Russ Baker & Peter B. Collins: Does Official Weinergate Story Cut the Mustard?

Anthony Weiner
Anthony Weiner. Photo credit: Coalition for Queens / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

In this nearly hour-long interview, WhoWhatWhy Editor-in-Chief Russ Baker takes veteran podcaster Peter B. Collins through the details of Anthony Weiner’s fall — and the effect it had on Hillary Clinton’s presidential race.

They go deep into the shadows where political traps are constructed.

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Full Text Transcript:

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Peter Collins:Investigative Journalist Russ Baker returns to the Peter B. Collins podcast today. He’s unearthed some interesting details about the Anthony Weiner scandal. The first rule of cheating is don’t get caught. That’s Lee Shot Williams. Goes way back for the Peter B. Collins tax deductible music archives and if Lee Shot’s still around, he ought to do an update to turn it into a cyber sexting kind of song.
Russ Baker is the Founder and Editor in Chief over at WhoWhatWhy.org. They do great independent investigative reporting and I find Russ’s work extremely credible. He and a colleague, Matthew Harvey, have dug into the details behind the most recent Anthony Weiner sexting scandal with an underage girl that led to the FBI’s investigation of the laptop that he shared with his ex-wife, Huma Abedin, and we know how that really had an impact in the late stages of the presidential campaign last year. Russ, as always, good to talk with you.
Russ Baker:As always, good to talk to you.
Peter Collins:I guess we can say that Harvey Weinstein has bumped Anthony Weiner off America’s number one perv list. Anthony Weiner, despite a lot of negative feelings that people have about him, he deserves to have his case fully evaluated, and investigated, and the corporate media hasn’t done that. They basically took at face value that somehow he connected with this 15-year-old girl and that they were busy sexting and that this, as I referenced, led to the late stage FBI investigation of that laptop computer. You have I think some very interesting information here that we’re going to talk about today and this is not your first foray into investigating this latest Weiner conviction, is it?
Russ Baker:It is not. We became interested in this early on, because it’s the kind of work we do. One of my critiques of the media, and I would include both the mainstream corporate media and the so-called alternative media, is that they all seem to be so shallow in their curiosity, and so lacking in energy when it comes to going a little further on these stories. You know of course the classic Latin expression, “Cui bono?” Who benefits? Over time at WhoWhatWhy and then earlier with my book, Family of Secrets, which we’ve talked about, I’ve looked into things and found that there was more to the story and there often is. When things happen to powerful people and they suddenly get their comeuppance, or they are taken down, I always want to know is there anymore to the story? Sometimes it’s just what it appears to be and sometimes it isn’t.
On WhoWhatWhy.org we’ve done stories about people who, like Anthony Weiner, were politicians, they were seen as having bright futures, they tended to be charismatic. Most of them were liberal or progressive Democrats. Many of them were taking on powerful corporate and financial interests, taking on the national security state. People like Gary Hart, who might well have become President of the United States. John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, and I could go on. There have been quite a few of these people who were taken down in these sex scandals and a lot of people when they hear this, they become very irritated. For some reason, Peter, it pushes some buttons in their brain and they immediately become angry at me for even talking about this, because they’re so angry at these people for their “behavior,” that nothing else matters.
What I’m saying is, forget the behavior, and forget about what you think what they did, and if they should or shouldn’t, and how old somebody should be or shouldn’t be if you’re going to sext with them, or should you never sext with anyone, or should you send pictures, or only above the waist, or whatever. You forget all of that stuff and you only look at the Anthony Weiner thing in terms of its impact. Basically, according to some pollsters, according to, I think, quite a few analysts, according to Hillary Clinton, and I think according to a lot of us, something happened late in the 2016 presidential campaign that took a woman who was not only the front-runner, but was basically preordained to be the next President of the United States, nobody doubted it. Everybody was quite certain of it. It was almost like proforma and then she-
Peter Collins:Well, hold on Russ.
