel me until another car passing slowly our way distracted them, the driver peering over at us, as if to see what was going on, which allowed me to jump on my bike and escape. “You guys better get outta here before the MPs come and take you away,” I yelled. The military police, I’d learned over the years, were quick to respond to reports of misbehaving Marines. I pedaled home as fast as I could, shaken and breathless. It wasn’t my bravest moment; yet my adrenaline had spiked and I felt something like madness or bravery growing inside of me.

Marines were an integral part of life in Orange County then. I grew up under the shadow of war and the military. The Marine Corps Air Station just outside of Tustin was host to helicopter crews and squadrons. Not far down the road, fighter jets flew in and out of Marine Corps Air Station El Toro on the southern skirt of the Irvine Ranch. You could hear the roar of their engines miles away. As a boy, I knew that many of those pilots would soon be flying over the jungles of Vietnam. The war ended miserably for Americans, with 58,000 dead. But that did little to diminish the Marine Corps pride. These were fighting men, not to be messed with. Now, after a humiliating defeat in Southeast Asia, with no one to really fight anymore, they seemed to like taking it out on civilians: mouthy teenagers, barflys, girlfriends, wives….

Char rarely spoke, unless she absolutely needed help. Tonight, she was holding her own, keeping the line moving and the crowd from growing restless.

“Not to worry, folks! There’s plenty of room inside!” I shouted, hoping she’d at least glance over in appreciation of my efforts to help move the line.

Suddenly, there was a commotion. An angry Marine started pushing his way through the line. “Hey, buddy, watch it!” someone shouted.

Char’s husband cut through the line and burst through the door where I was standing and started for the box office. “Sir, you’re gonna have to wait a minute. We’re really busy right now.”

“Stay out of it, buster,” he ordered, staring me down, sizing me up. Just as suddenly he turned and bolted to go inside the box office. No one but staff was allowed in there.

“Sir, you’re not supposed to be in there,” I shouted, taking another ticket. He grabbed Char by her upper arm, spun her around, away from a shocked paying patron, and began pulling her out of the box office, and dragged her toward the door, leaving the line in a lurch at the window, customers staring aghast as he hauled her away.

“Come on!” he ordered, as they passed by me. “You’re going home!” She followed him without protest as he roughly moved her through the crowd, pulling her along by her arm. I hesitated, couldn’t say anything, knew that I had to keep the line moving, wanted to stop the Marine in his tracks and knew I couldn’t, and now the box office was empty and people standing in line were starting to panic and get impatient.

“The movie’s gonna start pretty soon,” someone shouted, “is someone gonna take our money?”

“That’s what ya gotta do with women these days,” said another, a burly older man, also waiting in line to get his ticket. “You gotta show them who’s boss, or they get the wrong ideas.”

“Steve!” I shouted up toward the manager’s office. “Steve, we’ve gotta problem down here!” I wanted to leave my station and do something but feared Char’s husband, duty bound to keep the crowd under control, all while Char was being treated roughly, and dragged across the parking lot, off to who-knows-what. “Steve!”

He came running down to the box office, keys and change jangling in his pants pockets, his eye glasses askew on his head. “What’s going on? Where’s Char?”

“Her husband came and got her,” I said. “He dragged her out of here.”

Steve went inside the box office, picked up the phone and called the MPs; at the same time, he began taking money from moviegoers and dispensing tickets through the window. He gave Char’s address to the MPs and hung up the phone. He looked over my way. “Not the best night for family squabbles,” he complained.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t feel comfortable trying to stop him,” I said, moving the line. “First set of doors to your left sir. Plenty of seats,” I said, waving ticket holders inside.

“You did the right thing. Let’ keep this line moving,” Steve said.

Char’s husband got picked up by the military police. She never came back to work. I never heard what became of them, whether he was charged with assault, whether they stayed together, but realized I wasn’t ready avenge anyone the way Paul Kersey did in the movie, Death Wish. I was better off just doing my job, leaving the death wish to others more brave.

Barely two years later, though, in the spring of my senior year, 1976, the nation’s bicentennial, my father handed me brochures advertising the various branches of the U.S. military: Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Army, Air Force.

“If you think I’m going to join the military,” I said, “you’re crazy.” I handed the brochures back to him. Yet, despite having a job, my prospects were dim. I had no future as an usher, or even as a movie house manager. I hadn’t excelled academically and wasn’t much interested in going to college. My parents were preparing to move to Illinois and I had no intention of going with them. I’d be graduating soon. My options seemed limited.

Before long, I met with an Army recruiter and talked about job possibilities. I had no interest in being a Marine. I’d seen enough of that. At 17, I was most intrigued with the role of Army Rangers. They were elite, strong, fearless, well-trained, ready to face death for love of country, to protect the harmless and innocent,  just as any Marine would, perhaps better. By April, with my parents required consent because I was not yet 18, I signed with assurances that I’d be getting some of the best training the military had to offer, and was assigned to the 2nd Ranger, 75th Infantry Battalion.

I’d go active, report for duty, two days after my 18th birthday, still not experienced in the world, to begin a more demanding kind of job, facing down threats from international thugs. America had lost its taste for war. Vietnam shattered us all. Still, there was the Soviet Threat, and we had to be prepared to stop it anywhere in the world. As it turned out, President Jimmy Carter didn’t send troops into combat while I was an active soldier. As far as I know, he’s the only modern day president who didn’t have a death wish of his own, needlessly committing troops to battlegrounds where they didn’t belong. §

Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice.

Ethics & deregulation under Trump

 

Hires with deep industry ties lead secretive teams to ease regulations

by Robert Faturechi, ProPublica, and Danielle Ivory, The New York Times

President Trump entered office pledging to cut red tape, and within weeks, he ordered his administration to assemble teams to aggressively scale back government regulations.

But the effort — a signature theme in Trump’s populist campaign for the White House — is being conducted in large part out of public view and often by political appointees with deep industry ties and potential conflicts.

Most government agencies have declined to disclose information about their deregulation teams. But ProPublica and The New York Times identified 71 appointees, including 28 with potential conflicts, through interviews, public records and documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Some appointees are reviewing rules their previous employers sought to weaken or kill, and at least two may be positioned to profit if certain regulations are undone.

The appointees include lawyers who have represented businesses in cases against government regulators, staff members of political dark money groups, employees of industry-funded organizations opposed to environmental rules and at least three people who were registered to lobby the agencies they now work for.

At the Education Department alone, two members of the deregulation team were most recently employed by pro-charter advocacy groups or operators, and one appointee was an executive handling regulatory issues at a for-profit college operator.

So far, the process has been scattershot. Some agencies have been soliciting public feedback, while others refuse even to disclose who is in charge of the review. In many cases, responses to public records requests have been denied, delayed or severely redacted.

The Interior Department has not disclosed the correspondence and calendars for its team. But a review of more than 1,300 pages of handwritten sign-in sheets for guests visiting the agency’s headquarters in Washington found that appointees had met regularly with industry representatives.

Over a four-month period, from February through May, at least 58 representatives of the oil and gas industry signed their names on the agency’s visitor logs before meeting with appointees.

The EPA also rejected requests to release the appointment calendar of the official leading its team — a former top executive for an industry-funded political group — even as she met privately with industry representatives.

And the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security provided the titles for most appointees to their review teams, but not names.

In February, President Trump ordered federal agencies to form task forces charged with finding regulations to weaken or eliminate. While the names of appointees to executive-agency task forces are typically made public, some agencies are refusing to reveal who is on their panels. See who we know about and who we don’t.

When asked for comment about the activities of the deregulation teams, the White House referred reporters to the Office of Management and Budget.

Meghan Burris, a spokeswoman there, said: “As previous administrations have recognized, it’s good government to periodically reassess existing regulations. Past regulatory review efforts, however, have not taken a consistent enough look at regulations on the books.”

With billions of dollars at stake in the push to deregulate, corporations and other industry groups are hiring lawyers, lobbyists and economists to help navigate this new avenue for influence. Getting to the front of the line is crucial, as it can take years to effect regulatory changes.

“Competition will be fierce,” the law firm Clark Hill, which represents businesses pitching the Environmental Protection Agency, said in a marketing memo. “In all likelihood, interested parties will need to develop a multi-pronged strategy to expand support and win pre-eminence over competing regulatory rollback candidates.”

Jane Luxton, a lawyer at the firm, said she advised clients to pay for economic and legal analyses that government agencies, short on staff, could use to expedite changes. She declined to identify the clients.

“You may say this is an agency’s job, but the agencies are totally overloaded,” Luxton said.

“We have begun a historic program to reduce the regulations that are crushing our economy — crushing,” Trump said. “We’re going to put the regulations industry out of work and out of business.”

***

On a cloudy, humid day in March, Laura Peterson, a top lobbyist for Syngenta, arrived at the headquarters for the Interior Department. She looped the letter “L” across the agency’s sign-in sheet.

Her company, a top pesticide maker based in Switzerland, had spent eight years and millions of dollars lobbying the Obama administration on environmental rules, with limited success.

But Peterson had an in with the new administration.

Scott Cameron, newly installed at the Interior Department and a member of its deregulation team, had just left a nonprofit he had founded. He had advocated getting pesticides approved and out to market faster. His group counted Syngenta as a financial partner.

The meeting with Peterson was one of the first Cameron took as a new government official.

Neither side would reveal what was discussed. “I’m not sure that’s reporting information I have to give you,” Peterson said.

But lobbying records offered clues.

Syngenta has been one of several pesticide manufacturers pushing for changes to the Endangered Species Act. When federal agencies take actions that may jeopardize endangered animals or plants, they are generally supposed to consult with the Interior Department, which could raise objections.

For decades, the EPA largely ignored this provision when approving new pesticides. But recently, a legal challenge from environmental groups forced its hand — a change that affected Syngenta.

Pesticide lobbyists have been working behind the scenes at agencies and on Capitol Hill to change the provision. Companies have argued that they should be exempt from consulting with the Interior Department because they already undergo EPA approval.

Along with spending millions of dollars on lobbying, they have funded advocacy groups aligned with their cause. Cameron’s nonprofit, the Reduce Risks From Invasive Species Coalition, was one such group for Syngenta.

The organization says on its website that its goals include reducing “the regulatory burden of the Endangered Species Act on American society by addressing invasive species.” One way to do that is to use pesticides. The nonprofit’s mission includes creating “business opportunities for commercial products and services used to control invasive species.”

Because donations are not publicly reported, it is unclear how much Syngenta has contributed to Cameron’s organization, but his group has called the pesticide company one of its “ generous sponsors.”

