(CNN) President Donald Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon has been fired, multiple White House officials told CNN on Friday.
Sources told CNN that Bannon’s ouster had been in the works for two weeks and a source said that while Bannon was given the option to resign, he was ultimately forced out. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed Bannon’s departure, but claimed the decision for him to leave was mutual.
“White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day. We are grateful for his service and wish him the best,” Sanders said in a statement.
The President has privately stewed over Bannon in recent days, including Thursday night from his golf course in New Jersey. He was furious with his chief strategist after he was quoted in an interview with the American Prospect contradicting Trump on North Korea and asserting that Bannon was able to make personnel changes at the State Department.
On Saturday morning, however, the President tweeted out his thanks to Bannon: “I want to thank Steve Bannon for his service. He came to the campaign during my run against Crooked Hillary Clinton – it was great! Thanks S.”
Bannon’s exit comes just seven months after Trump took office and three weeks after retired Gen. Kelly took over as chief of staff, looking to instill order in a chaotic White House beset by internal divisions, staff infighting and a storm of controversies.
Bannon’s exit meant one of the White House’s most controversial staffers, the man generally perceived as the driving force behind Trump’s “nationalist” ideology, would no longer be at the center of the Trump universe.
Bannon joined Trump’s campaign last year, moving from the sidelines as one of Trump’s top cheerleaders to a position atop his campaign apparatus.
He did not travel with the President during the first week of what White House officials described as a “working vacation” at Trump’s golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey. Instead Bannon remained in Washington where he worked out of a temporary office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building as the West Wing underwent renovations.
Bannon was supposed to be fired two weeks ago, a White House official told CNN’s Jeff Zeleny, but it was put off.
CNN reports the President equivocated after an initial plan was to fire Bannon and then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus at same time, the official says, because Rep. Mark Meadows, the influential chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, and others urged Trump to keep him on board.
The interview this week was enough for Meadows to change his view, a person close to him says.
What Bannon is thinking
After his firing Friday, Bannon spoke to The Weekly Standard, making a pointed case that the Trump presidency that his brand of populist, right-wing conservatives helped make possible is now “over.”
“We still have a huge movement, and we will make something of this Trump presidency,” Bannon told The Weekly Standard. “But that presidency is over. It’ll be something else. And there’ll be all kinds of fights, and there’ll be good days and bad days, but that presidency is over.”
The question now is whether Bannon will be an ally or a thorn in the side of the Trump administration outside the White House, where he has apparently already returned to his role as head of Breitbart, the right-wing news site he ran until he joined Trump’s campaign a year ago.
However that unfolds, Bannon is expected to remain tightly connected to the billionaire conservative father-daughter pair Robert and Rebekah Mercer, who are major investors in Breitbart News and top Trump donors.
Both Bannon and Trump spoke with the Mercers in recent days, a White House official said.
A White House ally who has talked to Bannon said the outgoing chief strategist does not want to go to war with Trump. Bannon is making that clear to close associates in response to Breitbart editor Joel Pollak tweeting #WAR.
“That’s not where Steve’s head is at,” this source said. “He’s been fighting for the exact same things that the President has been fighting for.”
This source quoted Bannon as saying “I want (Trump) to succeed.”
Still, as his firing appeared increasingly likely, Bannon downplayed concerns about being booted from the White House and argued that he would be a more powerful force from the outside, sources close to Bannon said.
He has privately told associates he would return to his “killing machine” — Breitbart — if he was forced to leave for the White House and has said he would be able to more easily target some of his White House rivals — like chief economic adviser Gary Cohn and national security adviser H.R. McMaster — from the outside, the sources said.
Bannon has also worked in recent weeks to put the pieces in place for his agenda to live on without him at the White House, working on hardline trade initiatives in his final weeks.
After pushing the President to start the process of investigating Chinese trade abuses, Bannon also laid the groundwork for a series of aggressive trade actions designed to impose a harder line against China, the sources said.
In his final days at the White House, Bannon was continuing to work up schedules for the rollout of trade initiatives that would come in September, long after he expected to be forced from the White House, the sources said.
Bannon’s turbulent White House tenure was marked by controversy.
In the administration, Bannon frequently butted heads with other advisers to the President, feuding with son-in-law and senior adviser Jared
Kushner, chief economic adviser Cohn and other more moderate members of the President’s administration whom Bannon branded as “globalists.”
Bannon was often suspected by colleagues of badmouthing them to reporters and he rubbed colleagues the wrong way by attempting to ramrod his ideological positions.
“Steve was never a team player,” a senior administration official said.
Bannon viewed himself as the populist defender of Trump’s campaign promises in the White House, working daily to tick off items from the list of promises that hung on the walls of his West Wing office.
Bannon focused especially on pushing a hardline trade agenda, recently working to cue up a series of trade policies to aggressively target Chinese foreign trade abuses and work toward rebalancing the trading relationship between the US and China.
Bannon was an influential voice inside the White House, feeding and encouraging Trump’s nationalist and populist instincts.
In the process, he garnered an infamous reputation as a puppet master pulling the strings in the Oval Office, with pop culture portrayals ranging from the moniker “President Bannon” to his depiction as the grim reaper on “Saturday Night Live.” Those portrayals — coupled with a Time Magazine cover that declared him “the great manipulator” — often angered Trump, who chafes at being outshined.
But the reality is that while Bannon was an influential figure at Trump’s side, he was hardly the all-powerful aide so many sought to portray him as.
He did not always come out victorious in his feuds with fellow White House aides and Trump did not always heed his counsel.
Still, Bannon served as a daily reminder to Trump of his populist campaign promises and his bellicose political instincts. Bannon’s rivals in the White House argued that he encouraged the President’s worst instincts, while his allies said he was keeping the soul of Trump’s movement alive.
The fiery chief strategist also led the charge against proposals by national security officials to deepen US military involvement in Afghanistan, feuding vocally during meetings of the National Security Council with McMaster and working behind the scenes to water down hawkish proposals for troop increases and a longer-term US military commitment.
The President is meeting Friday with members of his national security team at Camp David to consider options for the future of the US war in Afghanistan as he nears a decision, but Bannon is not there — and was not scheduled to be, based on a list of attendees the White House sent out Friday morning.
This story is breaking and will update with additional news.
CORRECTION: This graphic has been updated to reflect Shaub’s duration on staff for the Trump administration. He was on staff 180 days.
CLARIFICATION: This graphic has been updated to clarify Scaramucci’s and Comey’s duration on staff based on the their start and end dates. They stayed on staff 11 days and 110 days, respectively.
CNN’s Jim Acosta, Jeff Zeleny, Miranda Green, Gloria Borger and Eli Watkins contributed to this report.
The Pentagon spent $84 million on erectile disfunction medications in 2014, 10 times the estimated annual medical costs for transgender services.
Military Times reported in 2015 that the military spent $84 million on erectile disfunction medications such as Viagra and Cialis the year before. Meanwhile, a 2016 Rand Corporation study estimated that the maximum annual medical costs for transgender military members would be around $8.4 million, Business Insider reports.
“You’re talking about .000001% of the military budget,” being spent on transgender services, Navy SEAL veteran Kristin Beck, who is transgender, told Business Insider.
President Trump announced Wednesday on Twitter his decision to ban transgender people from serving in the military “in any capacity.” He cited the “tremendous” costs for providing medical services for transgender troops.
“Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you,” Trump tweeted.
His announcement sparked widespread condemnation from members of both parties, including Republicans who broke with the president to speak out against the ban.
Howard University has reached a tentative agreement with the law professor it found responsible for sexual harassment over a test question about a hypothetical Brazilian wax.
This afternoon, professor Reginald Robinson’s attorney, Gaillard T. Hunt, released the following statement:
We have discussed the case with the University and we believe we have reached a mutually satisfactory solution. Professor Robinson regrets if anyone was offended by the test question.
FIRE reported on the case last week, which we noted at the time was part of a larger pattern of colleges and universities punishing constitutionally protected expression under the guise of addressing sexual harassment.
Case given by the professor translated in spanish:
P es dueño y manager de “Day Spa & Massage Therapy Company, LLC.” P atiende tanto a hombres y mujeres. Entre otros servicios, P ofrece “Brazilian wax” y “bikini wax” – también llamados “Sphynx”, depilada total, o depilación estilo Hollywood.
Para prestar estos servicios, P contrató a A, un esteticista, certificado y licenciado por la escuela ubicada en el Estado en que P realiza sus actividades.
Un día, T visitó la compañía de P. T nunca había buscado tales servicios, pero sus amigos habían elogiado el trabajo de P. A se encontró con T en la mesa de atención. T pidió un Brazilian wax. -¿Un brasileño completo o modificado? -preguntó A a T. T parecía confundido, entonces A procedió a explicarle que un Full Brazilian (“FB”) implicaba depilar totalmente a T desde el ombligo hasta las nalgas, por lo que un FB requería que T esté desnudo de la cintura para abajo. Un FB además requiere que A toque el cuerpo de T y realice los ajustes necesarios para que este pueda acceder a todos los folículos del vello púbico de T. Asimismo, A le explicó a T cómo sería un “Modified Brazilian” (“MB”). Un MB le dejaría una fina franja de pelo en la parte superior de sus genitales, es decir, un “landing strip” (pista de aterrizaje). Así, T optó por un Full Brazilian.
Una vez más, A le explicó a T que tendría que tocar sus genitales para completar la depilación. T estuvo de acuerdo y firmó en el Contrato de Servicio el espacio donde reconoce la información brindada por A. T se desvistió en un salón privado, donde también bebió un té de hierbas caliente. Por pedido de A, T, quien estaba desnudo de la parte de abajo, se acostó en la mesa de depilación. Una vez sobre ella y con los tonos instrumentales como fondo, T cayó en un sueño ligero. Finalmente A completó el FB. Al despertar, T se sintió físicamente incómodo, preguntándole a A si lo había tocado incorrectamente. A, le dijo que no, y sintiéndose ofendido, se fue.