Russ Baker:Yeah.
Peter Collins:Just one thing, I want to separate myself from that comment, because I’m one of the few lefties in the media who predicted that Trump was going to win and I did so on August 1st of last year before any October surprise, or the pussy grab tape surfaced. I just want to note that not everybody believed that Hillary was a shoe-in and that there were problems with her campaign, and her candidacy, and also a lot of people who were going to vote for Trump who wouldn’t share that with a pollster. I just want to note that while you’re correct about the vast majority of people who offer their opinions in public, I’d like to make sure the people remember that I wasn’t one of them.
Russ Baker:Okay, thank you. There were points at which I said that I thought Trump could have much more support than was … I’m sure I could go and find those clips and so forth. I’m talking about something very particular here, which is she was way ahead in the polls. All of the official indices and the conventional wisdom was that she was going to win. Now, I’m not saying that these other factors didn’t play a role in Trump winning. What I’m saying is that very late in the election cycle, in late October just before the election, suddenly something bad happened to Hillary Clinton. This is not in dispute. Something bad happened to her. The FBI Director, James Comey, basically revealed that she was again under investigation regarding her computer server.
This is after all that “Sturm und Drang” about that, back and forth, and back and forth, was a huge problem for her. She finally got past it and now she was, according to all these indices, way ahead. Suddenly, very late in the game, so late that those kinds of things tend to be seen as very hard to recover from, there was this new development. The development was that suddenly there was a cloud over her again. That cloud happened because Comey’s people had inspected a computer owned by basically Anthony Weiner and his wife, Huma Abedin, who was Hillary’s body person, the closest aide who was constantly with her. They had looked at this computer and they discovered some of Hillary Clinton’s emails on there.
That’s why they made this announcement that they’ve discovered these emails on this other machine and this is what put this cloud over Hillary that had at least some kind of unknown, but presumably not insignificant impact in at least making people who were on the fence, these are usually close elections, on the fence say, “Oh my God, these people who say she’s a criminal, you can’t trust her,” here’s yet another indication. That’s the backdrop. That is the backdrop to today’s conversation that this thing found on Anthony Weiner’s computer had some unknown, but potentially significant impact in the election. That’s it. That’s the backdrop.
Peter Collins:Russ, it’s fair to say that Anthony Weiner had burned himself repeatedly with his online exploits with women. You quote Sydney Leathers, one of his contacts, in your article. He was an unsympathetic figure by his own undoing and he … I can imagine people who wanted to see Hillary defeated and Trump elected were sitting there saying, “Well, what can we do? What kind of trap can we lay?” A honey trap for Anthony Weiner seems to be an idea that wouldn’t be hard to generate.
Russ Baker:Yeah. Now, the missing piece of course is this computer, because you could get Anthony Weiner in a scandal, but it wouldn’t necessarily harm Hillary Clinton even though Weiner … People would basically feel sorry for Weiner’s wife, because it wasn’t Weiner who had any connection with Hillary, it was his wife. That wouldn’t be enough. The computer is the missing piece here and it’s the critical link, because if you work backwards, you’ve got Comey makes his statement, Clinton receives this potentially mortal wound. Why did Comey make his statement? Ostensibly, because he … Well, this gets very complicated, but he said that he was in a difficult position but he didn’t want to be accused of trying to influence the election by holding back material, so he erred on the side of influencing the election by announcing it.
Peter Collins:Yeah, yeah.
Russ Baker:What he did was he announced this, or he told Congress, and then it was made public. The reason that he could even make this announcement is because he was notified by people at much lower levels of the FBI that they had seized this computer and found these files. Now, the question then is, why did they seize that computer? The reason they seized the computer is because they received a complaint that an adult and an underage girl had been exchanging obscene, I don’t know the correct term, but let’s say obscene materials across state lines, so this was a national issue of the sort that the FBI could handle. Now, how did the FBI know about this? Then you go back. Okay, FBI and the New York Police Department get involved, but how do they know about it?