Cameron also served on a committee of experts and stakeholders, including Syngenta, that advised the federal government on decisions related to invasive species. At a committee event last July, he said that one of his priorities was “getting biocontrol agents to market faster,” according to meeting minutes.

Paul Minehart, a Syngenta spokesman, said: “Employees regularly engage with those in government that relate to agriculture and our business. Our purpose is to balance serving the public health and environment with enabling farmers’ access to innovation.”

A spokeswoman for the Interior Department did not respond to questions about how Cameron’s relationship with Syngenta might influence his review of regulations.

Under the law, members of the Trump administration can seek ethics waivers to work on issues that overlap with their past business careers. They can also formally recuse themselves when potential conflicts arise.

***

Under the law, members of the Trump administration can seek ethics waivers to work on issues that overlap with their past business careers. They can also formally recuse themselves when potential conflicts arise.

In many cases, the administration has refused to say whether appointees to Trump’s deregulation teams have done either.

One such appointee is Samantha Dravis, the chairwoman of the deregulation team at the EPA, who was a top official at the Republican Attorneys General Association. Dravis was also president of the Rule of Law Defense Fund, which brought together energy companies and Republican attorneys general to file lawsuits against the federal government over Obama-era environmental regulations.

The Republican association’s work has been criticized as a vehicle for corporate donors to gain the credibility and expertise of state attorneys general in fighting federal regulations. Donors include the American Petroleum Institute, the energy company ConocoPhillips and the coal giant Alpha Natural Resources.

The Republican association also received funding from Freedom Partners, backed by the conservative billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch. Dravis worked for that group as well, which recently identified regulations it wants eliminated. Among them are EPA rules relating to clean-water protections and restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions.

Liz Bowman, an EPA spokeswoman, declined to say whether Dravis had recused herself from issues dealing with previous employers or their backers, or had discussed regulations with any of them.

“As you will find when you receive Samantha’s calendar, she has met with a range of stakeholders, including nonprofits, industry groups and others, on a wide range of issues,” Bowman said.

Bowman said the calendar could be obtained through a public records request. ProPublica and The Times had already filed a request for records including calendars, but the agency’s response did not include those documents. (An appeal was filed, but the calendar has not yet been released.)

“We take our ethics responsibilities seriously,” Bowman said. “All political staff have had an ethics briefing and know their obligations.”

Addressing the agency’s regulatory efforts, she said, “We are here to enact a positive environmental agenda that provides real results to the American people, without unnecessarily hamstringing our economy.”

At the Agriculture Department, the only known appointee to the deregulation team is Rebeckah Adcock. She previously lobbied the department as a top executive both at CropLife America, a trade association for pesticide makers, and the American Farm Bureau Federation, a trade group for farmers.

The department deals with many issues involving farmers, including crop insurance and land conservation rules, but it would not disclose whether Adcock had recused herself from discussions affecting her past employers.

At the Energy Department, a member of the deregulation team is Brian McCormack, who formerly handled political and external affairs for Edison Electric Institute, a trade association representing investor-owned electrical utilities.

While there, McCormack worked with the American Legislative Exchange Council, an industry-funded group. Both organizations fought against rooftop solar policies in statehouses across the country. Utility companies lose money when customers generate their own power, even more so when they are required to pay consumers who send surplus energy back into the grid.

Though the Energy Department does not directly regulate electrical utilities, it does help oversee international electricity trade, the promotion of renewable energy and the security of domestic energy production. After joining the department, McCormack helped start a review of the nation’s electrical grid, according to an agency memo.

Clean-energy advocates fear the inquiry will cast solar energy, which can fluctuate, as a threat to grid reliability. Such a finding could scare off state public utility commissions considering solar policies and serve as a boon for electrical utilities, said Matt Kasper, research director at the Energy and Policy Institute, an environmental group.

Disclosure records show that while McCormack was at Edison, the trade group lobbied the federal government, including the Energy Department, on issues including grid reliability.

The department would not answer questions about McCormack’s involvement with those issues.

Across the government, at least two appointees to deregulation teams have been granted waivers from ethics rules related to prior jobs, and at least nine others have pledged to recuse themselves from issues related to former employers or clients.

Some of the recusals involve appointees at the Small Business Administration and the Education Department, including Bob Eitel, who leads the education team and was vice president for regulatory legal services at an operator of for-profit colleges.

Another recusal involves Byron Brown, an EPA appointee who is married to a senior government affairs manager for the Hess Corporation, the oil and gas company.

Hess was fined and ordered to spend more than $45 million on pollution controls by the EPA during the Obama administration because of alleged Clean Air Act violations at its refinery in Port Reading, N.J. Disclosure records show that Brown’s wife, Lesley Schaaff, lobbied the EPA last year on behalf of the company.

An EPA spokeswoman declined to say whether Brown or Schaaff owned Hess stock, though an agency ethics official said Brown had recused himself from evaluating regulations affecting the company.

The agency declined to say whether Brown would also recuse himself from issues affecting the American Petroleum Institute, where his wife’s company is a member. The association has lobbied to ease Obama-era natural gas rules, complaining in a recent letter to Brown’s team about an “unprecedented level of federal regulatory actions targeting our industry.”

Before being selected to lead the deregulation team at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Maren Kasper was a director at Roofstock, an online marketplace for investors in single-family rental properties. Financial disclosure records show Kasper owned a stake in the company worth up to $50,000.

Changes at HUD could increase investor interest in rental homes, affecting a company like Roofstock. The agency, for example, oversees the federal government’s Section 8 subsidies program for low-income renters.

Ethics officials allowed Kasper to keep her stake, but she pledged not to take actions that would affect it. (A spokesman for HUD said Kasper’s tenure on the deregulation task force has since ended.)

***

One by one, scientists, educators and environmental activists approached the microphone and urged government officials not to weaken regulations intended to protect children from lead.

The forum, run by the EPA in a drab basement meeting room in Washington, was part of the agency’s push to identify regulations that were excessive and burdensome to businesses.

Few businesspeople showed up. As public hearings on regulations have played out in recent weeks, many industry and corporate representatives have instead met with Trump administration officials behind closed doors.

Still, the EPA has asked for written comments and held about a dozen public meetings. The agency has received more than 467,000 comments, many of them critical of potential rollbacks, but also some from businesses large and small pleading for relief from regulatory costs or confusion.

After a quiet moment at the meeting to discuss lead regulations, the owner of a local painting company, Brian McCracken, moved to the microphone.

McCracken was frustrated by what he described as costly rules that forced him to test for lead-based paint in homes before he could begin painting. Each test kit costs about $2, and he may need six per room. If a family then declines to hire him, those costs come out of his pocket.

“I don’t think anyone is sitting here saying that lead-based dust does not hurt children,” he said. “That’s not what we are talking about. What the contractor needs is a better way to test.”

His voice quavered: “Why do I have to educate the general public about the hazards that generations before me created? It doesn’t make sense at all.”

Trump is not the first president to take on such frustrations.

President Bill Clinton declared the federal government was failing to regulate “without imposing unacceptable or unreasonable costs on society.” He assigned Vice President Al Gore to collect agencies’ suggestions for rules that should go. One rule dictated how to measure the consistency of grits.

President George W. Bush’s regulatory overhaul focused more on how new regulations were created. The administration installed a political appointee inside each agency who generally had to sign off before any significant new rule could be initiated. At the EPA for a time, that official came from an industry-funded think tank.

President Barack Obama ordered regular updates from each agency about the effectiveness of rules already on the books.

“When you raise the profile, when it’s clearly an executive priority, it gets attention,” said Heather Krause, director of strategic issues at the Government Accountability Office, the main auditor of the federal government. According to the auditor’s analysis, the effect under Obama was mostly to clarify and streamline rules, not eliminate them.

Like Bush, Trump has empowered political appointees. Though some agencies have included career staff members on their review teams, an executive order from Trump creating the teams does not require it — nonpolitical employees are generally believed to be more wedded to existing rules. And like Obama, Trump has imposed regular reporting requirements.

But Trump, who spent his business career on the other side of government regulations, has put an emphasis on cutting old rules.

The same day he signed the executive order initiating the review, he addressed a large crowd of conservative activists at a Maryland convention center.

“We have begun a historic program to reduce the regulations that are crushing our economy — crushing,” Trump said. “We’re going to put the regulations industry out of work and out of business.”

Amit Narang, a regulatory expert at the liberal advocacy group Public Citizen, said Trump’s decision to create teams of political appointees — formally known as regulatory reform task forces — should make it easier for the White House to overcome bureaucratic resistance to his rollback plans.

“To the extent there’s a deep state effect in this administration,” Narang said, “the task force will be more effective in trying to get the agenda in place.” §

Robert Faturechi covers campaign finance at Propublica. Email: Robert.Faturechi@propublica.org. Twitter: RobertFaturechi. The New York Times’ Danielle Ivory covers the intersection of business and government, including contracts and regulation. NYT’s Kitty Bennett contributed reporting to this story. This article is displayed with permission from ProPublica, and was co-published with The New York Times.

House Democrats sound alarm

We were able to detect vulnerable networks at Mar-a-Lago — Trump’s “Southern White House” — from a small motorboat about 800 feet from the club on Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway.

Trump properties pose security risk, easy prey to hacks

by Jeff LarsonProPublica

Two dozen House Democrats have sent a letter to White House counsel Donald McGahn, warning that digital security holes at the Trump Organization’s clubs and hotels are risks to national security and the secrecy of classified information.“The White House must act immediately to secure the potentially sensitive information on these systems,” said the letter, which was signed by 24 Congress members and went to McGahn last week.Their concerns were in response to an article published last month by ProPublica and Gizmodo that documented the cybersecurity vulnerabilities at properties the president has frequented since being elected. Our reporting found unencrypted login pages, servers running outdated software, accessible printers, and Wi-Fi networks that were open to anyone close enough to access them.We were able to detect vulnerable networks at Mar-a-Lago — Trump’s “Southern White House” — from a small motorboat about 800 feet from the club on Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway. We also found open Wi-Fi networks at the grounds of the Trump golf courses in Bedminster, New Jersey, and accessible Wi-Fi-enabled printers at Trump’s course in Sterling, Virginia.

“To leave these networks unsecured undermines our national priorities and the trust the American people place in the Office of the President,” the letter warned.

The White House and the Trump Organization did not comment on the letter.

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., the letter’s author, said the vulnerabilities revealed by our story demand immediate action, but he’s received no response from the administration so far. “It needs to be addressed quickly. Potentially every minute something is leaking,” he said. “It is too late to close the henhouse after the foxes come in.”

Since becoming president, Donald Trump has spent time at his clubs on most weekends and has met with foreign dignitaries like Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago.