Semanas después, P recibió una carta del abogado de T, en la que T alegaba que A lo había tocado inapropiadamente, generando que T buscara consejería y medicación para tratar un Trastorno de Estrés Post-traumático. Habiendo trabajado con A durante 10 años, P respondió que A era un esteticista certificado y licenciado, que nunca había tenido quejas presentadas por sus clientes. T demandó a P, y por testimonio de A, Los abogados de P y T descubrieron que A había tocado a T correctamente durante el FB. Sin embargo, T todavía siente que los tocamientos de A fueron impropios. En la demanda, T alegó que A, envuelto en una aparente posición de autoridad, lo había inducido a través de representaciones falsas a confiar razonablemente en él, de modo que A podría causar daño a T mientras actuaba en el marco de su labor. Si P se hubiera opuesto, en efecto diciendo “Sí, ¿Y qué?” a los pedidos de T, ¿la corte se encontraría a favor de T?
(A) Sí, porque T había establecido que A era un empleado que fue colocado como esteticista, lo que permitió a A hacerle daño a T.
(B) No, porque T expresa e implícitamente consintió los tocamientos de A en cualquier manera razonable para que este le proporcione el servicio FB que aquél solicitó.
(C) Sí, porque P se benefició de los ingresos pagados por T en razón del servicio realizado por A.
Arguing a case in front of the Supreme Court, filing amicus briefs, paying for the research and legal expertise necessary to really have a shot at terminating gerrymandering — that’ll take anywhere from $250,000 to $1,000,000.
We’re hoping YOU can help us get to $150,000. And because we must win these cases, I’m personally going to match each and every dollar we raise with my own contribution.
Please chip in whatever you can afford today — even $3 will send a powerful message that the citizens of America won’t stand idly by as politicians protect their jobs instead of earn them.
I have been traveling across the globe, but I had to take a moment to write you a quick note of thanks for joining me in the effort to end partisan gerrymandering.
Now that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case, our work begins in earnest. You are on the front lines of this battle, and I’m grateful to have you with me in this fight. I can think of no better way to celebrate our patriotism after July 4th than boldly proclaiming that as American citizens, we stand united against gerrymandering and the broken political system it has created. We stand against politicians choosing themselves and their jobs over the people. We stand for American citizens taking political power into their own hands. You’ve already done your part by donating — now make sure that your friends know we have the chance to make gerrymandering unconstitutional. Share your support on Facebook.
Together, we’re going to make Washington work for regular people again. I hope you had a fantastic fourth,
What Hannah Arendt’s philosophy can teach us about Trump, Brexit and the dangers of isolation
After Donald Trump was elected president, lots of people started buying books by Hannah Arendt: In December, her 1951 book The Origins of Totalitarianismwas selling at 16 times its normal rate.
Why Arendt, a political theorist who died in 1975? She’s an important philosopher but not exactly a popularly read writer. The answer is simple enough: She has a lot to say about what’s wrong with the world today.
Arendt theorized about the nature of totalitarian societies — how they work, what they prey on, and why they spring up. America is not currently under the yoke of totalitarianism, but the preconditions are there, namely a hollow and fractured society full of dislocated, angry people.
This is what most concerned Arendt, and it ought to concern us today.
I reached out by phone to Lyndsey Stonebridge, a Hannah Arendt scholar who wrote a book about Arendt’s influence, The Judicial Imagination: Writing After Nuremburg. We talked about Arendt’s legacy and how her ideas speak to our present political moment. We also discussed Donald Trump, Brexit, and what Arendt meant when she defined totalitarianism as a form of “organized loneliness.”
Our lightly edited conversation follows.
Why do you think so many people are suddenly interested in Arendt?
I think the resurgence in the last year has been around the phenomenon of totalitarianism and that sense that something like a crisis is occurring and we don’t know how to address it. It’s very interesting that it’s The Origins of Totalitarianism that’s being cited and read.
I read that book in graduate school and was sort of bowled over by it. Her idea that totalitarianism is essentially organized loneliness seems awfully relevant now.
I’ve made the point quite a few times that Arendt was very important as a 20th-century thinker. I’m trained as a literary scholar and a historian at the same time. That’s my dual background. What’s brilliant about The Origins of Totalitarianism is she’s saying you need to invent new methods for understanding new things. That’s why she was blasted for writing The Origins of Totalitarianism, because she wouldn’t give a big historical narrative. She insisted that we pay attention to what was new and what was different.
Let’s linger on that thought for a second. What was it about totalitarianism for Arendt that was new? Why was it uniquely a product of the modern world?
There’s a reason she refused to give some grand historical narrative about the roots of totalitarianism. She believed that certain things had to be in place for totalitarianism to take shape — racism, capitalist expansion for the sake of expansion (what we might call globalization today), the decline of the traditional concept of the nation-state, and anti-Semitism.
Arendt said those things conspired to create a constellation which could produce totalitarianism in the form that she was talking about then.
What strikes you when reading The Origins of Totalitarianism now?
Two things. She said studying totalitarianism was like trying to unpack a crystal. She insisted that she wasn’t a “traditional historian” because historians usually write about things because they want to preserve them, whereas she wanted to write about something “I wanted to destroy.”
She thought she could destroy an idea which is both totalitarian but also endemic to lots of ideological thinking, and that is the idea there is a “telos,” or a grand purpose or struggle, and that everything has to be in service of that idea. She didn’t want to replace the totalitarianisms of her day with another master narrative.
She wanted to explode the belief in master narratives altogether.
I’m glad you went there because that’s something that interests me as well, this belief in grand stories about history or justice — all ideologies have something like this at the center. Why did Arendt believe people were vulnerable to these narratives? Why was modern life making them so attractive?
For Arendt, it was about the isolation of modern life, the emptiness of it all. What she understood — more than someone like [George] Orwell — is that you don’t need to be a totalitarian state to exhibit the characteristic features of totalitarianism. Her focus was on modern loneliness, the isolated individual who loses a kind of rootedness in the world and therefore is prime material for the takeover of ideology, for the total narrative that gives life direction and meaning.
What is the political and social price we pay for allowing society to fracture in this way?
I’d like to answer that by raising a couple of things that Arendt didn’t really wrestle with. The big price we pay for mass loneliness is the loss of a shared reality. Arendt disagreed with Orwell that everyone knows two plus two doesn’t make five. We’re not idiots. We know a lie. But the problem is when people decide they don’t have to accept this reality. Then everyone begins to inhabit their own world, and that loss of a shared reality is what produces the loneliness, and that’s what makes the chaos of post-truth and willful lies so politically and existentially traumatic.
Draw a line for me. How do we get from a loss of shared reality to totalitarianism?
Once you’re uprooted from your sense of reality as a community, that allows all sorts of other uprootings to take place. We lose our human connection to other people, and that’s when the conditions are in place for tribalism and mass violence, for the extermination of “superfluous people,” for “others.” This something Arendt understood all too well.
So obviously we’re dealing with this problem right now, this loss of a shared reality. We’re in this bizarre “post-truth” climate in which our president lies with impunity, fake news and misinformation are pervasive, and much of the country is cocooned inside self-affirming information bubbles. At the same time, there’s a resurgence of racism and ethnonationalism, both here and in Europe.
I take it Arendt would have anticipated this?
Absolutely. The relationship between that kind of politics and violence was inextricable for Arendt. One of the things people do when they’ve become uprooted is to retreat into us-them fictions, and that often means dividing the world racially.
I think the politics of Trumpism and politics of Brexit, the politics of the new right, have deliberately merged, and so you cannot pull them apart. What we’re also getting as a product of this organized loneliness is a valorization of race politics and even violent racism.
Can you give me a concrete example of what you mean by violence there? Because I suspect a lot of people will assume that political violence has to be explicit or overt, but that’s not always the case.
Sure. So we’ve just watched a tower block in London kill 79 people, and that’s a very conservative estimate. That tower block was full of asylum seekers, migrants, poor, working-class, black people. It burned down because there’s a politics that has said in our council and in our country for a long time that the interests of the bourgeois elite and their monetary interests come above those people. There are now criminal proceedings, but it’s an act of murder, and it can’t be divorced from the politics that made it possible.
Let’s connect this back to Trump and Brexit if we can. How are Trump and Brexit direct responses to the loneliness and the uprootedness?
I think these movements give people a coherent fiction. My sense is that it gives them a kind of fantasy, and in both Britain and America it’s a nostalgic fantasy, a belief that we can return to some glorious past in which the middle class boomed and everyone had stable incomes and simpler lives.
Britain has the same economic divisions that America has, and in both countries the liberal elites haven’t fully come to grips with the fact that the economic policies of the last 20 or 30 years have produced a monster, a monster that we created.
So you see Trump and Brexit as twin political phenomena?
I’m slightly more worried about the Trump fantasy than the Brexit fantasy, because Trump’s cult of personality is built on power and narcissism, and I’m not sure the Brexit fantasy is quite as mad as that.
But I don’t want to turn this into a competition!
If it’s a madness competition between Britain and America right now, I’ll take America.
So if Arendt were to emerge out of a void and survey our current political landscape, what do you suppose she would say?
“Think! Think! Think!” I imagine she would also tell us to be scared, but I think she’d have been saying that for the last 10 or 20 years. And she’d say to not just be scared of Trump or Brexit, because those are manifestations of something that’s been happening for a very long time.
You seem to imply that the intellectual class has been blind to this brewing chaos. Is that right?
That’s right. There’s a certain type of left intellectual, both in the US and the UK, that simply doesn’t get it. First, we had Brexit. Then we had Trump. The distinguishing feature of that was an absolute incredulity among certain people to understand what had happened, to understand that something totally spontaneous seemed to have happened that we couldn’t predict and that we didn’t like, that we thought was mad and we didn’t understand.
I think Arendt would’ve said this is what politics does. It’s around the space of interruption. It’s around the spontaneous. And whoever owns that space owns the direction it goes, and so you have to be watchful at all times, especially when the signs of disruption are so clear.