They know about it because an article appeared in the Daily Mail, the famous and delectably sleazy British-owned tabloid that is the largest news site I believe in at least the English-speaking world, including the United States. Huge numbers of people read it, because it’s so salacious. They are a politically identified, conservative identified, friendly with Trump, etc., etc. They published this story that Anthony Weiner had been doing this stuff with this underage girl and that then led to some kind of complaint somehow. Something that’s very unusual, was the FBI moved with incredible speed to seize that laptop. Now, there were no allegations of any kind of physical contact. The two people never met. There were no allegations of any kind of violence, or any imminent danger to this 15-year-old.
The FBI, I must say, it’s not that they never move fast. They certainly move fast when there’s supposedly a bomb about to go off or something else. Typically, most people if you’ve ever called the FBI to tip them off about something, they usually don’t even respond, or it could take a really long time. There are many, many stories out there of people who came to them with rather grave and urgent things and either were received with skepticism or neutrality and there was no follow-up. Of course, if we look at the Kennedy assassination and Lee Harvey Oswald, it’s just replete with examples and has been ever since and long before. Slow movement on the part of the FBI. Yet, in this case a tabloid publication published an article about a virtual relationship between two people and pounced with great speed.
Peter, we were interested in that. Why did they pounce with great speed? Well, this wasn’t Comey who told them to do it. He didn’t even, as far as I know, know about this. It was the New York Office of the FBI. Now, I know a few things about the New York Office of the FBI, including the fact that it’s very close with Rudy Giuliani, an important surrogate of Donald Trump, and it was very close with Donald Trump. As we report separately on WhoWhatWhy in another article about Trump Tower, the FBI had had a very important cooperator or informant in the building, Felix Sater, who was basically a business partner with Donald Trump. They were in there receiving constant reports.
They were close with that whole organization and these are the people who went and grabbed this very interesting material, I assume knowing perfectly well who Anthony Weiner was, knowing that his wife was probably Hillary Clinton’s closest and frankly most controversial aid. A lot had been written, a lot of speculation about her. Anybody who was a strategist would have known, I think, and logically … By the way, Hillary Clinton doesn’t like to read email online and-
Peter Collins:Right.
Russ Baker:Many people know this and they know that she expects her aids to print things out. Who was her closest aid? Huma Abedin. Anybody who knew anything or studied her behavior would know that Hillary, once they were interested in studying Hillary’s server and that whole scandal, they would’ve thought, “Well, you know what? Where is this stuff?” Because remember the Republicans, Donald Trump asked the Russians to hack to get Hillary’s emails and all this. They all wanted Hillary’s emails. It wouldn’t have been complicated for somebody to realize that, “Well, Hillary would’ve been telling Huma, ‘You get these emails and you print them out for me.'”
Which would mean that they would be on one of Huma’s machines and they would’ve known because there had been prior stories that they had these machines that they shared and they would’ve known that if some of Clinton’s emails were in Huma’s possession, they were also in Anthony’s possession. Ergo, if you could find an excuse to look at Anthony’s machine, you would find Hillary’s emails. You work back from that and you realize, “How would you get people to look at Anthony’s machine? You get Anthony in the middle of something that needs to be investigated. What could you get Anthony in the middle of? Why, Anthony Weiner has a problem.” There is where the story begins.
Peter Collins:I want to mention that I’ve had a few interactions with Anthony Weiner while he was a member of Congress. I interviewed him several times and I was producing a radio show for the Nurse’s Union, he appeared at a rally and we had some interesting conversations. My impression of him is that he’s a very intense and tense guy and when he’s on your side, you like him. He’s a mercurial guy, very self-absorbed, and so my personal impressions of him are pretty consistent with what I think people’s perceptions are of him as he displayed them in public. I think because of the serial nature of his online sexual exploration, if you will, that this was an easy noose to hang on his skinny little neck.
