The Justice Department maintained investigations into Hillary Clinton’s family foundation for most of President Donald J. Trump’s tenure, with prosecutors dropping the case just days before he left office without charge.
Newly released documents and interviews with former Department officials show that the investigation went well beyond the time when FBI agents and prosecutors knew the dead end was at hand. The closure of the case, which focused on the Clinton Foundation’s dealings with foreign donors when Clinton was Secretary of State under President Barack Obama, has not been reported.
Mr. Trump, who ran the campaign vowing to “lock them up,” spent much of his four-year tenure pressuring the FBI and Justice Department to target political rivals. After the president’s allies were accused of being part of a Deep State cabal working against him, FBI officials insisted that the department write in writing acknowledging that there was no cause of action.
The closing documents, obtained by the New York Times in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, spelled the end of an investigation that leading prosecutors had expressed doubts about from the start. Still, it became a rallying cry for Republicans who believed the FBI would ultimately uncover evidence of corruption and harm Mrs. Clinton’s political destiny.
The foundation became a topic of attack for Republicans in 2015 after conservative author Peter Schweizer published the book Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, which examined donations from foreign organizations to the family organization . Mr. Schweizer is President of the Government Accountability Institute, of which Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former chief strategist, was the founder and chairman.
A spokesman for the Clinton Foundation, Craig Minassian, said the organization had “been subject to baseless, politically motivated allegations.”
Republicans echoed the allegations in Mr. Schweizer’s book, accusing Ms. Clinton of supporting the interests of foundation donors as part of a quid pro quo.
Critics particularly focused on the foundation’s receipt of large donations in return for supporting the sale of Uranium One, a Canadian company with ties to mining interests in the United States, to a Russian nuclear agency. The deal was approved by the United States Committee on Foreign Investments in 2010, when Mrs. Clinton, as secretary of state, had a voting seat on the panel.
Mr. Schweizer’s research caught the attention of FBI agents in Washington, who in 2016 launched a preliminary investigation based solely on “unverified hearsay information” in the book, according to the final report by Trump-era special counsel John H. Durham an investigation into the Bureau’s investigation into possible links between Mr Trump’s campaign and Russia.
The FBI in New York and Little Rock, Arkansas, also launched investigations based on information from confidential sources, Mr. Durham said.
Mr. Durham also compared the Clinton Foundation’s handling of the investigation to the FBI’s handling of the Russia investigation. As part of his investigation, Mr. Durham interviewed Ms. Clinton last spring. “Secretary Clinton was voluntarily interviewed by Special Counsel Durham on May 11, 2022,” said David E. Kendall, her attorney. “No subject was taboo. She answered every question.”
The Justice Department didn’t think highly of the foundation’s investigation, which frustrated the FBI agents. Raymond N. Hulser, a then-prosecutor for the Public Integrity Division, told Mr. Durham that the Washington case based on the book lacked predictive power.
In fact, some prosecutors at the time believed the book had been discredited.
The investigation created tensions within the FBI, as agents believed the Justice Department had interfered with their work.
This tension spread among the public and had far-reaching consequences.
Andrew G. McCabe, then Assistant Director of the FBI, was accused of leaking information about the case to a Wall Street Journal reporter and later lying about it to the Justice Department inspector general. The incident contributed to his being fired in 2018 and the ministry’s failure to prosecute him.
In August 2016, the three foundation cases were consolidated under the supervision of agents in New York. Agents were eligible to apply for subpoenas from the US Attorneys’ offices in Manhattan and Brooklyn, but prosecutors declined to issue them. The investigation appeared to be dormant.
Ultimately, the FBI transferred the case to Little Rock. After local prosecutors asked for help in 2017, the deputy attorney general’s office said the Justice Department would support the case.
Eventually, in early 2018, prosecutors obtained a subpoena for the charity and the FBI hired agents to review donor records. Investigators also interviewed the foundation’s former chief financial officer.
Prosecutors in Little Rock subsequently closed the case and notified the local FBI office in two letters in January 2021. But in a toxic atmosphere where Mr Trump had long accused the FBI of bias, the top agent in Little Rock wanted it known that career prosecutors, not FBI officials, were behind the decision.
In August 2021, the FBI received a so-called declination memo from prosecutors and subsequently considered the matter closed.
“All evidence obtained in the course of this investigation was returned or otherwise destroyed,” the FBI said
Jo Becker contributed to the reporting.