Apart from the elections, what sorts of signs do you have in mind?
I think Arendt would point to things like the prison system in the States, to the housing estates in London, to the forgotten spaces in Middle America with no role to play in this booming global economy — Arendt would say these are the new homes for superfluous people. But they’re real people, and people in power are blind to them.
These are also totalitarian features. When you crowd people into spaces, declare them invisible, declare them immaterial, those are the new spaces of what used to be the totalitarian camp.
Political spontaneity works both ways, though. Are there not also encouraging developments?
Sure. I think Arendt would be enthusiastic about other forms of politics that are coming together in the face of all this. Whereas lots of people are troubled that the Democrats don’t have a central narrative, and until three weeks ago it didn’t seem like the left did in Britain either, I think she’d have been very interested to watch the different groups that are coming together — there’s local community groups and political groups, different international groups — that together form a kind of counter-politics.
Arendt would call this an example of natality, an example of the new, the positive creation that can happen in the face of bad politics. So I think she’d be excited about that.
I want to go back to the concept of thinking, which had a particular meaning for Arendt, a political meaning. When you say that Arendt would look at our current moment and tell us to think, what do you mean? What would she mean?
Well, actually, thinking for Arendt isn’t always political by itself. Thinking is something you do by yourself. It is loneliness. It is isolation. It’s always tricky in Arendt’s work to see how she gets from thinking to politics, which I can talk about in a second. But thinking for Arendt was really a way of being; it’s about the dialogue we have in our head. She wanted to valorize that because it’s an internal check, in the moral and political sense.
Which is why she insisted that all totalitarian societies were defined by a kind of thoughtlessness. They were full of men and women who were smart but stopped thinking in this sense.
Right. She was writing in response to what she saw as totalitarian thoughtlessness. What she noticed about [Nazi leader Adolf] Eichmann when she went to see him [on trial] in Jerusalem was that he spoke purely in clichés, in banalities. She said he could only do that because he hasn’t got the inner voice, he hasn’t got that second voice in his head. He’s a human machine, a thoughtless tool. His thoughts were the thoughts drilled him into via the propaganda and the slogans.
Which is why she always cautioned against banal or clichéd speech; this was a sign that people had stopped thinking for themselves, and once that happens, totalitarianism isn’t far behind.
Let’s close with something useful for readers who are interested in reading Arendt as a way of making sense of the present. Where should they start?
The essays that I go back to are the “Thinking and Moral Considerations” essay, which she wrote coming out of the Eichmann trial. The book on Eichmann is wonderful just for its sense of narrative and indignation. But the “Thinking and Moral Considerations” essay is especially interesting because it was written during the Watergate scandal. There was a real sense of America tearing itself down and a belief that something different was happening.
It was an issue that united Bernie Sanders on the left and Donald Trump on the right: opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
It’s one reason Trump won the White House, amid populist calls for protectionism. Many blue-collar workers in traditionally manufacturing-heavy states like Michigan blamed the trade deal for job losses, declining wages, and companies shifting manufacturing to Mexico.
President Trump, in particular, made the debate over free trade one of the central topics of his campaign. He argued in favor of ripping up trade deals, said NAFTA was “the worst trade deal in the history of the country,” and called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, “a rape of our country.”
During his first week in office, Trump signed an executive regarding his intent to pull the US out of the TTP. Additionally, he has on multiple occasions stated his intent to “renegotiate” NAFTA.
With its future in doubt, following is a guide to everything NAFTA — past, present, and future.
What is NAFTA?
The North American Free Trade Agreement is a trade deal between the US, Mexico, and Canada. It was negotiated under President George H. W. Bush and implemented under President Bill Clinton in 1994 after heated debate in Congress.
NAFTA eliminated most tariffs, such as taxes on imports and exports, and on traded goods among the three nations. It put in place processes to get rid of other trade barriers too. The agreement followed the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement, which was implemented in 1989 and aimed to eliminate trade barriers between the two nations.
NAFTA — and other trade agreements such as TPP — should not be conflated with trade in general. Trade, in its simplest definition, is the exchange of goods or services between entities. Trade agreements like NAFTA and TPP establish legal frameworks to ease the flow of goods and services across national borders. As we will see below, this has positive and negative consequences.
What was NAFTA intended to do?
The point of NAFTA was to encourage economic integration among the US, Mexico, and Canada. And that, by extension, was supposed to boost economic prosperity for all three.
Trade between countries can theoretically improve economic efficiency and make everyone wealthier by allowing countries to specialize in what they’re good at.
For example, if the US can grow corn more efficiently than Mexico, and Mexico can build cars more efficiently than the US, then it makes more sense for the US to grow a lot of corn and Mexico to build a lot of cars, and then for both countries to trade cars for corn with each other, rather than for each country to less efficiently do both things on its own.
More concretely, one effect of increased economic integration would be for US firms to move production over to Mexico where labor is cheaper than in the US or Canada — for example, with the auto industry.
Ahead of the deal’s implementation, President Clinton argued that, in the longer-term view, NAFTA was also about the US adapting to the changing technological and economic landscape.
“In a fundamental sense, this debate about NAFTA is a debate about whether we will embrace these changes and create the jobs of tomorrow, or try to resist these changes, hoping we can preserve the economic structures of yesterday,” he said at the signing ceremony for the supplemental agreements to NAFTA on September 14, 1993.
He continued in the speech:
“I tell you, my fellow Americans, that if we learned anything from the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the governments in Eastern Europe, even a totally controlled society cannot resist the winds of change that economics and technology and information flow have imposed in this world of ours. That is not an option. Our only realistic option is to embrace these changes and create the jobs of tomorrow. […]
Together, the efforts of two administrations now have created a trade agreement that moves beyond the traditional notions of free trade, seeking to ensure trade that pulls everybody up instead of dragging some down while others go up. […] This agreement will create jobs, thanks to trade with our neighbors. That’s reason enough to support it.”
In retrospect, it’s notable that Clinton’s proposed solution to the “changes” happening in economics and technology in the early 1990s — that is, “to embrace these changes and create the jobs of tomorrow” — is virtually the opposite of Trump’s proposed solution to economic and technological challenges of 2016 (“to Make America Great Again” by trying to go back to the old-school manufacturing jobs.)
Is there any point to NAFTA aside from the economics and jobs angle?
At least to some degree, free-trade deals are not just about the economic benefits for your own country, but are also about fostering positive relations with the other country. Or, as some economics professors like to say, “When goods don’t pass international borders, soldiers will.”
“NAFTA advocates say the economic debate misses the bigger point of the deal, which has been to ameliorate longstanding tensions across the border and turn Mexico into a more steadfast US ally. By that standard, they say, the pact has been a great success, fostering more bilateral cooperation on issues from crime to the environment—and keeping Mexico from following the path of left-wing Latin American countries or drifting closer to American rivals like China.”
On a related note, analysts had argued that TPP was largely about geopolitical benefits — namely, the US’s position in Asia.
What happened to American workers after NAFTA was signed?
Some believe NAFTA has hurt US workers, and there is empirical evidence to back up these grievances.
In 2016, economists Shushanik Hakobyan and John McLaren explored NAFTA’s effect on the US labor market by looking at wage growth among employed workers and comparing census data from 1990 to 2000 — the census before NAFTA took effect and the one after.
They found mixed effects on the US labor force. Although for the average worker there wasn’t too much of a difference, a concentrated minority saw a significant decrease in wage growth that could be correlated with NAFTA. Blue-collar workers were more likely to be affected, college-educated workers were less so, and executives saw some benefits.
“The most affected workers were college dropouts working in industries that depended heavily on tariff protections in place prior to NAFTA. These workers saw wage growth drop by as much as 17 percentage points relative to wage growth in unaffected industries,” McLaren said in an interview with UVA Today.
“If you were a blue-collar worker at the end of the ’90s and your wages are 17% lower than they could have been, that could be a disaster for your family.”
McLaren said that it wasn’t just the industries that were affected but entire towns that depended on those industries: Factory towns have grocery stores, bowling alleys, and public schools that all rely on industrial workers as customers. The example McLaren gave was this: “A waitress working in a town that depends heavily on apparel manufacturing might miss out on wage growth, even though she does not work in an industry directly affected by trade.”
Ultimately, he notes that, yes, there is evidence to support that for some American workers, wages were hurt by NAFTA. However, at the same time, these figures should not be exaggerated.
“I think it is important to get the information on the table and to show that there do appear to be blue-collar workers whose incomes have been reduced by this trade agreement,” he told UVA Today. “At the same time, I think it is important to use data to prevent those claims from being exaggerated. Some commentators throw around claims that millions of jobs were destroyed by NAFTA, which I don’t think are supported by the evidence.”
Did manufacturing employment start falling only after NAFTA?
No. The decline in American manufacturing employment predates NAFTA, as you can see in the annotated chart below. In other words, NAFTA alone is not responsible for the loss of US manufacturing jobs.
Additionally, it’s notable that a big drop-off in manufacturing jobs correlates with the economic shock of China joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001. And, the steepest decline occurs after the financial and housing crisis in 2007-08.
Some empirical evidence suggests China’s emergence affected US wages and jobs, too.
“Adjustment in local labor markets is remarkably slow, with wages and labor-force participation rates remaining depressed and unemployment rates remaining elevated for at least a full decade after the China trade shock commences. …
“Exposed workers experience greater job churning and reduced lifetime income. At the national level, employment has fallen in U.S. industries more exposed to import competition, as expected, but offsetting employment gains in other industries have yet to materialize.”
Additionally, although Trump has fixated on the US trade deficit with Mexico, it’s notable that it is far smaller than the US trade deficit with China. Both deficits are highlighted in red below.
Has trade been the only factor correlated with manufacturing job losses?
No. Automation has also played a role.
A couple of months back, Capital Economics’ Andrew Hunter shared a chart in a note to clients comparing manufacturing output (purple line) to manufacturing employment (black line).