Russ Baker:It was. I think the key point here is you had these developments that all work very nicely to move this thing along. If it were a kind of a set-up, it wasn’t that complicated to script this. Cause Hillary Clinton and her biggest liability to back into the news by focusing people again on her honesty and on those records. You do it by figuring out somewhere where those records are and finding a way to grab them. The way was that Anthony Weiner was involved and then you lure him. All of that just makes sense and you don’t have to like Hillary Clinton, or despise Hillary Clinton. It has nothing to do with that, but any, I think, reasonable thinker can see how something like this might have been conceived. Might, I say.
Peter Collins:Introduce us to one of the figures in your article, Chuck C. Johnson.
Russ Baker:Oh well, he’s a real character. He’s kind of a charismatic guy. I spoke to him. I actually kind of liked him on the phone, but it’s hard to like a guy who I guess is a Holocaust denier. He’s an interesting character. He’s kind of made a name for himself. I don’t know what you call him, he’s kind of an alt-right activist, or operative. He’s a free agent. If you go onto WhoWhatWhy.org and put his name in, you can read an earlier article on Weiner where we go into Johnson at some length. I spoke to him and he told me that he had made quite a bit of money and he spends his own money, but he also has these websites where he goes to alt-right types and he basically says, “We can nail somebody for something, or embarrass them, but people got to put money up.” Then people sort of send money in, or click, or whatever and they raise money.
He said he’s done very, very well. He’s also spent a lot. He’s very well connected into the Trump orbit and he was telling me about all the people he helped get jobs in the Trump administration. He does exaggerate, but he also has a lot of contacts. He loves … He’s very open about it. He kind of loves dirty tricks. He thinks they’re terrific. This isn’t me accusing him of something. I mean, he’s spoken very openly about this. As I said, he can be quite ferocious. He’s come after a lot of people. At least with me, he in general answered my questions. I didn’t always find that the answers were complete or satisfactory, but we did at least, up until he stopped communicating with me, he did answer questions and we were able to determine from him, according to his own account, that he played some kind of role in becoming aware of the Anthony Weiner sexting with this young girl and helped essentially to sort of pass that story along so it ended up getting the kind of publicity that it did.
Peter Collins:We should note that in your article and in this conversation we cannot name the girl or her father, because their names have not been published in order to protect her identity as a minor. You also make the point that the Daily Mail published its article opportunistically the day before her 16th birthday so that she could be described as a 15-year-old, which is below the age of consent in most states. That made this even a little more salacious and had that heavier tabloid impact. Now, talk about her father and the way he participated in this paid interview with the Daily Mail and bagged $30,000 in cash before they had contacted any authorities. Oh, like the local police, to say, “Hey, this former Congressman from New York is conducting an inappropriate sexting relationship with my daughter.”
Russ Baker:Yeah. Well, and we really should go back to the beginning. Now, we don’t really know what the beginning is and we did a lot of reporting and a lot of it is still not entirely conclusive, but what we believe from many interviews and quite a bit of research, what we believe is that this girl who is quite precocious, by the way, in some respects. I’ve seen her in action and she’s advanced for her years in many respects. She contacted Anthony Weiner and he didn’t know who she was and she basically told him that she was a fan of his. You can imagine that he was already sort of “in Siberia” and it’s nice to hear from people who still like you. Our general impression and this is … I can’t go into all the details here, but our general impression is that he … There was no sexual come-on and that it was really just social media contact. Somebody saying, “I find you interesting.”
At some point, we think that she mentioned doing a class project or paper about him. I’ve been the recipient of people contacting me who are high school students saying, “They’re doing a paper and want to interview me.” I know that these things happen and they can be perfectly benign and some might argue that it’s rude not to answer a high school student who ought to be encouraged if they’re interested in civics, let’s say, or journalism. So he responded and he started talking to her. At some point, and I have to stress by the way, that the US government in their prosecution of this thing have been very circumspect and we’ve actually seen surprisingly little evidence of the worst things we are told that Weiner did or said. This is very important, because we don’t actually see those things.
