A ‘Technical Malfunction’ Made an FBI Twitter Account Seem Anti-Clinton in the Final Days of the Election

A report from the Department of Justice Inspector General revealed a mundane technical glitch was behind the 2016 Twitter beef.

|
Jun 15 2018, 1:30pm

Image: Flickr/Gage Skidmore

The Department of Justice Inspector General released its long-awaited report about the Clinton email investigation on Thursday, closing the book on a bizarre Twitter snafu from 2016.

The incident centers around a then-dormant Federal Bureau of Investigations Twitter account, @FBIRecordsVault, that reawakened shortly before the presidential election.

The purpose of the account is to automatically tweet documents posted to the FBI Records Vault website, which serves as the agency’s FOIA library. On November 1, 2016, after being quiet for almost exactly a year, it shared 129 pages of records pertaining to a 2001 investigation of the William J. Clinton Foundation. The heavily redacted documents involved President Bill Clinton’s controversial pardon of “billionaire fugitive” Marc Rich.

As indicated by the tweet’s replies, many Twitter users accused the FBI of sharing the report to hinder Hillary Clinton’s chances of being elected president. Why would the account, which hadn't tweeted since October 8, 2015, make a comeback with a heap of documents that painted the Clintons in a bad light?

Together, the records stemmed from three separate FOIA requests, as pointed out by CNN. On November 10, 2015, the FBI received the first request, and the documents were posted less than a year later, on November 1, 2016. After the records of the Clinton Foundation investigation were posted to the FBI Records Vault website and tweeted, "NPO [National Press Office] began receiving inquiries from the media questioning the timing of the posting of the records and the associated tweet," according to the report. "The SGIS [Supervisory Government Information Specialist] stated he then learned about the issues with the automatic Twitter feed, that those issues had been corrected on October 30, and that upon correction the system released multiple tweets concerning posts over the prior year."

According to the report, a “technical malfunction” of the account’s autotweet setting—which began in October 2015—effectively jammed tweets for an entire year. The issue was corrected by FBI staff on October 30, 2016, resulting in a backlog of 20 tweets deploying that day. (It’s unclear in the report whether the fix was intentional or part of regular systems housekeeping.)

The report also notes that records pertaining to Donald Trump’s father, Fred Trump, were shared on October 30, 2016. In some of the documents, the elder Trump was referred to as “a real estate developer and philanthropist.”

At the time, the FBI said the records were “posted automatically and electronically to the FBI’s public reading room in accordance with the law and established procedures.”

But Brian Fallon, national press secretary for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, called the activity odd—others insinuated FBI meddling. (Just days prior, former FBI Director James Comey had announced that he would reassess Hillary Clinton’s conduct with regard to classified information.)

The OIG report ultimately “found no evidence that the Clinton Foundation request was handled any differently than other FOIA requests.”

Witnesses told investigators that “there was no FOIA equivalent to the Election Year Sensitivities guidance that addresses overt investigative steps and the timing of charges.”

The report did reveal how severely the FBI’s public affairs team dreaded their release, especially on the heels of Comey’s announcement. The Clinton Foundation documents were ready for publication on October 31, 2016, but were delayed to November 1, 2016.

According to the investigation, a public affairs specialist allegedly said “there’s not any way [the National Press Office] can deal with this today [on October 31].”

The report didn’t include specifics about the autotweet malfunction, only that it was corrected with a software update. The @FBIRecordsVault has since resumed tweeting as usual.

Stories