Although manufacturing employment has been trickling downward since the mid-1980s, manufacturing output has been increasing and is now near its pre-financial crisis high. In other words, firms have been able to increase output overall with fewer workers over the years, which is likely at least partially due to automation.
“It’s true that many of the manufacturing sectors that account for the bulk of the jobs lost over the past 15 years are also the ones subjected to the most competition from Chinese exports. But US manufacturing has also experienced high productivity growth, with the computers and electronics industry, which has lost the most jobs, seeing the fastest productivity growth of all,” wrote Hunter.
Moreover, it’s worth noting that manufacturing as a share of nonfarm employees has been on the decline since the 1970s — before NAFTA, China joining the WTO, and the Great Recession.
The takeaway here is that reversing the downward trend in manufacturing jobs is going to be incredibly difficult.
What were the positives from NAFTA for the US?
Trade among the NAFTA partners increased from about $290 billion in 1993 to over $1 trillion by 2016, according to data cited by the Council on Foreign Relations. Moreover, Canada and Mexico are the two largest destinations for US exports, making up over a third of the total.
Additionally, NAFTA has been credited with helping the US auto sector become globally competitive due to the cross-border supply chains. And American farmers have benefitted from NAFTA: Since the agreement’s implementation, US agricultural exports have nearly doubled to Mexico, and have increased by about 44% to Canada, according to the Office of the US Trade Representative.
How did American voters feel about trade deals leading up to the US election?
A Pew Research Center survey published in March 2016 found that Democratic and Democratic-leaning respondents had a more positive view of free trade agreements (60% good thing vs. 30% bad thing) while Republican and Republican-leaning respondents had a more negative view (40% good thing vs. 52% bad thing).
More strikingly, however, was the data within the bloc of Republican voters. From Pew:
“67% of Trump supporters say free trade agreements have been a bad thing for the U.S., while just 27% say they have been a good thing. Republican supporters of Ted Cruz (48% good thing vs. 40% bad thing) and John Kasich (44% good thing vs. 46% bad thing) hold more mixed views. […]
“[C]riticism of trade deals in general is particularly strong among Republican and Republican-leaning supporters of GOP presidential contender Donald Trump who are registered voters. Americans ages 65 and older and men, especially white men, stand out among this group.”
“Given persistent trade deficits that have contributed to long-term wage stagnation, along with corporate capture and the absence of consumer, labor, and environmental voices at the trade-negotiating table, perhaps it’s not so crazy that these trade deals have become code for a lot of other stuff that’s gone wrong for many in the working class,” Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and former Chief Economist and economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, argued in a blog post.
He also emphasized that it’s important to note that trade deals should not be conflated with trade in general, despite the fact that voters and politicians often do.
“From a political perspective, I don’t think the focus on trade is misplaced. It’s effective because it has an ‘other.’ It has a competitor or an enemy. People can picture this,” Alexander Kazan, a strategist at Eurasia Group, said in a video for the Eurasia Group Foundation. “When you talk about technology, it’s much more amorphous. It’s this sense that we all lose. So I think politically it’s less effective.”
Will NAFTA be torn apart?
The Trump administration states on the White House website that it is “committed to renegotiating NAFTA. If our partners refuse a renegotiation that gives American workers a fair deal, then the President will give notice of the United States’ intent to withdraw from NAFTA.”
At the same time, NAFTA has “created a complex integration between Mexico and the US that would be difficult and costly to break,” Barclays’ Marco Oviedo and Nestor Rodriguez wrote in a note to clients in January.
They continued in greater detail (emphasis added):
“After 22 years of this free-trade agreement, the Mexico-US trade relationship, particularly in manufacturing, has become very integrated. In fact, it is estimated that Mexico’s exports to the US comprise 40% of US value added, the largest fraction among similar economies (China is 4.2%, Canada, 25%). In that sense, separating both manufacturing sectors seems highly costly and as difficult as trying to separate the yolk from a scrambled egg. If the US were to leave NAFTA, Mexican exports to the US would face the tariffs set by the WTO, which are rather low (2.5%). However, tariffs applied to exports from the US and Canada would be higher (close to 10%). In this scenario, Mexico could choose unilaterally to reduce tariffs on its imports of US goods to avoid a disruption in trade, given its low labor costs and access to other markets.”
Oviedo and Rodriguez argue that it’s more likely that the agreement will be “renegotiated,” although there are few specifics as of this writing.
“[I]t is unclear what aspects can be modernized or if the administration plans to impose technical restrictions, differentiated tariffs or other forms of protectionism,” the duo added in their note. “Any negotiations would likely be long and could take up Donald Trump’s entire term in office (the NAFTA negotiations took five years).”
What if NAFTA is scrapped? Then what?
The trade deficit with Mexico is primarily driven by transportation equipment followed by computer and electronic products, according to figures from 2015, which you can see below.
Tariffs or other measures to restrict trade within the NAFTA countries could adversely affect US firms in these sectors, according to Andrew Hunter, US economist at Capital Economics.
“The foreign subsidiaries of US automakers have more than $15 billion of plant, property, and equipment in the two countries. Efforts by Trump to force companies to shift production back to the US, where labor costs are higher […] could seriously damage their competitiveness relative to foreign producers,” he wrote in a note to clients.
What does NAFTA mean for stocks?
On January 27, Trump tweeted: “Mexico has taken advantage of the US for long enough. Massive trade deficits [and] little help on the very weak border must change, NOW!”
Not everyone agrees with that characterization.
“Mexico may run a large trade surplus with the US, but the idea that it has ‘taken advantage’ of its large neighbor […] is surely wide off the mark,” wrote Capital Economics’ John Higgins in a note to clients.
“Arguably, the opposite is true, which is why his policies pose a serious threat to the earnings of the companies that dominate the S&P 500.”
US multinationals, which make up a big chunk of the S&P 500, have moved operations into Mexico since the implementation of NAFTA at least in part to keep production costs down (via cheaper labor costs there) in order to stay competitive in the global market. Lower labor costs have then boosted profitability, after which share prices have risen.
“Unwinding this process — whether in Mexico or elsewhere — might bring back some jobs to the US. But goods would be more expensive to produce with US labor than with foreign labor. And the cost of labor in the US would probably rise, given that there is no longer much unemployment in the economy,” wrote Higgins. “The pain for US [multinational enterprises] could conceivably be eased by tax cuts, but at the expense of a bigger fiscal deficit.”
“The S&P 500 has benefited tremendously from globalization. Donald Trump should be careful what he wishes for.”
El presidente Donald Trump visita Miami este viernes para anunciar importantes cambios a la política de Estados Unidos hacia Cuba.
Estas son algunas de las principales declaraciones del presidente Trump:
–“La política reafirma el embargo estadounidense impuesto por ley a Cuba y se opone a los llamados dentro de Estados Unidos y otros foros internacionales para acabar con él”.
— “Es mejor para Estados Unidos tener libertad en nuestra región, tanto en Cuba como en Venezuela”.
— “Cuando los cubanos den pasos concretos, estaremos listos, preparados y capaces de volver a la mesa para negociar ese acuerdo, que será mucho mejor”.
— “Ahora que soy presidente, Estados Unidos denunciaré los crímenes del régimen de Castro”, dijo, además de denunciar los sufrimientos de los cubanos “durante cerca de seis décadas”. “Sabemos lo que pasa y recordamos lo que pasó”.
— “Retamos a Cuba a venir a la mesa con un nuevo acuerdo que esté en el mejor interés tanto de su pueblo como del nuestro”.
Trump cambiará significativamente la política estadounidense hacia Cuba, con la introducción de restricciones para hacer negocios con el mayor conglomerado de empresas militares y mayores controles a los viajeros que visiten la isla.
La nueva política de Trump intenta reducir drásticamente el flujo de dinero que le llega al gobierno cubano y presionarlo para que permita un mayor desarrollo del sector privado. Estados Unidos mantendrá, no obstante, las relaciones diplomáticas con Cuba y su embajada en La Habana. Los viajes familiares y las remesas que envían los cubanoamericanos tampoco serán afectados.
El discurso fue desde el Teatro Manuel Artime, en La Pequeña Habana. La transmisión en vivo concluyó a las 2:15 pm, hora del este.
Es uno de los lingüistas más famosos del mundo y un gran defensor de la izquierda política global. El académico estadounidense, además, se caracteriza por ser un activista polémico y provocador.
Después de haber apoyado públicamente el socialismo durante décadas, a sus 88 años Noam Chomsky sigue clamando contra la injusticia social y la clase política que dirige Estados Unidos.
Aprovechando una visita a la Universidad de Reading (Inglaterra), la BBC tuvo la oportunidad de entrevistarlo y preguntarle acerca de la situación actual de la política occidental y, en especial, sobre lo que está ocurriendo en Estados Unidos con Donald Trump como presidente.
¿A qué apeló Donald Trump para llegar a la presidencia de EE.UU.?
La alternativa, que era el Partido Demócrata, se rindió con la clase trabajadora hace 40 años. La clase trabajadora no es su distrito electoral. Nadie los representa en el sistema político. Los republicanos, aunque dicen ser sus representantes, son básicamente los enemigos de la clase trabajadora. Su mensaje político, sin embargo, está dirigido a la gente religiosa y a la supremacía blanca.
O sea, ¿cree que hubo una motivación racista en su elección?
Sin ninguna duda. Aunque el porcentaje que representó este tipo de votantes es discutible, no cabe duda que Trump sedujo a una gran parte de los fundamentalistas cristianos, un segmento importante de la población estadounidense.
¿El daño que está haciendo Trump a las instituciones estadounidenses terminará con su mandato o será permanente?
Está perjudicando y dañando el planeta. El aspecto más significativo de la elección de Trump no es sólo el propio Donald Trump, sino también lo que ha ocurrido con el partido republicano, que ha dejado solo al resto del mundo ante el cambio climático.
Usted define al Partido Republicano como la organización más peligrosa de la Tierra.
Y de la historia de la Humanidad. En su momento dije que eran unas declaraciones escandalosas, pero es la verdad.