Some people argued, “Well, they must be true, because Weiner plead guilty.” To which I reply, “Do you know anything about plea deals?” If you face a really long sentence and they offer you something, you cannot bargain and say, “Well, but I didn’t do that part of it and I won’t allow you to say I did.” They want the strongest possible statement and you either sign it, or no deal. We don’t know what actually happened. We don’t even know whether he disputes some of that, but basically the impression we have generally is that they began talking, and then he asked her about herself, and then at some point I guess, although it’s still not even certain when or if that happened or how it happened, although we’re told it happened, she revealed that she was 15.
In any case, they were talking and it gradually got a sort of, let’s say, a flirtatious nature, and at some point it went beyond that, we are told. The most graphic things that he supposedly said, we’ve not actually seen most of it. We’ve seen a little bit of what is presented to us in certain cooperative publications as being things that he typed. We have not been able to verify he did. It’s quite possible that he did. It’s very inappropriate. It’s very wrong and I in no way want to condone any of that. I’m just trying to be as accurate as possible here in describing this.
Peter Collins:Russ, one of the things you point out in the article is that at some point she said that she was a fan of Anthony Weiner. At the age of 15, she would’ve only been 10 years old when he flamed out and left the Congress. That is a claim that is hard to corroborate or to find just credible on its face.
Russ Baker:Well, that’s right. We found that very, very interesting. Later on, and that’s also in our most recent article, we were told by somebody who knows her, who heard this directly, that she made … In explaining why she did this and kept this thing going on with him for so long, she said that she intended … We heard various accounts. She intended to write a book, which was going to be a guide for how to have an affair with, or I maybe even used the word entrap, a married man. She also told somebody that she wanted to be the next Monica Lewinsky. If she was 10 when Weiner was a big deal, she was a lot younger, practically not even in existence when Lewinsky happened.
Peter Collins:Right.
Russ Baker:Now of course, a precocious 15-year-old on the internet typing things in like, “Sex, or sex scandal,” might have come across any of these things. I don’t think it would make her a fan of Anthony Weiner.
Peter Collins:Right, yeah. Now, what about the role of her father? You describe him as facilitating this while it was going on. Now, any dad with a teenage daughter, especially one who is a well-developed hottie, if I can change your language a little bit, would be very protective and if he became aware that his daughter was sexting with this older and disgraced individual, the first move of an honorable father would be to shut it down and to report it to authorities.
Russ Baker:Correct. We don’t know an exact timetable on this of when he became aware. We don’t know if he became aware toward the end, or after it had ended. We definitely know he became aware of it long before the authorities were notified, because he was only too glad to sit down with the Daily Mail, as you say, and make a deal with them, and pocket this money without any attempt to take the criminal action extensively to protect others. He certainly did that. I don’t remember all the details of our research. We had a few people working on this story over the course of a long time, many, many months. I’m sorry to say, I don’t remember exactly what we know about indications of when he became involved or aware of it. It could’ve been at any point and there are even some who think that he may have known about this from the get-go.
Peter Collins:Now, she also made contact with Sydney Leathers and people will remember that unusual name as one of the online contacts that Weiner had in … Was it in the original or the case that blew up around the time he was running for Mayor?
Russ Baker:I’m blanking out. I think it was the second one of these multiple ones.
Peter Collins:Yeah, I think so too.
Russ Baker:The thing is that she again is a complicated and somewhat contrary figure, because she expresses indignation about all these things. Yet, she also has sort of made a career for herself out of being something of a provocateur, and she also has these relationships with Chuck C. Johnson, the alt-right guy, and with some of these tabloids, and then she gets very angry. I remember the New Yorker wrote something about her, and then she kind of went ballistic on the writer and said that it’d been off the record, and then she sends these sort of nasty emails to all kinds of people, including us.