In February, members of Mar-a-Lago posted pictures of a dinner meeting between Trump and Abe on the patio of the club. Cybersecurity experts warned that sophisticated hackers could turn guests’ cellphones into clandestine listening devices if they gained access to the networks at the club.

Hackers may not need to travel to each of the Trump Organization’s clubs and hotels in order to gain access. We found that the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C., was hosting a server running software that is more than a decade old and is still accessible from the internet.

“Any Half-Decent Hacker Could Break Into Mar-a-Lago”

We tested internet security at four Trump properties. It’s not good. Read the story.

After we notified the company that administers the Trump clubs’ websites about our findings, they disabled an insecure login page that leads to a database of sensitive information that we found on Mar-a-Lago’s website. However, the company, called Clubessential, has not locked down its customer documentation website, which includes usernames and passwords to internal accounts and is accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

Clubessential did not respond to a request for comment.

“Cyber-criminals and nation states have both the incentive and the ability to hack these networks to obtain sensitive information critical to our national security and international diplomacy,” the Congress members’ letter said.

Since our visits to Trump’s properties in early May, the president has spent four weekends at his clubs.

“He’s the president of the United States,” Engel said. “We should make sure he’s secure wherever he is.” §

Jeff Larson is a reporter at ProPublica. Follow him on Twitter @thejefflarson. Like this story? Sign up for ProPublica’s daily newsletter to get more of their best work.

Rep. Tom Price bought drug stocks

Then pushed big pharma’s agenda in Australia and made thousands

Price’s lobbying abroad, which has not previously been reported, is another example of how his work in Congress could have benefitted his investment portfolio. He traded hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of shares in health-related companies while taking action on legislation and regulations affecting the industry.

by Robert FaturechiProPublica

In the spring before the 2016 presidential election, the Obama administration’s 12-nation trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, was still alive. Negotiators worked on details as Congress considered whether to ratify the pact.

The Australian government was getting in the way of one change demanded by U.S. pharmaceutical companies. Makers of cutting-edge biological drugs wanted to have data from their clinical trials protected from competitors for 12 years, as they are under U.S. law 2014 not the roughly five years permitted under the TPP. Australian officials insisted that an extension would deprive consumers of cheaper alternatives for too long.

On April 5, 2016, a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers arrived in Canberra, Australia’s capital, for meetings with government officials on a broad range of subjects. Among those on the routine congressional trip was Rep. Tom Price, a Georgia Republican who would go on to become President Trump’s secretary of health and human services. Three weeks before the trip, Price had purchased up to $90,000 worth of pharmaceutical stocks 2014 trades that would come under scrutiny after his nomination to Trump’s cabinet.

In Canberra, Price and another Republican, Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, pressured senior Australian trade officials to modify their position on the 12-year extension, according to a congressional aide who was on the trip. The Australians explained that they had no intention of changing their laws or rules in ways that could increase drug prices. Price and Kline continued pushing, according to the aide, asking for a side letter or other written guidance that the period would be extended in Australia even if it weren’t spelled out in the TPP itself.

Price’s lobbying abroad, which has not previously been reported, is another example of how his work in Congress could have benefitted his investment portfolio. He traded hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of shares in health-related companies while taking action on legislation and regulations affecting the industry. ProPublica previously reported that Price’s stock trades are said to be under investigation by federal prosecutors.

Price, who did not respond to an interview request for this story, has said he did nothing wrong, that his broker generally chose stocks without his knowledge and that all of his trades were publicly disclosed.

Price’s financial disclosures submitted to the House Office of the Clerk show that on March 17, 2016, he purchased shares worth between $1,000 and $15,000 each in Eli Lilly, Amgen, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, McKesson, Pfizer and Biogen. All six companies had an interest in biological drugs, which are grown from live cells and are known for short as biologics. Eli Lilly, for example, is behind Portrazza, the first biologic approved to treat a common type of lung cancer. Amgen makes a top-seller for rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. Biogen developed a biologic for people suffering multiple sclerosis relapses.

Kline, who has since retired from Congress, said he could not recall if he or anyone else raised the biologics issue. His financial disclosures do not show direct holdings in pharmaceutical companies.

Australia has played another role in Price’s financial activities. In 2015 the congressman bought about $10,000 worth of shares in Innate Immunotherapeutics, a small biologics firm with an office in Sydney. After the congressional trip, which also made a stop in Sydney, Price purchased a larger stake in the company, about $84,000 worth, in two private placements, the first of which was announced in June. Price was invited to purchase the shares at a discounted rate.

It’s not known if Price had any contact with the firm while in Sydney. Price didn’t respond to questions about when and where he discussed the discounted offering with company officials. The company’s officials also did not respond.

Traveling congressional delegations typically meet with a variety of local officials, and at the time of the visit to Australia it wasn’t unusual for Republican lawmakers to side with the pharmaceutical industry on the trade deal’s protections for biologics. Price’s advocacy stands out because he pushed the cause directly with foreign officials, while at the same time owning stakes in companies that could have benefited.

An itinerary for the trip reviewed by ProPublica mentions TPP in relation to one of the meetings, but does not list the biologics provision. A former Australian trade official, who asked not to be named and attended one of the meetings, confirmed that the 12-year lockup was addressed, but said he could not recall which Congress members were pushing it.

Others on the trip, organized by the House’s Education and the Workforce Committee, were Robert Scott, D-Va., Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas, Erik Paulsen, R-Minn. and Dan Benishek, R-Mich. Those members who responded to requests for comment said they could not recall whether the provision was discussed.

The data collected during clinical trials of drugs can save competitors time in developing the cheaper alternatives to biologics known as biosimilars. Keeping the data proprietary longer extends the original drugmaker’s monopoly. While some big brand-name pharmaceutical companies also make biosimilars, they and their trade association 2014 the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America 2014 advocated strongly for longer exclusivity.

In the end, the debate over the provision became moot. Trump scrapped the TPP days after taking office. Price divested his drug stocks upon taking the cabinet post. His investment in Innate Immunotherapeutics yielded a profit of at least $150,000. §

Robert Faturechi covers campaign finance for ProPublica, where this article first appeared. Before joining ProPublica, Faturechi was a reporter at The Los Angeles Times, where his work exposed inmate abuse, cronyism, secret cop cliques and wrongful jailings at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Special correspondent Anne Davies in Sydney contributed to this story.

If you have access to information about Tom Price that should be public, please email robert.faturechi@propublica.org or send him encrypted messages on Signal at 213-271-7217. Here’s how to send tips and documents to ProPublica securely. ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter

James Comey’s firing goes beyond failures of FBI email investigation

Director’s moral code, political independence contributed to downfall

by Peter Elkind, special to ProPublica

On Tuesday, when Donald Trump abruptly dismissed the FBI director, James Comey, his administration insisted that he was merely following the recommendation of his attorney general and deputy attorney general, the two most senior officials in the Justice Department.

In a three-page memorandum attached to Comey’s termination letter, the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, cited concern for the FBI’s “reputation and credibility.” He said that the director had defied Justice Department policies and traditions and overstepped his authority in the way he handled the Hillary Clinton email investigation.

This was a puzzling assertion from the Trump administration, not least because Trump is widely acknowledged to have reaped the benefits of Comey’s actions on Election Day. After the FBI director sent his letter to Congress, on Oct. 28, about the discovery of new Clinton emails and the Bureau’s plans to assess them, Trump praised Comey for his “guts” and called the news “bigger than Watergate.”

In the end, Comey’s conspicuous independence — for so long, his greatest asset — proved his undoing, making him too grave a threat to Trump but also giving the president a plausible excuse to fire him.

In the aftermath of Comey’s firing, Democrats and some Republicans in Congress have proposed a far more credible explanation for Trump’s action, accusing the President of trying to halt the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the election and possible collusion with his campaign. Some of those legislators, as well as many critics in the press, have said that Trump has ignited a constitutional crisis, and they called for the appointment of an independent prosecutor to carry out the Russia investigation.

Comey’s dismissal came just as his Russia probe appeared to be widening. Just last week, the FBI director went to Rosenstein, who had been in his job only for a few days, to ask for significantly more resources in order to accelerate the investigation, according to The New York Times. Tensions between the Trump administration and Comey had been escalating already, and Trump’s fury over the FBI’s Russia probe remained full-throated. On Monday, Trump tweeted that the inquiry was a “taxpayer funded charade.”

It is now clear that the aim of Rosenstein’s memo was simply to provide a pretext for Comey’s firing. White House officials may have thought it would be a persuasive rationale because Comey has come in for criticism from leaders of both political parties. Trump had been harboring a long list of grievances against the FBI director, including his continued pursuit of the Russia probe. On Thursday, Trump confirmed in an interview with NBC News’ Lester Holt that, even before he received the deputy attorney general’s memo, he had already made up his mind to dismiss Comey. In the end, Comey’s conspicuous independence — for so long, his greatest asset — proved his undoing, making him too grave a threat to Trump but also giving the president a plausible excuse to fire him.

Rosenstein’s memo does reflect genuine frustration inside the Justice Department about the FBI’s handling of the Clinton emails, and betrays long-standing fissures between the two institutions, which are headquartered across from each other on Pennsylvania Avenue. Rosenstein, a Trump appointee who was previously the U.S. attorney in Maryland, titled his memo “Restoring Public Confidence in the F.B.I.” In the wake of Comey’s ouster, the FBI’s impartiality and competence remains an essential issue, making understanding what actually happened in the Clinton email inquiry urgent as well.

Comey’s announcement about the discovery of the new Clinton emails did break with written and unwritten Justice Department guidelines against interfering with elections. Last week, during testimony before Congress, Comey cast the move as a singularly difficult decision and an act of principled self-sacrifice, driven by events far beyond his control­­. “I knew this would be disastrous for me personally,” he said. “But I thought this is the best way to protect these institutions that we care so much about.”

A close examination, however, of the FBI’s handling of the Clinton emails reveals a very different narrative, one that was not nearly so clear-cut or inevitable. It is one that places previously undisclosed judgments and misjudgments by the Bureau at the very heart of what unfolded.

“I could see two doors and they were both actions,” Comey recounted in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “One was labelled ‘speak’; the other was labelled ‘conceal.’ … I stared at ‘speak’ and ‘conceal.’ ‘Speak’ would be really bad. There’s an election in eleven days — lordy, that would be really bad. Concealing, in my view, would be catastrophic, not just to the FBI but well beyond. And, honestly, as between really bad and catastrophic, I said to my team, ‘We got to walk into the world of really bad.’ I’ve got to tell Congress that we’re restarting this, not in some frivolous way — in a hugely significant way.”