¿Peor que la Corea del Norte de Kim Jong-un o Estado Islámico?
¿Acaso Estado Islámico está tratando de destruir la perspectiva de la existencia humana organizada? Lo que quiero decir es que no sólo no hacemos nada por prevenir el cambio climático, sino que estamos tratando de acelerar la carrera hacia el precipicio.
Los republicanos están convencidos de que la ciencia que está detrás del cambio climático carece de fundamento.
No importa si realmente lo creen o no. La gente que verdaderamente cree en Jesucristo confía en que vendrá a salvarlos durante su vida.
Pero si la consecuencia de que crean o no en la ciencia es que vamos a utilizar más combustibles fósiles, no vamos a subvencionar a países en vías de desarrollo y estamos dispuestos a eliminar las regulaciones que obligan a reducir las emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero, entonces las consecuencias son extremadamente peligrosas.
A menos que vivas debajo de una roca, tienes que reconocer la seriedad de esta amenaza.
El político europeísta y liberal Emmanuel Macron ganó las elecciones francesas. ¿Usted cree que tendrá éxito? ¿Es este el fin del populismo en Europa?
El caso de Macron es un buen ejemplo del colapso de las grandes instituciones. Es un candidato independiente y los que votaron por él lo hicieron, sustancialmente, contra Le Pen. Ella sí que es un serio peligro.
¿Qué opina de las elecciones británicas y del candidato del Partido Laborista, Jeremy Corbyn?
Si fuera un votante británico, votaría por Jeremy Corbyn. Creo que Corbyn es una persona buena y decente. Sigo su carrera desde hace años y creo que el problema del partido laborista es que carece de programa y no representa a la clase trabajadora.
Usted siempre ha sido un firme defensor de Julian Assange y Wikileaks. Muchos progresistas, sin embargo, no confían en la organización.
Creo que la persecución contra Assange y la amenaza que despierta su persona son completamente infundadas. Las acusaciones deberían ser retiradas y él tendría que poder ser libre.
Considero que los procesos en su contra son un fraude. No hay razón para que las autoridades suecas lo quieran interrogar. Si sigue preso (en la embajada) es por el miedo a ser perseguido por Estados Unidos. Por esa misma razón Edward Snowden sigue en Rusia.
By MATT APUZZO, MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT, ADAM GOLDMAN and ERIC LICHTBLAU – APRIL 22, 2017
As the F.B.I. investigated Hillary Clinton and the Trump campaign, James B. Comey tried to keep the bureau out of politics but plunged it into the center of a bitter election.
WASHINGTON — The day before he upended the 2016 election, James B. Comey, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, summoned agents and lawyers to his conference room. They had been debating all day, and it was time for a decision.
Mr. Comey’s plan was to tell Congress that the F.B.I. had received new evidence and was reopening its investigation into Hillary Clinton, the presidential front-runner. The move would violate the policies of an agency that does not reveal its investigations or do anything that may influence an election. But Mr. Comey had declared the case closed, and he believed he was obligated to tell Congress that had changed.
“Should you consider what you’re about to do may help elect Donald Trump president?” an adviser asked him, Mr. Comey recalled recently at a closed meeting with F.B.I. agents.
He could not let politics affect his decision, he replied. “If we ever start considering who might be affected, and in what way, by what we do, we’re done,” he told the agents.
But with polls showing Mrs. Clinton holding a comfortable lead, Mr. Comey ended up plunging the F.B.I. into the molten center of a bitter election. Fearing the backlash that would come if it were revealed after the election that the F.B.I. had been investigating the next president and had kept it a secret, Mr. Comey sent a letter informing Congress that the case was reopened.
What he did not say was that the F.B.I. was also investigating the campaign of Donald J. Trump. Just weeks before, Mr. Comey had declined to answer a question from Congress about whether there was such an investigation. Only in March, long after the election, did Mr. Comey confirm that there was one.
For Mr. Comey, keeping the F.B.I. out of politics is such a preoccupation that he once said he would never play basketball with President Barack Obama because of the appearance of being chummy with the man who appointed him. But in the final months of the presidential campaign, the leader of the nation’s pre-eminent law enforcement agency shaped the contours, if not the outcome, of the presidential race by his handling of the Clinton and Trump-related investigations.
An examination by The New York Times, based on interviews with more than 30 current and former law enforcement, congressional and other government officials, found that while partisanship was not a factor in Mr. Comey’s approach to the two investigations, he handled them in starkly different ways. In the case of Mrs. Clinton, he rewrote the script, partly based on the F.B.I.’s expectation that she would win and fearing the bureau would be accused of helping her. In the case of Mr. Trump, he conducted the investigation by the book, with the F.B.I.’s traditional secrecy. Many of the officials discussed the investigations on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.
Mr. Comey made those decisions with the supreme self-confidence of a former prosecutor who, in a distinguished career, has cultivated a reputation for what supporters see as fierce independence, and detractors view as media-savvy arrogance.
The Times found that this go-it-alone strategy was shaped by his distrust of senior officials at the Justice Department, who he and other F.B.I. officials felt had provided Mrs. Clinton with political cover. The distrust extended to his boss, Loretta E. Lynch, the attorney general, who Mr. Comey believed had subtly helped play down the Clinton investigation.
His misgivings were only fueled by the discovery last year of a document written by a Democratic operative that seemed — at least in the eyes of Mr. Comey and his aides — to raise questions about her independence. In a bizarre example of how tangled the F.B.I. investigations had become, the document had been stolen by Russian hackers.
The examination also showed that at one point, President Obama himself was reluctant to disclose the suspected Russian influence in the election last summer, for fear his administration would be accused of meddling.
Mr. Comey, the highest-profile F.B.I. director since J. Edgar Hoover, has not squarely addressed his decisions last year. He has touched on them only obliquely, asserting that the F.B.I. is blind to partisan considerations. “We’re not considering whose ox will be gored by this action or that action, whose fortune will be helped,” he said at a public event recently. “We just don’t care. We can’t care. We only ask: ‘What are the facts? What is the law?’”
But circumstances and choices landed him in uncharted and perhaps unwanted territory, as he made what he thought were the least damaging choices from even less desirable alternatives.
“This was unique in the history of the F.B.I.,” said Michael B. Steinbach, the former senior national security official at the F.B.I., who worked closely with Mr. Comey, describing the circumstances the agency faced last year while investigating both the Republican and Democratic candidates for president. “People say, ‘This has never been done before.’ Well, there never was a before. Or ‘That’s not normally how you do it.’ There wasn’t anything normal about this.”
‘Federal Bureau of Matters’
Mr. Comey owes his job and his reputation to the night in 2004 when he rushed to the Washington hospital room of John Ashcroft, the attorney general, and prevented Bush administration officials from persuading him to reauthorize a classified program that had been ruled unconstitutional. At the time, Mr. Comey, a Republican, was the deputy attorney general.
Years later, when Mr. Obama was looking for a new F.B.I. director, Mr. Comey seemed an inspired bipartisan choice. But his style eventually grated on his bosses at the Justice Department.
In 2015, as prosecutors pushed for greater accountability for police misconduct, Mr. Comey embraced the controversial theory that scrutiny of police officers led to increases in crime — the so-called Ferguson effect. “We were really caught off guard,” said Vanita Gupta, the Justice Department’s top civil rights prosecutor at the time. “He lobbed a fairly inflammatory statement, without data to back it up, and walked away.”
On other issues, Mr. Comey bucked the administration but won praise from his agents, who saw him as someone who did what he believed was right, regardless of the political ramifications.
“Jim sees his role as apolitical and independent,” said Daniel C. Richman, a longtime confidant and friend of Mr. Comey’s. “The F.B.I. director, even as he reports to the attorney general, often has to stand apart from his boss.”
The F.B.I.’s involvement with Mrs. Clinton’s emails began in July 2015 when it received a letter from the inspector general for the intelligence community.
The letter said that classified information had been found on Mrs. Clinton’s home email server, which she had used as secretary of state. The secret email setup was already proving to be a damaging issue in her presidential campaign.
Mr. Comey’s deputies quickly concluded that there was reasonable evidence that a crime may have occurred in the way classified materials were handled, and that the F.B.I. had to investigate. “We knew as an organization that we didn’t have a choice,” said John Giacalone, a former mob investigator who had risen to become the F.B.I.’s top national security official.
On July 10, 2015, the F.B.I. opened a criminal investigation, code-named “Midyear,” into Mrs. Clinton’s handling of classified information. The Midyear team included two dozen investigators led by a senior analyst and by an experienced F.B.I. supervisor, Peter Strzok, a former Army officer who had worked on some of the most secretive investigations in recent years involving Russian and Chinese espionage.
There was controversy almost immediately.
Responding to questions from The Times, the Justice Department confirmed that it had received a criminal referral — the first step toward a criminal investigation — over Mrs. Clinton’s handling of classified information.
But the next morning, the department revised its statement.
“The department has received a referral related to the potential compromise of classified information,” the new statement read. “It is not a criminal referral.”
At the F.B.I., this was a distinction without a difference: Despite what officials said in public, agents had been alerted to mishandled classified information and in response, records show, had opened a full criminal investigation.
The Justice Department knew a criminal investigation was underway, but officials said they were being technically accurate about the nature of the referral. Some at the F.B.I. suspected that Democratic appointees were playing semantic games to help Mrs. Clinton, who immediately seized on the statement to play down the issue. “It is not a criminal investigation,” she said, incorrectly. “It is a security review.”
In September of that year, as Mr. Comey prepared for his first public questions about the case at congressional hearings and press briefings, he went across the street to the Justice Department to meet with Ms. Lynch and her staff.
Both had been federal prosecutors in New York — Mr. Comey in the Manhattan limelight, Ms. Lynch in the lower-wattage Brooklyn office. The 6-foot-8 Mr. Comey commanded a room and the spotlight. Ms. Lynch, 5 feet tall, was known for being cautious and relentlessly on message. In her five months as attorney general, she had shown no sign of changing her style.