She’s a piece of work, but we gave her, her due and we quoted her accurately. Yeah, so she played a role in this. They tell contrary stories about exactly who did what, but one version of it is that she became aware of this girl. The girl contacted her I believe, and then she said, “Well, this is horrible. This has to be stopped,” and that she then somehow brought it to the attention of, I guess, Chuck, who then brought it to the attention of the Daily Mail. There are different versions of this, but these are these kind of, let’s call them, repeat players in these kinds of sagas.
Peter Collins:Now, what you just said there is interesting and suggests two scenarios. One is that when the girl contacted Sydney Leathers and she shared that with Chuck C. Johnson, he had an ah-ha moment and said, “Well, this is something we can exploit. This is the October surprise we’ve been looking for.” It’s also possible that this was further along when Leathers became aware of it and that this happened without the intervention and enabling of Chuck C. Johnson. Which scenario would you argue for based on what you know, Russ?
Russ Baker:Well, I think you bring up an important point, which is that this kind of thing can happen a lot of different ways. Any figure, and this is not accusing anyone or suggesting anything, but any of those figures, the two we mentioned or any others, could’ve been more involved than they’re willing to say, or it could’ve been just very casual. Now, Chuck did tell me that he had been looking for things, scandals, to cause problems for Hillary Clinton.
He was very open about that, that he … I think he had a fund for that, that he was promoting that, and that he told me at one point that he had said to Leathers, “If you get wind of any things that can embarrass Hillary Clinton, please be in touch.” Then I believe he had said at one point that he had paid her, paid Leathers for this. She then disputed it. I believe he told us that he had … He told me, he and I, it was a recorded phone conversation. Then she I think called him and recorded him saying, “No, I never told him that.” Then, so who can figure this stuff out? There aren’t enough hours in the day.
Peter Collins:Well, and there were other allies of Trump who were chumming the waters looking for dirt and blood, and one of them was this guy Peter Smith, and he had a history of being an oppo-researcher for Republicans. He admitted that he had offered money and even dangled it to Russian hackers, or any hackers who might be able to get the 30,000 allegedly missing emails, the ones that were deleted because we were told that they didn’t relate to her official business at the State Department. Peter Smith died suddenly. There doesn’t seem to be anything nefarious about it. At the same time, he had gone public with his attempts to find dirt to defeat Hillary. There could’ve been a parallel operation that, again, Johnson got wind of and took advantage of, but it’s possible that he didn’t get this ball rolling in the first place.
Russ Baker:Keep in mind, Peter, this is part of this larger tableau, which includes that meeting that everybody now covers and talks about at Trump Tower where you’ve got Donald Jr. and that whole room full of people looking for dirt on Hillary Clinton. May I say by the way, that we may like it, we may not like it, and maybe there was a time in politics when they didn’t throw dirt, but you go back to the Grover Cleveland election with James Blaine and there was some pretty salacious stuff thrown up and back about illegitimate kids. That was 100 and however many years ago. This is what they do. Opposition research is not illegal and promoting this stuff and … I’m not sure whether even if this girl knew that she was deliberately entrapping Anthony Weiner for some purposes, or to make some money, I suppose that maybe there’s a criminal statute there. Probably, I guess, extortion or something.
The fact that she’s underage, you’d have to prove there were adults involved and so forth. All these other people, this would have to be evaluated by somebody who’s a legal expert, and I am not. This stuff goes on all the time, and to think that this is preposterous, and some people complain about these stories we’ve done and saying, “Well, it’s preposterous. This was just this girl, and this terrible Weiner guy, and yeah, it harmed Hillary Clinton, but it was just a coincidence and that’s the end of the story.” I don’t think that’s necessarily true and I think it’s not realistic to fail to consider what you’re talking about, which is the role of these sorts of gambits in campaigns.