But by the time Comey elected, on Oct. 28, to speak, rather than conceal, he and his senior aides had actually known for more than three weeks that agents sifting through files on a laptop belonging to the former congressman Anthony Weiner, as part of a sex-crimes investigation, had stumbled across emails sent by Clinton when she was secretary of state. The agents had been unable, legally, to open the emails, because they fell outside the bounds of their investigation of Weiner.

FBI officials kept the discovery to themselves. Without consulting or even informing the Justice Department lawyers who had worked on the email inquiry, FBI officials concluded that they lacked the evidence to seek a search warrant to examine the emails right away. Several legal experts and Justice Department officials I spoke to now say that this conclusion was unnecessarily cautious. FBI officials also ruled out asking Weiner or his wife, Huma Abedin, one of Clinton’s closest aides, to allow access to the laptop — permission their lawyers told me they would have granted.

Instead, New York agents working the Weiner investigation, which centered on allegations of an explicit online relationship with a 15-year-old girl, were told to continue their search of his laptop as before but to take note of any additional Clinton emails they came across.

The debate over Comey’s effect on the 2016 election and, now, his historic dismissal, is likely to persist for years.

In the days that followed, investigators slowly sorted through the laptop’s contents, following standard protocols in a case that was anything but standard, and moving with surprisingly little dispatch to assess the significance of the emails.

After weeks of work, the agents concluded that the laptop contained thousands of Clinton messages, a fact they waited at least three more days to share with Comey. Finally, as Comey recounted before Congress last week, the FBI director convened his top aides in his conference room at Bureau headquarters to weigh the political and institutional consequences of what to do next.

At this point, Comey and his deputies were venturing far beyond their typical purview as criminal investigators. Under normal circumstances, department policies discouraged public discussion of developments in ongoing cases of any kind; with the election fast approaching, there was the added sensitivity of avoiding even the perception of interference with the political process. But FBI officials worried that agents in New York who disliked Clinton would leak news of the emails’ existence. Like nearly everyone in Washington, senior FBI officials assumed that Clinton would win the election and were evaluating their options with that in mind. The prospect of oversight hearings, led by restive Republicans investigating an FBI “cover-up,” made everyone uneasy.

One more misjudgment informed Comey’s decision. FBI officials estimated that it would take months to review the emails. Agents wound up completing their work in just a few days. (Most of the emails turned out to be duplicates of messages collected in the previous phase of the Clinton investigation.) Had FBI officials known that the review could be completed before the election, Comey likely wouldn’t have said anything before examining the emails. Instead, he announced that nothing had changed in the Clinton case — on Nov. 6, just two days before the election, and after many millions had already cast their ballots in early voting.

The debate over Comey’s effect on the 2016 election and, now, his historic dismissal, is likely to persist for years. In the months since Donald Trump became the nation’s 45th president, a number of media organizations — most recently, The New York Times — have scrutinized Comey’s handling of the Clinton emails. They have also examined Comey’s accompanying silence about the Bureau’s investigation of possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, an inquiry that began in July of 2016.

Clinton traces her loss directly to Comey; she asserted recently that if the election had been held on Oct. 27, “I would be your president.” Trump retorted, in a tweet, that the FBI director was “the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton in that he gave her a free pass for many bad deeds!”

This account is based on interviews with dozens of participants in the events leading up to the election. They include current and former officials from the FBI and the Justice Department who were eager to have their actions understood but unwilling to be quoted by name. Comey himself declined my requests for an interview. Back in early January, however, he replied politely to a written interview request, acknowledging that he was aware of my “ongoing work.” He wrote from an email address whose whimsical name, he said, “the Russians may have a harder time guessing.”

Clinton traces her loss directly to Comey; she asserted recently that if the election had been held on Oct. 27, “I would be your president.”

Comey added a note of intrigue, suggesting that there were unappreciated complexities to the story that hadn’t yet become known: “You are right there is a clear story to tell — one that folks willing to actually listen will readily grasp — but I’m not ready to tell it just yet for a variety of reasons.”

During his testimony before Congress last week, Comey said that the possibility that he’d influenced the outcome of the Presidential election made him “mildly nauseous.” Previously, over two decades of public service, Comey had made independence from partisan politics the foundation of his political identity. Comey, who is 56 years old, had been the rarest of creatures in Washington: A Republican even Democrats could love.

A registered Republican for most of his adult life, Comey had made a point of telling a congressional committee last July that he was no longer affiliated with either party. (His distance from partisan politics extends to the voting booth; records show that Comey hasn’t voted in a primary or general election in the past decade.)

Comey rose to prominence through the Justice Department, first as a federal prosecutor in New York and Virginia, and then as the United States attorney in Manhattan, and the deputy attorney general under President George W. Bush. From early on, colleagues say, Comey carefully cultivated a reputation for integrity and nonpartisanship. Until the events of the past year, it had always served him well. “He knew what was the right thing to do,” a former federal prosecutor who worked with Comey told me. “But he figured out how to execute it in a way that, whatever the result, Jim Comey would be protected. I say that respectfully. He has an exceptional gift for that.”

Comey liked to map out the ramifications of major decisions, often in lengthy meetings with deputies. At critical moments in his career, Comey showcased his independence — too eagerly, in the view of some who accuse him of “moral vanity.” “I think he has a bit of a God complex — that he’s the last honest man in Washington,” a former Justice Department official who has worked with him told me. “And I think that’s dangerous.”

Daniel Richman, a Columbia law professor and close friend of Comey who has served as his unofficial media surrogate, acknowledged Comey’s penchant for public righteousness. “He certainly does love the idea of being a protector of the Constitution,” Richman said. “The idea of doing messy stuff and taking your lumps in the press.” But Richman, who worked with Comey as a federal prosecutor in Manhattan, insisted that Comey’s motivations were sincere. “More than most people, he thinks that when it comes to making really difficult decisions, transparency and accountability have incredible value,” Richman said.

Comey’s distance from partisan politics extends to the voting booth; records show that Comey hasn’t voted in a primary or general election in the past decade.

Among scores of people I interviewed, not even Comey’s harshest critics believe that he acted out of a desire to elect a Republican president. Comey built his reputation by taking on powerful figures of both parties. Most famously, while serving as acting attorney general under George W. Bush, he’d raced to the hospital bedside of the ailing attorney general, John Ashcroft, to confront administration officials seeking Ashcroft’s reauthorization for a domestic surveillance program that the Justice Department considered illegal. Comey’s congressional testimony, in 2007, about the confrontation raised his public profile, earning him encomiums from both parties. In 2013, after Comey completed a seven-year interlude in the private sector, Barack Obama chose the Republican lawyer as the director of the FBI. “To know Jim Comey is also to know his fierce independence and his deep integrity,” the president declared, in a Rose Garden ceremony. The Senate confirmed him 93 to 1.

The FBI is a division of the United States Department of Justice, and its director reports to the attorney general. But, from the start of his 10-year term at the FBI, Comey asserted a belief in the agency’s right to chart its own course. “The FBI is in the executive branch,” Comey likes to say, “but not of the executive branch.”

The investigation of Clinton’s emails was exactly the sort of challenge Comey seemed to have spent his career preparing for. The FBI formally opened its probe on July 10, 2015, just three months after Clinton announced her candidacy for president. “We all recognized it was a no-win situation,” the former FBI Executive Assistant Director John Giacalone, who helped oversee the investigation’s first seven months, said. At the outset, the goal was to finish the investigation by the end of 2015 — before the first primary votes were cast. It took twice that long, barely ending before the party conventions in July 2016.

The focus of the inquiry, run out of FBI headquarters because of its sensitivity, was whether Clinton’s use of an unclassified email system housed on private servers in the basement of her Chappaqua home violated any laws or allowed hackers and foreign governments to access government secrets. It was staffed by a core team of a dozen FBI agents and analysts, along with two prosecutors from the Justice Department’s National Security Division and two from the Eastern District of Virginia.

Much of their time was taken up trying to find and examine all of the roughly 62,000 messages from Clinton’s four years as secretary of state, which began in January 2009; two of Clinton’s lawyers had deleted about half of the emails, deeming them purely personal. This had sent the FBI on an often frustrating hunt for the missing emails. Agents fanned out to locate, examine and reconstruct scattered hardware and data backup systems from Clinton’s private network, as well as all the BlackBerrys, iPads, computers and storage drives that Clinton, her aides and her lawyers had used. Forensic recovery would eventually help the FBI to find 17,448 deleted emails, including thousands that agents deemed work-related.

Even as thousands of messages remained elusive, the investigators ultimately reached consensus that the evidence didn’t warrant criminal charges, which required proof of intentional misconduct, gross negligence or efforts to obstruct justice. After nearly a year and more than 90 interviews, they had identified 81 message chains deemed to be classified that passed through her private server. Clinton’s practices were sloppy, irresponsible and in defiance of State Department policies, but investigators found no proof of criminal conduct — just a misguided effort by Clinton to maintain control over what the public, and her opponents, could learn about her.

As the inquiry neared its end, Comey, who had closely monitored it from the start, requested summaries of more than 30 government prosecutions involving mishandling of classified information. He waded through the records, seeking to understand the cases’ rationale and how they had been resolved. In the end, he agreed with the investigators’ unanimous conclusion: Clinton should not face criminal charges.

By June 2016, the FBI and the Justice Department were jointly weighing the question of how to reveal their decision in the midst of the presidential campaign. FBI and Justice officials had been discussing for weeks a major departure from the usual handling of a criminal inquiry that ended without charges.

The final interview, with Clinton herself, was scheduled for Saturday, July 2, at FBI headquarters. Agents planned to spend the next week completing a confidential memo detailing their findings, assuming nothing new materialized. Then, in accord with standard Justice Department procedure, the supervising prosecutors and agents, along with top officials from both the Justice Department and the FBI, would privately brief the attorney general, Loretta Lynch, on their recommendation against bringing charges. She would accept, closing the case.

Comey liked to map out the ramifications of major decisions, often in lengthy meetings with deputies. At critical moments in his career, Comey showcased his independence — too eagerly, in the view of some who accuse him of “moral vanity.”

Lynch was a widely respected 17-year Justice Department veteran who had previously served as the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, under President Bill Clinton and, then, President Obama. In April 2015, a Republican-controlled Senate confirmed her to replace Eric Holder as attorney general. The first African-American woman to serve as attorney general, Lynch was a graduate of Harvard Law School, the daughter of a librarian and a Baptist preacher and the sister of a Navy SEAL. She’d prosecuted corrupt politicians from both parties and was viewed as a career prosecutor, not a political figure. But the Trump campaign and conservative websites called her integrity into question. Any exoneration of Clinton, they said, would be tainted because Lynch was an Obama appointee.