At the meeting, everyone agreed that Mr. Comey should not reveal details about the Clinton investigation. But Ms. Lynch told him to be even more circumspect: Do not even call it an investigation, she said, according to three people who attended the meeting. Call it a “matter.”
Ms. Lynch reasoned that the word “investigation” would raise other questions: What charges were being investigated? Who was the target? But most important, she believed that the department should stick by its policy of not confirming investigations.
It was a by-the-book decision. But Mr. Comey and other F.B.I. officials regarded it as disingenuous in an investigation that was so widely known. And Mr. Comey was concerned that a Democratic attorney general was asking him to be misleading and line up his talking points with Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, according to people who spoke with him afterward.
As the meeting broke up, George Z. Toscas, a national security prosecutor, ribbed Mr. Comey. “I guess you’re the Federal Bureau of Matters now,” Mr. Toscas said, according to two people who were there.
Despite his concerns, Mr. Comey avoided calling it an investigation. “I am confident we have the resources and the personnel assigned to the matter,” Mr. Comey told reporters days after the meeting.
The F.B.I. investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s email server was the biggest political story in the country in the fall of 2015. But something much bigger was happening in Washington. And nobody recognized it.
While agents were investigating Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic National Committee’s computer system was compromised. It appeared to have been the work of Russian hackers.
The significance of this moment is obvious now, but it did not immediately cause alarm at the F.B.I. or the Justice Department.
Over the previous year, dozens of think tanks, universities and political organizations associated with both parties had fallen prey to Russian spear phishing — emails that tricked victims into clicking on malicious links. The D.N.C. intrusion was a concern, but no more than the others.
Months passed before the D.N.C. and the F.B.I. met to address the hacks. And it would take more than a year for the government to conclude that the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, had an audacious plan to steer the outcome of an American election.
Despite moments of tension between leaders of the F.B.I. and the Justice Department, agents and prosecutors working on the case made progress. “The investigative team did a thorough job,” Mr. Giacalone said. “They left no stone unturned.”
They knew it would not be enough to prove that Mrs. Clinton was sloppy or careless. To bring charges, they needed evidence that she knowingly received classified information or set up her server for that purpose.
That was especially important after a deal the Justice Department had made with David H. Petraeus, the retired general and former director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Mr. Petraeus had passed classified information to his biographer, with whom he was having an affair, and the evidence was damning: He revealed the names of covert agents and other secrets, he was recorded saying that he knew it was wrong, and he lied to the F.B.I.
But over Mr. Comey’s objections, the Justice Department let Mr. Petraeus plead guilty in April 2015 to a misdemeanor count of mishandling classified information. Charging Mrs. Clinton with the same crime, without evidence of intent, would be difficult.
One nagging issue was that Mrs. Clinton had deleted an unknown number of emails from her early months at the State Department — before she installed the home server. Agents believed that those emails, sent from a BlackBerry account, might be their best hope of assessing Mrs. Clinton’s intentions when she moved to the server. If only they could find them.
In spring last year, Mr. Strzok, the counterintelligence supervisor, reported to Mr. Comey that Mrs. Clinton had clearly been careless, but agents and prosecutors agreed that they had no proof of intent. Agents had not yet interviewed Mrs. Clinton or her aides, but the outcome was coming into focus.
Nine months into the investigation, it became clear to Mr. Comey that Mrs. Clinton was almost certainly not going to face charges. He quietly began work on talking points, toying with the notion that in the midst of a bitter presidential campaign, a Justice Department led by Democrats may not have the credibility to close the case, and that he alone should explain that decision to the public.
A Suspicious Document
A document obtained by the F.B.I. reinforced that idea.
During Russia’s hacking campaign against the United States, intelligence agencies could peer, at times, into Russian networks and see what had been taken. Early last year, F.B.I. agents received a batch of hacked documents, and one caught their attention.
The document, which has been described as both a memo and an email, was written by a Democratic operative who expressed confidence that Ms. Lynch would keep the Clinton investigation from going too far, according to several former officials familiar with the document.
Read one way, it was standard Washington political chatter. Read another way, it suggested that a political operative might have insight into Ms. Lynch’s thinking.
Normally, when the F.B.I. recommends closing a case, the Justice Department agrees and nobody says anything. The consensus in both places was that the typical procedure would not suffice in this instance, but who would be the spokesman?
The document complicated that calculation, according to officials. If Ms. Lynch announced that the case was closed, and Russia leaked the document, Mr. Comey believed it would raise doubts about the independence of the investigation.
Mr. Comey sought advice from someone he has trusted for many years. He dispatched his deputy to meet with David Margolis, who had served at the Justice Department since the Johnson administration and who, at 76, was dubbed the Yoda of the department.
What exactly was said is not known. Mr. Margolis died of heart problems a few months later. But some time after that meeting, Mr. Comey began talking to his advisers about announcing the end of the Clinton investigation himself, according to a former official.
“When you looked at the totality of the situation, we were leaning toward: This is something that makes sense to be done alone,” said Mr. Steinbach, who would not confirm the existence of the Russian document.
Former Justice Department officials are deeply skeptical of this account. If Mr. Comey believed that Ms. Lynch were compromised, they say, why did he not seek her recusal? Mr. Comey never raised this issue with Ms. Lynch or the deputy attorney general, Sally Q. Yates, former officials said.
Mr. Comey’s defenders regard this as one of the untold stories of the Clinton investigation, one they say helps explain his decision-making. But former Justice Department officials say the F.B.I. never uncovered evidence tying Ms. Lynch to the document’s author, and are convinced that Mr. Comey wanted an excuse to put himself in the spotlight.
As the Clinton investigation headed into its final months, there were two very different ideas about how the case would end. Ms. Lynch and her advisers thought a short statement would suffice, probably on behalf of both the Justice Department and the F.B.I.
Mr. Comey was making his own plans.
A Hot Tarmac
A chance encounter set those plans in motion.
In late June, Ms. Lynch’s plane touched down at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport as part of her nationwide tour of police departments. Former President Bill Clinton was also in Phoenix that day, leaving from the same tarmac.
Ms. Lynch’s staff loaded into vans, leaving the attorney general and her husband on board. Mr. Clinton’s Secret Service agents mingled with her security team. When the former president learned who was on the plane, his aides say, he asked to say hello.
Mr. Clinton’s aides say he intended only to greet Ms. Lynch as she disembarked. But Ms. Lynch later told colleagues that the message she received — relayed from one security team to another — was that Mr. Clinton wanted to come aboard, and she agreed.
When Ms. Lynch’s staff members noticed Mr. Clinton boarding the plane, a press aide hurriedly called the Justice Department’s communications director, Melanie Newman, who said to break up the meeting immediately. A staff member rushed to stop it, but by the time the conversation ended, Mr. Clinton had been on the plane for about 20 minutes.
The meeting made the local news the next day and was soon the talk of Washington. Ms. Lynch said they had only exchanged pleasantries about golf and grandchildren, but Republicans called for her to recuse herself and appoint a special prosecutor.
Ms. Lynch said she would not step aside but would accept whatever career prosecutors and the F.B.I. recommended on the Clinton case — something she had planned to do all along.
Mr. Comey never suggested that she recuse herself. But at that moment, he knew for sure that when there was something to say about the case, he alone would say it.
Calling a Conference
Agents interviewed Mrs. Clinton for more than three and a half hours in Washington the next day, and the interview did not change the unanimous conclusion among agents and prosecutors that she should not be charged.
Two days later, on the morning of July 5, Mr. Comey called Ms. Lynch to say that he was about to hold a news conference. He did not tell her what he planned to say, and Ms. Lynch did not demand to know.
On short notice, the F.B.I. summoned reporters to its headquarters for the briefing.
A few blocks away, Mrs. Clinton was about to give a speech. At her campaign offices in Brooklyn, staff members hurried in front of televisions. And at the Justice Department and the F.B.I., prosecutors and agents watched anxiously.
“We were very much aware what was about to happen,” said Mr. Steinbach, who had taken over as the F.B.I.’s top national security official earlier that year. “This was going to be hotly contested.”
With a black binder in hand, Mr. Comey walked into a large room on the ground floor of the F.B.I.’s headquarters. Standing in front of two American flags and two royal-blue F.B.I. flags, he read from a script.
He said the F.B.I. had reviewed 30,000 emails and discovered 110 that contained classified information. He said computer hackers may have compromised Mrs. Clinton’s emails. And he criticized the State Department’s lax security culture and Mrs. Clinton directly.
“Any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position” should have known better, Mr. Comey said. He called her “extremely careless.”
The criticism was so blistering that it sounded as if he were recommending criminal charges. Only in the final two minutes did Mr. Comey say that “no charges are appropriate in this case.”
The script had been edited and revised several times, former officials said. Mr. Strzok, Mr. Steinbach, lawyers and others debated every phrase. Speaking so openly about a closed case is rare, and the decision to do so was not unanimous, officials said. But the team ultimately agreed that there was an obligation to inform American voters.
“We didn’t want anyone to say, ‘If I just knew that, I wouldn’t have voted that way,’” Mr. Steinbach said. “You can argue that’s not the F.B.I.’s job, but there was no playbook for this. This is somebody who’s going to be president of the United States.”
Mr. Comey’s criticism — his description of her carelessness — was the most controversial part of the speech. Agents and prosecutors have been reprimanded for injecting their legal conclusions with personal opinions. But those close to Mr. Comey say he has no regrets.
By scolding Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Comey was speaking not only to voters but to his own agents. While they agreed that Mrs. Clinton should not face charges, many viewed her conduct as inexcusable. Mr. Comey’s remarks made clear that the F.B.I. did not approve.
Former agents and others close to Mr. Comey acknowledge that his reproach was also intended to insulate the F.B.I. from Republican criticism that it was too lenient toward a Democrat.
At the Justice Department, frustrated prosecutors said Mr. Comey should have consulted with them first. Mrs. Clinton’s supporters said that Mr. Comey’s condemnations seemed to make an oblique case for charging her, undermining the effect of his decision.