Peter Collins:Russ, the other piece here that we should mention is that there was a concerted effort throughout the campaign to promote a story that I found baseless, and I did dig into it, I couldn’t find any credible affirmation or confirmation of it. That’s the so-called Pizza-gate scandal, where the emails of John Podesta’s that were released showed these unusual exchanges where it was always talking about pizza, and that was believed to be code for underage children who were to be sexually exploited. There was an effort to tie that to Hillary Clinton. We can see that there were many efforts to damage the Clinton candidacy with these kinds of sexually charged allegations and theories. I’d like to hear your comment on Pizza-gate, but it’s possible that the same people who were promoting that whole ark, may have had a role in the set-up of Anthony Weiner.
Russ Baker:Yeah. I mean, I think it’s important to remember that many people, maybe most people, don’t follow policy discussions very closely, don’t find policy, even though it impacts us, very interesting. Gossip is always preferable. It’s the difference between broccoli and ice cream and everybody wants the ice cream, even though it may not be nutritious. The Pizza-gate and all this stuff is basically adults behaving like children, frankly. We all love to read the gossip pages, or most of us, because it is fun and it’s escapism. An awful lot of voters actually make up their minds based on these kinds of superficial things.
I heard more voters say things like … particularly Trump voters, saying things, or people who didn’t like Obama, they would say things like, “I don’t like his wife, or she’s too this, or I don’t like the way he speaks.” You would very rarely hear a kind of a detailed analysis of what was wrong with his actual programs, and in fact when I would press them they didn’t know, but they sure knew about anything floating around. Stuff like Pizza-gate, any good strategist understands that this will capture people’s attention and it will be determinative in many cases of who they vote for.
Peter Collins:Yeah, and because there is a history of credible allegations of political figures involved in orgies, and sex parties with underage boys and girls. We just look at Dennis Hastert. Okay, a proven pedophile who was continuing that kind of behavior while he was the Speaker of the House and that whole episode was covered up. He was allowed to essentially plea to some structured financial transactions that violated a section of the Patriot Act that Dennis Hastert had helped pass back in 2001. It does feed the imaginations of people and the suspicions that are fueled by the failure to really expose true crime and it enables these kinds of concocted stories to really gain traction.
Russ Baker:That’s right. By the way, I just want to say this is almost unique to the United States. There are very few other countries where these sorts of stories and themes would take off, because they are a little more, I would say, realistic than we are about human nature, about the complexities and the gray areas of life, about the broad ranges of kinds of people, and who they’re attracted to, and everything else. We do have that image of Bob and Susie Cream Cheese and their 2.2 children, and they go to church every Sunday, and they root for the home team.
Our politicians always present themselves as really very kind of bland people who have all the tastes of all the ordinary folk and … Remember with the pork rinds and all this stuff. This is a common theme. We’ve allowed ourselves to be kind of victimized by this, and of course the media plays into this, creating an utterly impossible standard for any of these people. It sets up this environment where almost anything then can quickly become sort of titillating and can kind of drive the conversation.
Peter Collins:Yeah. Russ, this week Anthony Weiner reported to a federal lockup in Massachusetts. It’s a prison hospital. He has a 21- month sentence to serve and you described that he will be given actual therapy. Do you know what the programs are and can he breeze in and out the way Harvey Weinstein has reported to treat his sex therapy program?
Russ Baker:Well, I don’t know the details and I’m not sure if he’s going to be in that medical facility for a limited time or a longer time. I haven’t seen that explained and I haven’t looked into it. He’s supposed to be in intensive multiple times a week sessions. I don’t know if these are group sessions, or individual counseling where they’re going to try to deal with his compulsions. As you pointed out, and I met him once too, I found him the same way you did. I found him utterly self-absorbed, tense, not really interested in other people very much.
Yet, he had a certain kind of an energy and a kind of a charisma. At the same time, I want to say clearly a very bright guy. Ironically, given how self-involved he is and all these issues he has, politically in terms of his causes and the issues that he championed, he was very much a populist, and a fighter for the underdog, and willing to take on powerful institutions. I think that was one of the reasons that even after his first scandal, he came back and he was a leading contender to be the mayor of New York City.