So the Justice Department and the FBI together plotted an unusual strategy. Over weeks of meetings, they discussed a plan in which Comey and Lynch would appear together at a news conference. After announcing the FBI’s recommendation and the attorney general’s acceptance of it, they would affirm their mutual confidence in the thoroughness and integrity of the investigation. Given the public appetite for more information, officials also considered sending a limited summary of their findings to the inspector general for the intelligence community. He had referred the matter for investigation in the first place, and could choose to make the summary public.

“It hadn’t all been sketched out,” a former Justice Department official familiar with the matter told me. “But there were conversations about how it could go. There were these discussions between the buildings, leadership to leadership. Everyone knew how this rolled out was really important.”

Comey had his own ideas. Unbeknownst to his Justice Department colleagues, Comey had resolved to proceed alone with the announcement. Since May, he had been holding a parallel series of meetings with top FBI confidants to thrash through his plan. He would publicly announce — and explain — the Clinton decision without Lynch at his side. “We had discussions for months about what this looked like,” Michael Steinbach, who retired as the FBI’s executive assistant director for national security in February 2017, said. “This, for us, was the best course of action, given the political situation that we were in — for us to do it independently.”

As Comey saw it, according to Steinbach and others familiar with his thinking, the public doubted Lynch’s independence and would be less likely to accept the decision if she were involved in announcing it.

Comey and his aides had another motivation for acting alone. In their view, the American people were entitled to hear the investigators’ views of Clinton’s conduct, something they believed Lynch would not allow. Justice Department policies frown upon officials commenting on investigations, especially if they are making subjective remarks about people whom prosecutors have declined to charge. But with Election Day just four months away, FBI officials felt that it was essential to provide a fuller accounting “that allowed the American people to make an informed decision,” Steinbach said. “Our concern, as we got closer to the election, was to make sure that the American people understood we found no evidence of a crime but we did find evidence of misconduct.”

FBI officials began drafting a lengthy statement that explained their recommendation not to prosecute but was, nevertheless, harshly critical of Clinton. “For the director to get that out, he’s either doing it alone or he’s not doing it,” Steinbach told me. “DOJ’s not going to let it happen.”

Then, on the evening of June 27, former President Bill Clinton and Lynch both happened to be on the tarmac at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, and the ex-president strode aboard her government plane. When news of the visit inevitably spilled out, both Lynch and Clinton insisted that they’d merely discussed golf and family matters during a 30-minute conversation.

For those who felt that the Obama administration was doing everything it could to help Hillary Clinton win, the encounter was conclusive proof. “SNAKES ON A PLANE,” the New York Post screamed. “Bill’s shady meeting taints probe.” Lynch declined to recuse herself from the case but said that she fully expected to accept whatever recommendation the FBI agents and career prosecutors made.

The tarmac episode reinforced Comey’s conviction to act on his own. The FBI interviewed Clinton the following Saturday, July 2. Justice Department officials settled in to wait for a draft of the FBI’s report.

Instead, at about 10:30 a.m. on July 5, Justice Department officials received an informal heads-up: In 30 minutes, Comey was going to hold a live televised press briefing at FBI headquarters. Before stepping in front of cameras, Comey sent an email to all FBI employees with a copy of his prepared remarks and an explanation of why he was speaking so freely and on his own. “I am doing that,” Comey wrote, “because I think the confidence of the American people in the FBI is a precious thing, and I want them to understand that we did this investigation in a competent, honest, and independent way.”

Despite Clinton’s “extremely careless” handling of “highly classified information,” Comey concluded, there was no evidence of intentional misconduct or efforts to obstruct justice, and “no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.”

Moments later, Comey delivered what he called “an update on the FBI’s investigation.” He told reporters, “This is going to be an unusual statement in at least a couple of ways. First, I’m going to include more detail about our process than I ordinarily would, because I think the American people deserve those details in a case of intense public interest. And, second, I have not coordinated this statement or reviewed it in any way with the Department of Justice or any other part of the government. They do not know what I’m about to say.”

Comey then described Clinton as “extremely careless” in handling “very sensitive, highly classified information.” As “any reasonable person” in her position “should have known,” Comey declared, a private, unclassified email server “was no place for that conversation.” Despite these statements, Comey concluded that, because there was no evidence of intentional misconduct or efforts to obstruct justice, “no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.”

Late the following afternoon, Lynch met with the FBI director, agents and prosecutors for their formal briefing. In a two-sentence statement, the Justice Department announced that the attorney general had accepted their “unanimous recommendation.”

Partisan outrage was immediate. Conservative media and Trump surrogates accused Comey of protecting Clinton and preventing rank-and-file FBI agents from pursuing the truth. During nine hours of congressional hearings in which Comey elaborated further on his opinions of Clinton’s conduct, Republicans repeatedly questioned his reasoning for ending the investigation without charges.

Perhaps more worrisome to Comey was the rising discontent within the FBI. The retired assistant director James Kallstrom, a Trump backer who had run the New York field office from 1995 to 1997, became a fixture on Fox News and Fox Business, where he attacked Comey’s “nonsensical conclusion” in the Clinton probe and highlighted the “disgust” of “hundreds” of active and retired agents, including some “involved in this thing” who “feel like they’ve been stabbed in the back.” Kallstrom said, “I think we’re going to see a lot more of the facts come out in the course of the next few months. That’s my prediction.”

For their part, Justice Department officials were incredulous at Comey’s decision to proceed without them. On Tuesday, in his Comey memo, Rosenstein said that the FBI director was “wrong to usurp the Attorney General’s authority” by announcing “his own conclusions about the nation’s most sensitive criminal investigation.” He added, “It is not the function of the Director to make such an announcement,” and “the Director ignored another longstanding principle: we do not hold press conferences to release derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation.”

A recent report in The New York Times raised the prospect of another factor in Comey’s calculations. Early last year, another FBI investigative team had found a memo or email hacked by the Russians in which a Democratic operative expressed confidence that Lynch would protect Clinton. According to the Times, Comey worried that if Lynch were involved in the Clinton announcement and the Russians leaked the document, then voters would not trust the inquiry.

But Comey did not confront Lynch, demand that she recuse herself or raise the matter with the deputy attorney general, Sally Yates, former Justice Department officials told me. Instead, he sent an aide to confer with David Margolis, a respected senior Justice Department official, who has since died. Margolis never raised the issue with department leadership. Two former officials who have seen the document told me that it was never a real concern. Comey and his defenders, they insisted to me, are now engaged in “revisionist history.”

Conservative media and Trump surrogates accused Comey of protecting Clinton and preventing rank-and-file FBI agents from pursuing the truth.

In May 2016, just as the FBI’s investigation into the Clinton emails was nearing its final stages, a young woman in Indiana named Sydney Leathers received a Facebook message from someone she did not know.

Three years earlier, Leathers had earned notoriety as Anthony Weiner’s most famous sexting partner. Leathers, then a 23-year-old college student, had come forward, at first anonymously, with details about her online relationship with the disgraced former congressman, who had gone by the screen name Carlos Danger. Leathers’s story inspired countless tabloid headlines and ended Weiner’s political comeback as a candidate for mayor of New York City. Leathers quickly cashed in, selling her story to tabloid media, letting “Inside Edition” record her cosmetic surgery makeover, starring in porn films and charging for phone sex and webcam services.

The messages Leathers received in 2016 were from someone who identified herself as a 15-year-old in North Carolina. The sender said she had been sexting with Weiner, but Leathers was skeptical. “I just thought it was a crazy person,” she told me.

Leathers changed her mind after the girl sent screen shots from months of exchanges with the former congressman. The teenager wanted to go public, but Leathers urged her to call the police instead. “I don’t claim to be a morality queen,” Leathers said. “I don’t care if he was sexting another adult. But, if it’s a child, it’s another story. I felt a little protective of her.”

After it became clear that the teenager was determined to tell her story, Leathers said she shifted to “damage control.”

“How can I at least make you some money?” she said she asked the teenager. “I basically said, ‘The only way you should do this is if they pay you.’ Certain outlets will pay you to talk, and I had made deals with a lot of them.” Leathers’ agent alerted dailymail.com, the online version of a British tabloid with which she’d previously done business. Both Leathers and the girl received a sizable fee; the teen’s father, an attorney, helped negotiate her payment.

On July 30, Leathers took another step. She had not communicated with Weiner for years, but she decided to send him a private Facebook message that amounted to a half-warning, half-scold:

“This is super awkward but you need to know something. There’s a 15-year-old girl named [redacted] messaging me and she’s claiming you guys sext and skyped. And that you know how old she is. For once I’m keeping my mouth shut. I want nothing to do with this. Frankly, I hope it isn’t true. But she showed me a screenshot that looks legit to me. How have you not learned your lesson? This is another level of fucked up. I suggested to her not to talk to the press so you’re welcome but you may want to refrain from messaging anyone under 18 for gods sake. If she is really someone you’ve been talking to, you better cut that off quickly. She’s talking about potentially messing with Hillary’s campaign. I am kind of pissed to be put in this situation to be honest.”

The Daily Mail story appeared on Sept. 21. The 2,200-word article was accompanied by dozens of screen captures, displaying half-clad photos and suggestive texts that Weiner had sent the teenager, a high school sophomore whose name was withheld. She told the Daily Mail that she had contacted Weiner, then 51, in late January 2016. During online video chats, she said, Weiner had invited her to undress and masturbate. She said he’d urged her to engage in “rape fantasies.” The girl’s father said that he’d learned of the relationship in April but did not alert the police because his child believed the relationship was “consensual” and “I didn’t want to exacerbate anything that she has mentally going on.” The article included four pictures of Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, including one of her with Hillary Clinton.

Anthony Wiener, married to Hillary’s deputy chief of staff at the State Department, came under FBI suspicion for sexting a minor.

Abedin was perhaps Clinton’s closest aide, often described as a surrogate daughter. She had met Clinton in 1996, while she was a White House intern, and spent her entire adult life working for her. When Abedin married Weiner, in 2010, Bill Clinton officiated at the ceremony; the couple had a son a year later.

When the FBI began investigating the Clinton emails, in 2015, agents had taken special interest in Abedin because she was one of the four aides who served as conduits for most of Clinton’s State Department messages, screening them, forwarding them and printing them out for her boss. When agents interviewed Abedin on April 5, 2016, she told them that she had used Yahoo and state.gov accounts while working in the State Department, as well as an email address on Clinton’s private basement server, huma@clintonemail.com.