“He came up with a Rube Goldberg-type solution that caused him more problems than if he had just played it straight,” said Brian Fallon, the Clinton campaign press secretary and a former Justice Department spokesman.
Furious Republicans saw the legal cloud over Mrs. Clinton lifting and tore into Mr. Comey.
In the days after the announcement, Mr. Comey and Ms. Lynch each testified before Congress, with different results. Neither the F.B.I. nor the Justice Department normally gives Congress a fact-by-fact recounting of its investigations, and Ms. Lynch spent five hours avoiding doing so.
“I know that this is a frustrating exercise for you,” she told the House Judiciary Committee.
Mr. Comey discussed his decision to close the investigation and renewed his criticism of Mrs. Clinton.
By midsummer, as Mrs. Clinton was about to accept her party’s nomination for president, the F.B.I. director had seemingly succeeded in everything he had set out to do. The investigation was over well before the election. He had explained his decision to the public.
And with both parties angry at him, he had proved yet again that he was willing to speak his mind, regardless of the blowback. He seemed to have safely piloted the F.B.I. through the storm of a presidential election.
But as Mr. Comey moved past one tumultuous investigation, another was about to heat up.
Days after Mr. Comey’s news conference, Carter Page, an American businessman, gave a speech in Moscow criticizing American foreign policy. Such a trip would typically be unremarkable, but Mr. Page had previously been under F.B.I. scrutiny years earlier, as he was believed to have been marked for recruitment by Russian spies. And he was now a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Trump.
Mr. Page has not said whom he met during his July visit to Moscow, describing them as “mostly scholars.” But the F.B.I. took notice. Mr. Page later traveled to Moscow again, raising new concerns among counterintelligence agents. A former senior American intelligence official said that Mr. Page met with a suspected intelligence officer on one of those trips and there was information that the Russians were still very interested in recruiting him.
Later that month, the website WikiLeaks began releasing hacked emails from the D.N.C. Roger J. Stone Jr., another Trump adviser, boasted publicly about his contact with WikiLeaks and suggested he had inside knowledge about forthcoming leaks. And Mr. Trump himself fueled the F.B.I.’s suspicions, showering Mr. Putin with praise and calling for more hacking of Mrs. Clinton’s emails.
“Russia, if you’re listening,” he said, “I hope you’ll be able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”
In late July, the F.B.I. opened an investigation into possible collusion between members of Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russian operatives. Besides Mr. Comey and a small team of agents, officials said, only a dozen or so people at the F.B.I. knew about the investigation. Mr. Strzok, just days removed from the Clinton case, was selected to supervise it.
It was a worrisome time at the F.B.I. Agents saw increased activity by Russian intelligence officers in the United States, and a former senior American intelligence official said there were attempts by Russian intelligence officers to talk to people involved in the campaign. Russian hackers had also been detected trying to break into voter registration systems, and intelligence intercepts indicated some sort of plan to interfere with the election.
In late August, Mr. Comey and his deputies were briefed on a provocative set of documents about purported dealings between shadowy Russian figures and Mr. Trump’s campaign. One report, filled with references to secret meetings, spoke ominously of Mr. Trump’s “compromising relationship with the Kremlin” and threats of “blackmail.”
The reports came from a former British intelligence agent named Christopher Steele, who was working as a private investigator hired by a firm working for a Trump opponent. He provided the documents to an F.B.I. contact in Europe on the same day as Mr. Comey’s news conference about Mrs. Clinton. It took weeks for this information to land with Mr. Strzok and his team.
Mr. Steele had been a covert agent for MI6 in Moscow, maintained deep ties with Russians and worked with the F.B.I., but his claims were largely unverified. It was increasingly clear at the F.B.I. that Russia was trying to interfere with the election.
As the F.B.I. plunged deeper into that investigation, Mr. Comey became convinced that the American public needed to understand the scope of the foreign interference and be “inoculated” against it.
He proposed writing an op-ed piece to appear in The Times or The Washington Post, and showed the White House a draft his staff had prepared, according to two former officials. (After the Times story was published online on Saturday, a former White House official said the text of the op-ed had not been given to the White House.) The op-ed did not mention the investigation of the Trump campaign, but it laid out how Russia was trying to undermine the vote.
The president replied that going public would play right into Russia’s hands by sowing doubts about the election’s legitimacy. Mr. Trump was already saying the system was “rigged,” and if the Obama administration accused Russia of interference, Republicans could accuse the White House of stoking national security fears to help Mrs. Clinton.
Mr. Comey argued that he had unique credibility to call out the Russians and avoid that criticism. After all, he said, he had just chastised Mrs. Clinton at his news conference.
The White House decided it would be odd for Mr. Comey to make such an accusation on his own, in a newspaper, before American security agencies had produced a formal intelligence assessment. The op-ed idea was quashed. When the administration had something to say about Russia, it would do so in one voice, through the proper channels.
But John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director, was so concerned about the Russian threat that he gave an unusual private briefing in the late summer to Harry Reid, then the Senate Democratic leader.
Top congressional officials had already received briefings on Russia’s meddling, but the one for Mr. Reid appears to have gone further. In a public letter to Mr. Comey several weeks later, Mr. Reid said that “it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government — a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States.”
Mr. Comey knew the investigation of the Trump campaign was just underway, and keeping with policy, he said nothing about it.
Mr. Reid’s letter sparked frenzied speculation about what the F.B.I. was doing. At a congressional hearing in September, Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, pressed Mr. Comey for an explanation, citing his willingness to give details about his investigation of Mrs. Clinton.
“After you investigated Secretary Clinton, you made a decision to explain publicly who you interviewed and why,” Mr. Nadler said. “You also disclosed documents, including those from those interviews. Why shouldn’t the American people have the same level of information about your investigation with those associated with Mr. Trump?”
But Mr. Comey never considered disclosing the case. Doing so, he believed, would have undermined an active investigation and cast public suspicion on people the F.B.I. could not be sure were implicated.
“I’m not confirming that we’re investigating people associated with Mr. Trump,” Mr. Comey said to Mr. Nadler. “In the matter of the email investigation, it was our judgment — my judgment and the rest of the F.B.I.’s judgment — that those were exceptional circumstances.”
Even in classified briefings with House and Senate intelligence committee members, Mr. Comey repeatedly declined to answer questions about whether there was an investigation of the Trump campaign.
To Mr. Comey’s allies, the two investigations were totally different. One was closed when he spoke about it. The other was continuing, highly classified and in its earliest stages. Much of the debate over Mr. Comey’s actions over the last seven months can be distilled into whether people make that same distinction.
Just a few weeks later, in late September, Mr. Steele, the former British agent, finally heard back from his contact at the F.B.I. It had been months, but the agency wanted to see the material he had collected “right away,” according to a person with knowledge of the conversation. What prompted this message remains unclear.
Mr. Steele met his F.B.I. contact in Rome in early October, bringing a stack of new intelligence reports. One, dated Sept. 14, said that Mr. Putin was facing “fallout” over his apparent involvement in the D.N.C. hack and was receiving “conflicting advice” on what to do.
The agent said that if Mr. Steele could get solid corroboration of his reports, the F.B.I. would pay him $50,000 for his efforts, according to two people familiar with the offer. Ultimately, he was not paid.
Around the same time, the F.B.I. began examining a mysterious data connection between Alfa Bank, one of Russia’s biggest, and a Trump Organization email server. Some private computer scientists said it could represent a secret link between the Trump Organization and Moscow.
Agents concluded that the computer activity, while odd, probably did not represent a covert channel.
But by fall, the gravity of the Russian effort to affect the presidential election had become clear.
The D.N.C. hack and others like it had once appeared to be standard Russian tactics to tarnish a Western democracy. After the WikiLeaks disclosures and subsequent leaks by a Russian group using the name DCLeaks, agents and analysts began to realize that Moscow was not just meddling. It was trying to tip the election away from Mrs. Clinton and toward Mr. Trump.
Mr. Comey and other senior administration officials met twice in the White House Situation Room in early October to again discuss a public statement about Russian meddling. But the roles were reversed: Susan Rice, the national security adviser, wanted to move ahead. Mr. Comey was less interested in being involved.
At their second meeting, Mr. Comey argued that it would look too political for the F.B.I. to comment so close to the election, according to several people in attendance. Officials in the room felt whiplashed. Two months earlier, Mr. Comey had been willing to put his name on a newspaper article; now he was refusing to sign on to an official assessment of the intelligence community.
Mr. Comey said that in the intervening time, Russian meddling had become the subject of news stories and a topic of national discussion. He felt it was no longer necessary for him to speak publicly about it. So when Jeh Johnson, the Homeland Security secretary, and James R. Clapper Jr., the national intelligence director, accused “Russia’s senior-most officials” on Oct. 7 of a cyber operation to disrupt the election, the F.B.I. was conspicuously silent.
That night, WikiLeaks began posting thousands of hacked emails from another source: the private email account of John D. Podesta, chairman of the Clinton campaign.
The emails included embarrassing messages between campaign staff members and excerpts from Mrs. Clinton’s speeches to Wall Street. The disclosure further convinced the F.B.I. that it had initially misread Russia’s intentions.
Two days later, Mr. Podesta heard from the F.B.I. for the first time, he said in an interview.
“You may be aware that your emails have been hacked,” an agent told him.
Mr. Podesta laughed. The same agency that had so thoroughly investigated Mrs. Clinton, he said, seemed painfully slow at responding to Russian hacking.
“Yes,” he answered. “I’m aware.”
Supplementing the Record
The Daily Mail, a British tabloid, was first with the salacious story: Anthony D. Weiner, the former New York congressman, had exchanged sexually charged messages with a 15-year-old girl.
The article, appearing in late September, raised the possibility that Mr. Weiner had violated child pornography laws. Within days, prosecutors in Manhattan sought a search warrant for Mr. Weiner’s computer.