Peter Collins:Yeah. Now, Russ as we wrap up I want to ask once again, because you have done incredible work over the last few years, exposing the FBI. The way it always insists on investigating itself when any wrongdoing or an agent-involved shooting occurs. I respect that you are an honest critic of the FBI. As you look at the way Comey handled this, and he certainly got a lot of well-deserved criticism, do you think that he was forced by rogue elements inside his own agency to deal with this in the way that he did at risk of being exposed, either before the election or after, if he had not taken the controversial steps that he did?
Russ Baker:I don’t know the answer to that, so I would only be speculating and I’m very careful about speculation. I will say this, if you look at the timing of when the FBI people told him about this, which was much later than after it happened and after they seized machines. I believe it was weeks later. In other words, they waited until fairly close to the election to spring it on him and I think if they had given him a few weeks to think about it or look into it, this might have played out differently. He had to make a snap judgment. I find that suspicious. Those places, they call it the deep state, there are all these levels to those organizations, and there are all these lifers, and they have their own cliques and cabals in there. He was not as FBI lifer, he was an outsider.
I think he was potentially victimized by elements within the bureau that themselves may have been in contact with or working with outside elements. I think that’s quite possible. All you have to do is look at the fact that Comey was seen as a villain by people on the Democratic side during that period, and then seen as a hero later before and when Trump fired him, to kind of come to the conclusion that this is a man who, whatever you want to say about him, was sort of struggling with some tough choices and there were an awful lot of different calculations to be made, probably none of which were optimal.
Peter Collins:Yeah. Well, I’ve been a critic of Comey’s from the time that he was appointed, but I found it fascinating, and I would just amend your description there with this, that he was a rogue for allowing the original email investigation to go forward. He was a hero to Democrats and Hillary supporters in July when he announced that they wouldn’t be prosecuting and that’s a very unusual move as … I rarely agree with Jeff Sessions on anything, but in the pre-textual memo that was written to fire Jim Comey, they did make the case that he basically elbowed out the Attorney General because of her tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton I guess, and he made this public statement that Hillary would not be prosecuted. He spent the next four months as a hero to Democrats and a villain to the Republicans.
Then he switched roles with his initial announcement that there would be a new investigation into the Weiner laptop. Then it was reversed again when he said, “Nothing there, never mind, move on,” right before the election. As you point out, Comey then became a hero to Democrats once again when he was fired by Donald Trump. To me, he’s never been a hero. He is a guy who operated inside the norms of the FBI and his status to me is something that I’ve always been skeptical about.
Russ Baker:Yeah. Of course, some people believe that he was in over his head in general, and of course an outfit like that run by one man, J. Edgar Hoover, for so many decades. I don’t know that it ever really recovered. It probably, like the CIA and some of these other outfits, needs a top to bottom rethink, and cleaning out, and it would take some extraordinary widely trusted individual to do that. He certainly is not that. Yeah, it’s hard to know what to make of all of this. It’s been a kind of a seesaw, hasn’t it?
Peter Collins:Yeah.
Russ Baker:I’m glad you brought out those extra twists.
Peter Collins:All right.
Russ Baker:It is trajectory.
Peter Collins:Russ, anything else you’d like to mention about this investigation you’ve published at WhoWhatWhy.org?
Russ Baker:We intend to continue looking at this and other stories. We always love to hear from people who have insight, or information, and you can always contact us by the site. Of course also, keep an eye out for our work on this and on the JFK records release we’ve been working on by following us on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
Peter Collins:All right. Russ Baker from WhoWhatWhy.org. Always great to visit with you. Thanks for joining me today.
Russ Baker:Thank you, Peter.
Peter Collins:Thanks for listening to this in-depth interview with Journalist Russ Baker. I appreciate your feedback. Email Peter@PeterBCollins.com.

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Weiner (US Congress / Wikimedia), Clinton (C-SPAN / Wikimedia) and Comey (FBI / Wikimedia).

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