They asked Abedin what devices she used for email, at work and home, and whether she’d kept any archive. According to FBI notes of the interview, Abedin said that she had already turned over everything she had to the State Department. The agents did not ask to inspect any personal computers at her Manhattan apartment, where she lived with Weiner and their son. Her lawyer would later publicly insist that Abedin had no idea that her exchanges with Clinton were on his laptop. The couple has since separated.

The Daily Mail story raised the possibility of serious criminal charges for Weiner. If he had encouraged an underage female to take explicit photos or video of herself, he could be charged with producing child pornography, a felony that carries a minimum prison term of 15 years. FBI agents in New York immediately began investigating.

On Sept. 26, after federal prosecutors in New York obtained a search warrant, and the FBI collected Weiner’s iPhone, iPad and laptop. Agents began examining the computer — a silver, 15.6-inch 2015 Dell Inspiron 7000 — for any pictures, videos or other evidence involving Weiner’s teenage sexting partner. An agent sorting through the contents of the hard drive came across a jolting find: a State Department memo and some emails between Abedin and Hillary Clinton. The documents were not covered by the sex-crimes warrant, which meant that the FBI had no legal right to examine them.

The presidential election was five weeks away.

The agent went to the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York for guidance. Prosecutors there wanted no part of the email case, which had been staffed by a special team of agents, FBI analysts, and Justice Department lawyers working out of FBI headquarters, in Washington. The New York prosecutors told the agent to seek advice from that team. They said nothing to their own bosses at Justice Department headquarters.

Officials at FBI headquarters instructed the New York agent examining Weiner’s hard drive for evidence of sex crimes to continue his work as before and to keep a log of any further Clinton emails he came across.

By Oct. 3, senior officials at the FBI — including Comey — had been alerted that the Weiner laptop contained an unknown number of Clinton emails. By this point, the email controversy had receded as an issue in the presidential race. Any news of the discovery would surely have profound consequences for the Clinton campaign, especially as the election drew ever closer. Yet, over the following three weeks, FBI agents proceeded unhurriedly with their investigation, on the premise that what they knew of the discovery was not, as one official put it to me, “investigatively significant.”

FBI officials decided not to share news of the new emails on the laptop with the Justice Department prosecutors who had worked with them on the Clinton case. A former high-ranking Justice Department official, who dealt frequently with the FBI, blamed the failure on institutional distrust. “There is a general tendency, with everything at the Bureau, to keep things inside the Bureau until they figure out what to do,” he told me.

Without the involvement of their Justice Department colleagues, the FBI eschewed options that might have expedited matters. Former Justice Department officials familiar with the case told me that the FBI’s failure to move more quickly in this phase of the investigation represented a serious blunder. “It probably would have helped to have the prosecutors on the investigation involved at the earliest moment,” the former high-ranking official told me.

A crucial question was whether the discovery of the first few emails and a State Department document was sufficient to obtain a new search warrant to locate and examine all the Clinton messages right away. The former federal magistrate judge John Facciola, now an adjunct law professor at Georgetown University, told me that he would have granted such a warrant request, even after the discovery of just a “handful” of Clinton emails. The FBI’s earlier investigation had revealed that some messages from the Clinton server contained improperly stored classified information, Facciola noted. “If the headers show transmittal from Clinton to Abedin, it follows as night to day that others bearing that header may also be classified, and we have a right to search. What more you need than that, I don’t know.”

Former Justice Department officials told me that they also could have sought consent from Weiner and Abedin to examine the emails without a warrant. Lawyers for both told me that they were never asked and would have readily acceded. FBI officials, who were not fond of consent agreements, reportedly did not do this because they worried that Weiner would have sought concessions on any sex-crime charges; lawyers familiar with the matter dismiss the notion that he had any bargaining leverage.

Officials at FBI headquarters instructed the New York agent examining Weiner’s hard drive for evidence of sex crimes to continue his work as before and to keep a log of any further Clinton emails he came across.

By all accounts, this phase of the process went slowly. The software that the Bureau used to inventory the contents of Weiner’s laptop kept crashing. It would take about ten days before agents were able to retrieve a complete record of the messages saved on the laptop, showing dates, senders and recipients. But, even then, the FBI did not immediately seek a warrant.

By mid-October, inside the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, the handful of officials who knew about the discovery of the Clinton emails were openly wondering what was going on. Any effort to obtain a second warrant would have to go through their office, and they had heard nothing.

On Friday, Oct. 21, Joon Kim, the deputy U.S. attorney for the Southern District, called an official in the deputy attorney general’s office at Justice Department headquarters to ask what was being done about the Clinton emails on Weiner’s laptop. Recognizing the importance of the call, Kim wrote a memo noting it.

For Justice Department officials, the call was the first they’d heard of the emails. The following Monday, FBI and Justice Department lawyers finally gathered in Washington to discuss what to do. The New York agents had finished tabulating the emails between Abedin and Clinton, and they numbered in the thousands. FBI investigators who had been part of the Clinton inquiry decided that they were eager to examine the new emails.

A primary source of anxiety for Comey was the FBI’s own New York field office, which was handling the Weiner case and harbored deep pockets of anti-Clinton sentiment.

Throughout their yearlong investigation, FBI investigators had been frustrated by their inability to locate all of Clinton’s emails, especially those sent during the first eight weeks of her tenure as secretary of state, a troubling gap in their records. Some of those now appeared to be on Weiner’s laptop, and they might reveal incriminating information about Clinton’s motivation in setting up the private server in the first place. Investigators recognized that, in all likelihood, the new emails would not change the decision to close the case without charges. Most were probably duplicates of what the FBI had already seen. It seemed improbable that agents would find written proof that Clinton intended to violate the law. Still, it seemed foolish not to examine the emails. The Justice Department lawyers readily agreed to seek a court order, leading Comey’s deputies to schedule a meeting with their boss on the morning of Oct. 27.

More than three weeks had passed from the time that Comey and his top deputies had been alerted to the initial discovery of Clinton emails on Weiner’s laptop. Yet, in his congressional testimony, Comey described what he heard in his briefing that Thursday morning as a startling new development. “The Anthony Weiner thing landed on me on October 27 and there was a huge — this is what people forget — new step to be taken,” he said. “We may be finding the golden missing emails that would change this case. If I were not to speak about that, it would be a disastrous, catastrophic concealment.”

Comey immediately approved plans to seek a new warrant. Such warrants are typically obtained in secret before a magistrate judge and not made public, but Comey told his deputies that he wanted to send a letter to congressional leaders the next day.

Justice Department policies bar employees from interfering with elections and discourage taking any action that might be perceived as interference in the weeks before votes are cast. Election Day 2016 was less than two weeks off; early voting had already begun in 36 states.

Comey would justify his Oct. 28 disclosure as a matter of moral obligation: He’d told two congressional committees that the investigation was complete, and plans to review the new material meant that that was no longer true. Before Congress last week, he characterized his decision as a choice between “speak” and “conceal.”

In his memo released on Tuesday, Rosenstein scorned this characterization. “‘Conceal’ is a loaded term that misstates the issue,” he wrote. “When federal agents quietly open a criminal investigation, we are not concealing anything; we are simply following the longstanding policy that we refrain from publicizing non-public information. In that context, silence is not concealment.”

There was another motivation for Comey’s decision to “speak”: FBI officials feared that news of the new emails would leak out, damaging the Bureau and its director. The primary source of anxiety was the FBI’s own New York field office, which was handling the Weiner case and harbored deep pockets of anti-Clinton sentiment. New York agents had already been griping to the media about headquarters’ curbs on their investigation of the Clinton Foundation. Two prominent Trump surrogates with close local FBI ties — Kallstrom and Rudy Giuliani, a former U.S. Attorney and New York mayor — had for weeks been warning about agent fury over Comey’s decision in the email case. Lately, Giuliani had been chortling on Fox News about the Trump campaign’s plans for “some pretty big surprises” that “you’re going to hear about in the next few days.” (He would later claim that he had advance knowledge of the new emails.)

Comey and his aides had considered saying nothing about the discovery until agents could assess its significance, but only if their task would be completed by the election. “If we were of the belief we’d get through it before the election, we wouldn’t have said anything,” Steinbach said. But, given the number of Clinton-related messages on Weiner’s laptop (the FBI had identified 49,000 as “potentially relevant”), no one felt confident promising the FBI director that they could be examined in time. “I was thinking, I hope we can get this done in a couple of months,” Steinbach told me.

Mark Pollitt, a Syracuse University information studies professor who ran the FBI’s national computer forensics lab program during his career as a special agent, said that this mistaken judgment was likely born of excessive bureaucratic caution. “If you know this one’s going to go to the director and attorney general and maybe the president of the United States, we’re going to give them the worst-case scenario so we don’t get yelled at for dragging our feet,” he said. “I’m not going to say I can get it done in a particular time frame and then not make that deadline.”

This time, Comey decided to alert the Justice Department of his plans. Officials there tried vigorously to dissuade him from sending the letter. Heated discussions took place between a Comey deputy and an official in the deputy attorney general’s office, acting as surrogates for their bosses. The Justice official retrieved a transcript of Comey’s congressional testimony to point out that the director had never explicitly promised an update of every development in the case. Comey’s deputy acknowledged that this was the case but said the director’s view was that it didn’t matter; he had a “duty” to correct the “impression” he’d left that the FBI’s work was done. According to the former Justice official, Comey’s deputy also made clear that the FBI director was “very concerned” about a leak — that the news “was coming out anyway.”

Democrats, who had praised Comey since July, were outraged. A Clinton spokesman blamed Comey for “unleashing a wildfire of innuendo.”

The Justice official reminded Comey’s deputy about department policy regarding overt investigative steps before an election. Criticism was inevitable, he argued; the best defense was to consistently follow the normal process. The FBI’s response: “This one’s different.”

“This wasn’t a policy-position disagreement,” the former Justice Department official told me. “Comey felt this was his credibility on the line. He was the one who had testified before Congress. Their view is, ‘We get the policy and procedures. But he’s the one who had to personally suffer the fallout if he doesn’t update the Hill. It’s his ass in the sling.'”

Lynch and Yates had the power to order Comey not to send the letter. But Comey’s high-minded characterization of his “obligation” made that option seem perilous to senior Justice Department officials. If they gave Comey such an order, it wasn’t clear that he would comply. And if he did, there was a chance that it could be portrayed as the attorney general ordering the FBI director to hide information from Congress. None of that would play well, especially in the aftermath of the tarmac incident. So the Justice Department officials stuck to pleading through staff.