Even with his notoriety, this would have had little impact on national politics but for one coincidence. Mr. Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, was one of Mrs. Clinton’s closest confidantes, and had used an email account on her server.
F.B.I. agents in New York seized Mr. Weiner’s laptop in early October. The investigation was just one of many in the New York office and was not treated with great urgency, officials said. Further slowing the investigation, the F.B.I. software used to catalog the computer files kept crashing.
Eventually, investigators realized that they had hundreds of thousands of emails, many of which belonged to Ms. Abedin and had been backed up to her husband’s computer.
Neither Mr. Comey nor Ms. Lynch was concerned. Agents had discovered devices before in the Clinton investigation (old cellphones, for example) that turned up no new evidence.
Then, agents in New York who were searching image files on Mr. Weiner’s computer discovered a State Department document containing the initials H.R.C. — Hillary Rodham Clinton. They found messages linked to Mrs. Clinton’s home server.
And they made another surprising discovery: evidence that some of the emails had moved through Mrs. Clinton’s old BlackBerry server, the one she used before moving to her home server. If Mrs. Clinton had intended to conceal something, agents had always believed, the evidence might be in those emails. But reading them would require another search warrant, essentially reopening the Clinton investigation.
The election was two weeks away.
Mr. Comey learned of the Clinton emails on the evening of Oct. 26 and gathered his team the next morning to discuss the development.
Seeking a new warrant was an easy decision. He had a thornier issue on his mind.
Back in July, he told Congress that the Clinton investigation was closed. What was his obligation, he asked, to acknowledge that this was no longer true?
It was a perilous idea. It would push the F.B.I. back into the political arena, weeks after refusing to confirm the active investigation of the Trump campaign and declining to accuse Russia of hacking.
The question consumed hours of conference calls and meetings. Agents felt they had two options: Tell Congress about the search, which everyone acknowledged would create a political furor, or keep it quiet, which followed policy and tradition but carried its own risk, especially if the F.B.I. found new evidence in the emails.
“In my mind at the time, Clinton is likely to win,” Mr. Steinbach said. “It’s pretty apparent. So what happens after the election, in November or December? How do we say to the American public: ‘Hey, we found some things that might be problematic. But we didn’t tell you about it before you voted’? The damage to our organization would have been irreparable.”
Conservative news outlets had already branded Mr. Comey a Clinton toady. That same week, the cover of National Review featured a story on “James Comey’s Dereliction,” and a cartoon of a hapless Mr. Comey shrugging as Mrs. Clinton smashed her laptop with a sledgehammer.
Congressional Republicans were preparing for years of hearings during a Clinton presidency. If Mr. Comey became the subject of those hearings, F.B.I. officials feared, it would hobble the agency and harm its reputation. “I don’t think the organization would have survived that,” Mr. Steinbach said.
The assumption was that the email review would take many weeks or months. “If we thought we could be done in a week,” Mr. Steinbach said, “we wouldn’t say anything.”
The spirited debate continued when Mr. Comey reassembled his team later that day. F.B.I. lawyers raised concerns, former officials said. But in the end, Mr. Comey said he felt obligated to tell Congress.
“I went back and forth, changing my mind several times,” Mr. Steinbach recalled. “Ultimately, it was the right call.”
That afternoon, Mr. Comey’s chief of staff called the office of Ms. Yates, the deputy attorney general, and revealed the plan.
When Ms. Lynch was told, she was both stunned and confused. While the Justice Department’s rules on “election year sensitivities” do not expressly forbid making comments close to an election, administrations of both parties have interpreted them as a broad prohibition against anything that may influence a political outcome.
Ms. Lynch understood Mr. Comey’s predicament, but not his hurry. In a series of phone calls, her aides told Mr. Comey’s deputies that there was no need to tell Congress anything until agents knew what the emails contained.
Either Ms. Lynch or Ms. Yates could have ordered Mr. Comey not to send the letter, but their aides argued against it. If Ms. Lynch issued the order and Mr. Comey obeyed, she risked the same fate that Mr. Comey feared: accusations of political interference and favoritism by a Democratic attorney general.
If Mr. Comey disregarded her order and sent the letter — a real possibility, her aides thought — it would be an act of insubordination that would force her to consider firing him, aggravating the situation.
So the debate ended at the staff level, with the Justice Department imploring the F.B.I. to follow protocol and stay out of the campaign’s final days. Ms. Lynch never called Mr. Comey herself.
The next morning, Friday, Oct. 28, Mr. Comey wrote to Congress, “In connection with an unrelated case, the F.B.I. has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation.”
His letter became public within minutes. Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah, a Republican and a leading antagonist of Mrs. Clinton’s, jubilantly announced on Twitter, “Case reopened.”
‘This Changes Everything’
The Clinton team was outraged. Even at the F.B.I., agents who supported their high-profile director were stunned. They knew the letter would call into question the F.B.I.’s political independence.
Mr. Trump immediately mentioned it on the campaign trail. “As you might have heard,” Mr. Trump told supporters in Maine, “earlier today, the F.B.I. … ” The crowd interrupted with a roar. Everyone had heard.
Polls almost immediately showed Mrs. Clinton’s support declining. Presidential races nearly always tighten in the final days, but some political scientists reported a measurable “Comey effect.”
“This changes everything,” Mr. Trump said.
Mr. Comey explained in an email to his agents that Congress needed to be notified. “It would be misleading to the American people were we not to supplement the record,” he wrote.
But many agents were not satisfied.
At the Justice Department, career prosecutors and political appointees privately criticized not only Mr. Comey for sending the letter but also Ms. Lynch and Ms. Yates for not stopping him. Many saw the letter as the logical result of years of not reining him in.
Mr. Comey told Congress that he had no idea how long the email review would take, but Ms. Lynch promised every resource needed to complete it before Election Day.
At the F.B.I., the Clinton investigative team was reassembled, and the Justice Department obtained a warrant to read emails to or from Mrs. Clinton during her time at the State Department. As it turned out, only about 50,000 emails met those criteria, far fewer than anticipated, officials said, and the F.B.I. had already seen many of them.
Mr. Comey was again under fire. Former Justice Department officials from both parties wrote a Washington Post op-ed piece titled “James Comey Is Damaging Our Democracy.”
At a Justice Department memorial for Mr. Margolis, organizers removed all the chairs from the stage, avoiding the awkward scene of Mr. Comey sitting beside some of his sharpest critics.
Jamie S. Gorelick, a deputy attorney general during the Clinton administration, eulogized Mr. Margolis for unfailingly following the rules, even when facing unpopular options. Audience members heard it as a veiled critique of both Mr. Comey and Ms. Lynch.
On Nov. 5, three days before Election Day, Mr. Strzok and his team had 3,000 emails left to review. That night, they ordered pizza and dug in. At about 2 a.m., Mr. Strzok wrote an email to Mr. Comey and scheduled it to send at 6 a.m. They were finished.
A few hours later, Mr. Strzok and his team were back in Mr. Comey’s conference room for a final briefing: Only about 3,000 emails had been potentially work-related. A dozen or so email chains contained classified information, but the F.B.I. had already seen it.
And agents had found no emails from the BlackBerry server during the crucial period when Mrs. Clinton was at the State Department.
Nothing had changed what Mr. Comey had said in July.
That conclusion was met with a mixture of relief and angst. Everyone at the meeting knew that the question would quickly turn to whether Mr. Comey’s letter had been necessary.
That afternoon, Mr. Comey sent a second letter to Congress. “Based on our review,” he wrote, “we have not changed our conclusions.”
Mr. Comey did not vote on Election Day, records show, the first time he skipped a national election, according to friends. But the director of the F.B.I. was a central story line on every television station as Mr. Trump swept to an upset victory.
Many factors explained Mr. Trump’s success, but Mrs. Clinton blamed just one. “Our analysis is that Comey’s letter — raising doubts that were groundless, baseless, proven to be — stopped our momentum,” she told donors a few days after the election. She pointed to polling data showing that late-deciding voters chose Mr. Trump in unusually large numbers.
Even many Democrats believe that this analysis ignores other factors, but at the F.B.I., the accusation stung. Agents are used to criticism and second-guessing. Rarely has the agency been accused of political favoritism or, worse, tipping an election.
For all the attention on Mrs. Clinton’s emails, history is likely to see Russian influence as the more significant story of the 2016 election. Questions about Russian meddling and possible collusion have marred Mr. Trump’s first 100 days in the White House, cost him his national security adviser and triggered two congressional investigations. Despite Mr. Trump’s assertions that “Russia is fake news,” the White House has been unable to escape its shadow.
Mr. Comey has told friends that he has no regrets, about either the July news conference or the October letter or his handling of the Russia investigation. Confidants like Mr. Richman say he was constrained by circumstance while “navigating waters in which every move has political consequences.”
But officials and others close to him also acknowledge that Mr. Comey has been changed by the tumultuous year.
Early on Saturday, March 4, the president accused Mr. Obama on Twitter of illegally wiretapping Trump Tower in Manhattan. Mr. Comey believed the government should forcefully denounce that claim. But this time he took a different approach. He asked the Justice Department to correct the record. When officials there refused, Mr. Comey followed orders and said nothing publicly.
“Comey should say this on the record,” said Tommy Vietor, a National Security Council spokesman in the Obama administration. “He’s already shattered all norms about commenting on ongoing investigations.”
Mr. Richman sees no conflict, but rather “a consistent pattern of someone trying to act with independence and integrity, but within established channels.”
“His approach to the Russia investigation fits this pattern,” he added.
But perhaps the most telling sign that Mr. Comey may have had enough of being Washington’s Lone Ranger occurred last month before the House Intelligence Committee.
Early in the hearing, Mr. Comey acknowledged for the first time what had been widely reported: The F.B.I. was investigating members of the Trump campaign for possible collusion with Russia.
Yet the independent-minded F.B.I. director struck a collaborative tone. “I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm,” he began, ushering in the next phase of his extraordinary moment in national politics.
Mr. Comey was still in the spotlight, but no longer alone.