Comey deliberated with his deputies into Thursday night about exactly what to say, generating multiple drafts of his letter. The first ran just two sentences; later versions offered far more detail, then somewhat less, as Comey and his staff struggled to find the right balance. Steinbach joined a conference call about the language while shopping for Halloween pumpkins in Virginia with his daughter. “The intention was to write a statement that was as politically neutral as possible — that did not allow for incorrect inference,” one person familiar with the situation told me. Predictably, that would prove impossible.

During a conference call the next morning with a half-dozen participants, FBI officials read portions of their draft to their Justice Department counterparts, who argued that the letter was certain to be used to political advantage by Trump. They urged Comey to add language that made clear that the director was making the disclosure because of the obligation he felt from his testimony, not because of the gravity of the discovery — and that the emails had been found on the laptop of an aide’s husband, not in Clinton’s possession.

Comey declined to make any changes. He dispatched his three-paragraph letter to 16 congressional leaders shortly before noon on Friday, Oct. 28. It disclosed the discovery of new Clinton emails “that appear to be pertinent,” as well as plans to “assess their importance,” before noting, “The FBI cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant, and I cannot predict how long it will take us to complete this additional work.”

Comey explained his actions more fully in an email to FBI staff:

“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.”

Within hours, “law enforcement officials” disclosed to the press that the “unrelated case” was the Weiner sexting investigation. Trump, who’d previously been bashing Comey, celebrated the news at a New Hampshire rally. Clinton’s “corruption is on a scale we have never seen before,” he declared, amid chants of “Lock her up!” “We must not let her take her criminal scheme into the Oval Office.” Democrats, who had praised Comey since July, were outraged. A Clinton spokesman blamed Comey for “unleashing a wildfire of innuendo.”

The days after Comey’s revelation had been devastating to Clinton’s campaign. “Comey put a hole through the wall, and Trump drove a Mack truck through it.”

Clinton’s campaign set up a war room at its Brooklyn headquarters to respond to the news. The campaign highlighted an open letter signed by 99 former Justice Department officials from both parties who declared that they were “astonished and perplexed” by Comey’s actions. “The strategy was not to debate what Comey had done,” the Clinton pollster Joel Benenson told me. “The strategy was to aggressively discredit his actions with these bipartisan prosecutors.”

As the campaign — and debate over Comey’s actions — churned on, the FBI faced enormous pressure to complete its review of the new emails before Election Day, on Nov. 8. The government obtained its search warrant on Sunday, Oct. 30, two days after Comey’s letter, and agents immediately began scouring a copy of Weiner’s hard drive, which an agent had already carried to Washington from New York.

Exactly how thousands of Clinton emails ended up on Weiner’s laptop remains somewhat mysterious. In his testimony last week, Comey said that Abedin had forwarded “hundreds and thousands” of emails — including some containing classified information — to her husband’s email account, so that Weiner could print out the messages for delivery to Clinton. But two sources familiar with the matter told me that Abedin forwarded only a handful of Clinton emails to her husband for printing. Most of the old Clinton messages found on the laptop trace to backups of Abedin’s BlackBerry, which might have been first stored on a desktop computer at the couple’s home before ending up on Weiner’s laptop inadvertently, as part of a bulk transfer of old files. After Abedin’s lawyer and I pressed the FBI to clarify the matter, and I wrote an article about it, the Bureau released a letter correcting Comey’s testimony.

FBI agents had told their bosses that reviewing the new emails would take them well past Election Day. But, as the 10-member team began working around the clock, the process quickly accelerated. The FBI agents rapidly ruled out huge batches of messages that weren’t work-related, “de-duped” thousands of emails they’d seen before, and isolated the relative few — about 6,000, according to Comey — that required individual scrutiny. Potentially classified emails went to analysts for review.

Midway through a final all-night push, on Saturday, Nov. 5, two agents left FBI headquarters for a pizza-and-soda run. Outside, they found lime-green spray-painted graffiti near the building’s main entrance, some of it covering the FBI seal. It read “ASSHOLE” and “CORRUPT.”

At about 2:30 a.m. on Sunday, the FBI agents finished their work, and the team’s leader dispatched a message to their bosses. They had found new State Department messages but none, after all, from the missing period at the start of Clinton’s term, and nothing that suggested a criminal motive. Twelve email threads contained classified information; none of them were new.

That afternoon, Comey wrote to Congress again, revealing that the FBI had completed its review without finding anything to change the conclusions that he had announced back in July.

The days after Comey’s revelation had been devastating to Clinton’s campaign. “Comey put a hole through the wall, and Trump drove a Mack truck through it,” Benenson told me. The news dominated the home-stretch coverage; even the announcement that the review was over didn’t help. “You are in no good position at that point,” Benenson said. “Any discussion of emails and investigations is going to be a losing proposition.”

Trump’s campaign made the most of the Comey letter. “Decades of lies, coverups, and scandal have finally caught up with Hillary Clinton,” a new Trump TV ad intoned. “Hillary Clinton is under FBI investigation again, after her emails were found on pervert Anthony Weiner’s laptop. Think about that! America’s most sensitive secrets, unlawfully sent, received and exposed by Hillary Clinton, her staff, and Anthony Weiner. Hillary cannot lead a nation while crippled by a criminal investigation!”

“The Trump campaign was using it to the hilt,” Benenson said. “They took Comey’s statement, and they drove it. The most effective thing they did with it is to say, ‘This will never end. If she’s president, it will never end.'”

The “Comey effect” set in quickly. In a uniquely volatile electorate, enamored of neither candidate, weighing Trump’s temperament versus Clinton’s ethics, many of those who had finally been ready to vote for the Democrat fled. Her numbers slipped in key states. “It was enough of a lingering concern that at the end they said, ‘Screw it. I’m not going to vote for her,'” Benenson said. “They went with the third-party candidate or stayed home.”

FBI officials remain bitter at how Clinton and her supporters have blamed them for Trump’s election.

Many analysts concluded that Comey’s actions tilted the presidency to Trump. Nate Silver, the polling guru at the website FiveThirtyEight, said that Comey’s letter produced a swing of about three points in the popular vote in the handful of states that won Trump the presidency. In a post-campaign interview, the Trump pollster Tony Fabrizio put it this way: “When you really drill down on this election, if you change the vote in five counties, four in Florida, one in Michigan, we’d be having a totally opposite conversation right now.”

FBI officials remain bitter at how Clinton and her supporters have blamed them for Trump’s election. “I don’t find it credible,” Steinbach said. “It’s a mess she helped create from start to finish, with start being when she elected to use a private server. Even if you were to assume the investigation influenced the election, her actions created the environment. You can second-guess how it played out. But our guiding principle was to protect the American people and the Constitution of the United States.”

In January, the Justice Department’s inspector general announced that he would review charges that Comey’s public disclosures about the Clinton investigation violated department policies. Comey issued a statement saying that he welcomed “thoughtful evaluation and transparency” on the matter. Some of Comey’s friends and colleagues had weighed making public a letter of support for him, before eventually deciding against it. In conversations with reporters, they began seeking to explain his actions.

Some of the most withering criticism of Comey focused on his refusal, before the election, to disclose the FBI’s investigation into the possibility of collusion between the Russian government and Trump associates — even as he spoke at length about Clinton’s emails. In late March, quoting two anonymous sources, Newsweek reported that Comey had actually wanted to talk about the Russian political meddling, through a personal, bylined newspaper column, but the White House had blocked him from doing so. People familiar with the matter told me that the Obama administration had wanted to respond in a more direct way, through an official finding. That came on Oct. 7, through a statement about Russian hacking from the secretary of Homeland Security and the director of National Intelligence. Comey declined to be included on the statement, telling administration officials that he believed it was too close to the election.

During conversations I had with Richman, he began to hint at something in the Russian email hack that had influenced Comey’s decision to go it alone with his July 5 announcement on the Clinton inquiry. “It’s not just the stupid tarmac visit,” he told me in late February 2017. “You don’t get to always defend yourself when you’re in his position.” Two months later, the The New York Times disclosed the existence of the document claiming that Lynch would protect Clinton.

Last week, Comey finally got his chance to defend himself. Called before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he offered an emotional account of his handling of the email investigation but then made his misstatement about Abedin forwarding “hundreds and thousands” of emails to Weiner. This week, after FBI officials clarified the issue, I asked the Bureau another question: Why hadn’t agents, who had access to Abedin’s emails and could, presumably, see that she had forwarded two classified messages to her husband, taken the opportunity to examine his laptop much earlier, as part of the original email inquiry? If they had done so, what ensued in October might never have happened. The FBI declined to comment.

On Wednesday, in a farewell letter emailed to Bureau employees, Comey said he was not dwelling on his firing and urged his former colleagues not to, either. “I have long believed that a President can fire an FBI Director for any reason, or for no reason at all,” Comey wrote. “I have said to you before that, in times of turbulence, the American people should see the FBI as a rock of competence, honesty, and independence.” §

Peter Elkind worked for 20 years at Fortune magazine as an investigative reporter. He is co-author of The Smartest Guys in the Room, an examination of the Enron collapse. This article is posted with permission of ProPublica, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.

Ella Fitzgerald’s flirtation with reefer songs

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Nick Lehr/The Conversation via Wikimedia Commons

by Adam Gustafson, The Conversation

“The First Lady of Song” Ella Fitzgerald would have turned 100 on Tuesday, April 25: institutions from the Library of Congress to the Grammy Museum will be honoring her amazing contributions to the jazz canon. The Conversation

It will be interesting to see if any tributes mention Fitzgerald’s “Wacky Dust,” her song about cocaine.

In the 1930s – just as Fitzgerald was getting her start – jazz was under fire for its purported ties to drug culture. The 1936 anti-drug film “Reefer Madness” featured party scenes of young people listening to jazz and ragtime while smoking marijuana. A year later, Harry Anslinger, the commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, published “Marijuana, Assassin of Youth,” which pinned the use of drugs on a culture of unscrupulous partying – with big band jazz as its soundtrack.

In this climate, an ascendant singer named Ella Fitzgerald sought to take the opposite tack and cultivated a reputation as the “girl next door.” Fitzgerald walked the fine line between being understood as a jazz artist and an entertainer. Two recordings from the beginning of her career signal this tension. “A-Tisket, a-Tasket” and “Wacky Dust” were both released in 1938. One tune would go on to become a signature hit. The other would be largely forgotten, a side note to an otherwise squeaky-clean career.

A dressed-up nursery rhyme?

By 1938, Fitzgerald had established herself as the primary vocalist for Chick Webb’s orchestra at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom. Under Webb, Fitzgerald began recording for Decca Records and in May 1938, Decca released Fitzgerald’s first major hit, “A-Tisket, a-Tasket.”

It was a song that perfectly encapsulates Fitzgerald’s girl-next-door image. It opens with Webb leading the orchestra through a stock series of simple chord changes. When Fitzgerald enters, listeners are treated to a reworked nursery rhyme that asks little of them other than to sit back and enjoy. There is no moral value, no hint of the singer’s inner life and no mention of drug use.

Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘A-Tisket, a-Tasket.’

 

In fact, “A-Tisket, a-Tasket” is barely jazz. As with Benny Goodman and so many other bandleaders in the late 1930s, Webb and Fitzgerald seem more interested in creating a pop tune that fit the 78 RPM format than in staying true to their genre. Yet it became so popular that she and Webb recorded a follow-up track, “I Found My Yellow Basket,” that same year.

But then – just a few months after “A-Tisket, a-Tasket” – Webb and Fitzgerald recorded “Wacky Dust,” a song about the allure and dangers of cocaine use.

Ella’s reefer song

How Fitzgerald moved from a nursery rhyme to a song about cocaine says more about jazz culture than it does Fitzgerald’s own tastes. And while songs about drugs were common in jazz, “Wacky Dust” put Fitzgerald in the awkward position of recording a song that ran contrary to the image that she was trying to cultivate.

Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘Wacky Dust.’

 

The release of “Wacky Dust” coincided with a massive shift in cultural opinion taking place in the U.S. about the use of drugs like cocaine and marijuana. Once a relatively uncontroversial social issue, drug use in the 1930s increasingly came to be seen as a societal ill that was especially (and incorrectly) tied to African-Americans and jazz musicians. Even sympathetic artists couldn’t help but buy into the stereotype. George Gershwin’s operatic adaptation of DuBose Heyward’s novel “Porgy,” for example, was revolutionary for its diverse cast, but the story, written and adapted by two men of European descent, reinforced the popular perception of prevalent drug use among African-Americans.

Jazz artists in the early 1930s didn’t do much to help this view. Just as big band jazz was coming to dominate the music scene, two of the era’s biggest names released songs with direct references to drug use.

In 1933, Cab Calloway’s “Reefer Man” was used in the film “International House.” A year later, Benny Goodman released “Texas Tea Party,” a reference to both marijuana and to the trombonist on the recording, Jack Teagarden. These were not subtle works, and most jazz artists of the era produced what have since become known as “reefer songs.” Even Louis Armstrong – who, like Fitzgerald, cultivated a rather benign image – was arrested for smoking marijuana and recorded several tunes that allude to drug use.

So when “Wacky Dust” was released, the idea of one of the great New York City house bands recording a jazz tune about drugs wasn’t all that surprising. (Fitzgerald and Webb had experimented with a similar subject a couple of years earlier with the release of “When I Get Low I Get High.”)

Like “A-Tisket, a-Tasket,” Wacky Dust opens with Webb’s orchestra. Fitzgerald doesn’t enter until nearly one-third of the way through the song. The first verse aligns cocaine with jazz and describes how easy it is for musicians to access the drug. The second verse and bridge section describe its wonders, but the final verse takes a turn, with Fitzgerald warning that the drug can’t be trusted and might kill you.

While “A-Tisket, a-Tasket” went on to become one of Fitzgerald’s signature pieces, “Wacky Dust” has faded into relative obscurity outside of specialty albums that feature songs about drug culture. And this makes sense. Fitzgerald was extremely careful about her image, and “Wacky Dust” didn’t fit. In fact, after “Wacky Dust,” Fitzgerald moved entirely away from songs that alluded to drugs.

By the 1950s, she had embarked on a recording career that displayed an unrivaled musicianship and joy for singing. Nonetheless, one has to wonder what her career would have looked like had “Wacky Dust” been the hit of 1938, rather than “A-Tisket, a-Tasket.” §

Adam Gustafson, Instructor in Music, Pennsylvania State University This article was originally published on The Conversation

Woodrow Wilson’s war propaganda

U.S. government’s heavy hand altered American journalism

1917 executive order that created ‘the nation’s first ministry of information’  still smarts

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The censorship board. George Creel is seated at far right. Harris & Ewing/Library of Congress

by Christopher B. Daly, The Conversation

When the United States declared war on Germany 100 years ago, the impact on the news business was swift and dramatic.

In its crusade to “make the world safe for democracy,” the Wilson administration took immediate steps at home to curtail one of the pillars of democracy—press freedom—by implementing a plan to control, manipulate and censor all news coverage, on a scale never seen in U.S. history.

Following the lead of the Germans and British, Wilson elevated propaganda and censorship to strategic elements of all-out war. Even before the U.S. entered the war, Wilson had expressed the expectation that his fellow Americans would show what he considered “loyalty.

Immediately upon entering the war, the Wilson administration brought the most modern management techniques to bear in the area of government-press relations. Wilson started one of the earliest uses of government propaganda. He waged a campaign of intimidation and outright suppression against those ethnic and socialist papers that continued to oppose the war. Taken together, these wartime measures added up to an unprecedented assault on press freedom.

I study the history of American journalism, but before I started researching this episode, I had thought that the government’s efforts to control the press began with President Roosevelt during WWII. What I discovered is that Wilson was the pioneer of a system that persists to this day.

All Americans have a stake in getting the truth in wartime. A warning from the WWI era, widely attributed to Sen. Hiram Johnson, puts the issue starkly: “The first casualty when war comes is truth.”

Mobilizing for war

Within a week of Congress declaring war, on April 13, 1917, Wilson issued an executive order creating a new federal agency that would put the government in the business of actively shaping press coverage.

That agency was the Committee on Public Information, which would take on the task of explaining to millions of young men being drafted into military service—and to the millions of other Americans who had so recently supported neutrality—why they should now support war.

The new agency—which journalist Stephen Ponder called “the nation’s first ministry of information”—was usually referred to as the Creel Committee for its chairman, George Creel, who had been a journalist before the war. From the start, the CPI was “a veritable magnet” for political progressives of all stripes—intellectuals, muckrakers, even some socialists—all sharing a sense of the threat to democracy posed by German militarism. Idealistic journalists like S.S. McClure and Ida Tarbell signed on, joining others who shared their belief in Wilson’s crusade to make the world safe for democracy.

At the time, most Americans got their news through newspapers, which were flourishing in the years just before the rise of radio and the invention of the weekly news magazine. In New York City, according to my research, nearly two dozen papers were published every day—in English alone—while dozens of weeklies served ethnic audiences.

Starting from scratch, Creel organized the CPI into several divisions using the full array of communications.

The Speaking Division recruited 75,000 specialists who became known as “Four-Minute Men” for their ability to lay out Wilson’s war aims in short speeches.

The Film Division produced newsreels intended to rally support by showing images in movie theaters that emphasized the heroism of the Allies and the barbarism of the Germans.

The Foreign Language Newspaper Division kept an eye on the hundreds of weekly and daily U.S. newspapers published in languages other than English.

Another CPI unit secured free advertising space in American publications to promote campaigns aimed at selling war bonds, recruiting new soldiers, stimulating patriotism and reinforcing the message that the nation was involved in a great crusade against a bloodthirsty, antidemocratic enemy.

Some of the advertising showed off the work of another CPI unit. The Division of Pictorial Publicity was led by a group of volunteer artists and illustrators. Their output included some of the most enduring images of this period, including the portrait by James Montgomery Flagg of a vigorous Uncle Sam, declaring, “I WANT YOU FOR THE U.S. ARMY!”


Other ads showed cruel “Huns” with blood dripping from their pointed teeth, hinting that Germans were guilty of bestial attacks on defenseless women and children. “Such a civilization is not fit to live,” one ad concluded.

Frederick Strothmann/Library of Congress

Creel denied that his committee’s work amounted to propaganda, but he acknowledged that he was engaged in a battle of perceptions. “The war was not fought in France alone,” he wrote in 1920, after it was all over, describing the CPI as “a plain publicity proposition, a vast enterprise in salesmanship, the world’s greatest adventure in advertising.”

Buried in paper

For most journalists, the bulk of their contact with the CPI was through its News Division, which became a veritable engine of propaganda on a par with similar government operations in Germany and England but of a sort previously unknown in the United States.

In the brief year and a half of its existence, the CPI’s News Division set out to shape the coverage of the war in U.S. newspapers and magazines. One technique was to bury journalists in paper, creating and distributing some 6,000 press releases – or, on average, handing out more than 10 a day.

The whole operation took advantage of a fact of journalistic life. In times of war, readers hunger for news and newspapers attempt to meet that demand. But at the same time, the government was taking other steps to restrict reporters’ access to soldiers, generals, munitions-makers and others involved in the struggle. So, after stimulating the demand for news while artificially restraining the supply, the government stepped into the resulting vacuum and provided a vast number of official stories that looked like news.

Most editors found the supply irresistible. These government-written offerings appeared in at least 20,000 newspaper columns each week, by one estimate, at a cost to taxpayers of only US$76,000.

In addition, the CPI issued a set of voluntary “guidelines” for U.S. newspapers, to help those patriotic editors who wanted to support the war effort (with the implication that those editors who did not follow the guidelines were less patriotic than those who did).

The CPI News Division then went a step further, creating something new in the American experience: a daily newspaper published by the government itself. Unlike the “partisan press” of the 19th century, the Wilson-era Official Bulletin was entirely a governmental publication, sent out each day and posted in every military installation and post office as well as in many other government offices. In some respects, it is the closest the United States has come to a paper like the Soviet Union’s Pravda or China’s People’s Daily.

The CPI was, in short, a vast effort in propaganda. The committee built upon the pioneering efforts of public relations man Ivy Lee and others, developing the young field of public relations to new heights. The CPI hired a sizable fraction of all the Americans who had any experience in this new field, and it trained many more.

One of the young recruits was Edward L. Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud and a pioneer in theorizing about human thoughts and emotions. Bernays volunteered for the CPI and threw himself into the work. His outlook – a mixture of idealism about the cause of spreading democracy and cynicism about the methods involved – was typical of many at the agency.

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society,” Bernays wrote a few years after the war. “Propaganda is the executive arm of the invisible government.”

All in all, the CPI proved quite effective in using advertising and PR to instill nationalistic feelings in Americans. Indeed, many veterans of the CPI’s campaign of persuasion went into careers in advertising during the 1920s.

The full bundle of techniques pioneered by Wilson during the Great War were updated and used by later presidents when they sent U.S. forces into battle. Now, as the Trump administration begins to engage in military operations abroad, the American experience in WWI provides some timely warnings: The news media and all U.S. citizens should demand not propaganda, but accurate information in times of hostilities, and the government should never be allowed to equate dissent with disloyalty. §

Christopher B. Daly, Professor of Journalism, Boston University This article was originally published on The Conversation.