clock menu more-arrow no yes

What the hell is going on at the FBI?

Vox Sentences is your daily digest for what's happening in the world, curated by Dara Lind and Dylan Matthews. Sign up for the Vox Sentences newsletter, delivered straight to your inbox Monday through Friday, or view the Vox Sentences archive for past editions.

Jim Comey's decision to reanimate the zombie Clinton email scandal continues to raise questions; the most powerful woman in South Korea was its shamanistic "shadow president"; why people are checking in on Facebook from Standing Rock.


What was he thinking?

FBI hearing Tom Williams/CQ Roll Cal
  • The FBI got permission on Sunday to look through 650,000 emails discovered on a laptop used by (current target of an underage-sexting investigation) Anthony Weiner and his estranged wife/Hillary Clinton confidante Huma Abedin, to see if any of those emails might be relevant to its investigation into Clinton's use of a private email server. [Slate / Daniel Politi]
  • The investigation will probably not be done before the election. But it remains extremely unlikely that Clinton actually violated US law. [Just Security / Julian Sanchez]
  • Instead, the question in the days since FBI Director James Comey sent Congress a letter alluding to the existence of the new emails is: Why the hell did Comey do that? [Vox / Andrew Prokop]
  • Comey has come under fire from former Department of Justice officials (including ex-Attorney General Eric Holder) for violating standard DOJ practice of not releasing information that could affect a campaign within 60 days of the election. [Washington Post / Eric Holder]
  • Some of that criticism has even come from Republican officials like Alberto Gonzales, who was attorney general under George W. Bush (though Gonzales might have been acting on a grudge against Comey dating back to the Bush years). [Washington Post / Dan Eggen and Paul Kane]
  • Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid all but accused Comey and the FBI of deliberately airing the Clinton news while sitting on information about Donald Trump's ties to Russia — behavior on the bureau's part that Reid says could violate the Hatch Act, which prevents federal employees from electioneering. [CNN / Steve Vladeck]
  • Nothing's leaked out to back up Reid's claim per se. But on Monday, officials confirmed to the press that Comey had resisted saying anything in public about Russia's efforts to influence the elections by hacking into Democratic email accounts, because he was concerned about the 60-day window — which makes his decision to write the letter about the Weiner computer all the less defensible. [Huffington Post / Sam Stein]
  • Comey was in an impossible situation. There were very good arguments both for and against writing the letter. And he couldn't guarantee that if he didn't say anything about the new computer, information wouldn't leak out about it anyway. [Vox / Sean Illing]

But that's exactly the problem. This entire news story has been driven by leaks from different factions of the DOJ and FBI. It's clear that no one has enough control of the nation's leading law enforcement agency — one that is currently engaged in an investigation into the security of important government information — to control leaks of important government information. [WSJ / Devlin Barrett]


South Korea's "shadow president"

Protesters in South Korea Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images
  • South Korean President Park Geun-hye is under serious pressure after the public discovered just how much influence her friend, shaman, and "shadow president" Choi Soon-sil had over her administration. [Christian Science Monitor / Gretel Kaufmann]
  • Choi's influence over Park ranged from instructing her in what colors to wear to using her position to pressure businesses into donating to her sketchy charities to reading over confidential documents and reviewing drafts of Park's speeches (which Choi occasionally rewrote into gibberish). [NYT / Choe Sang-hun]
  • Tens of thousands of protesters demanded Park's resignation over the weekend, and she's fired top advisers. [NPR / Elise Hu]
  • It's not the corruption that has protesters so upset, according to blogger T.K. It's the sheer weirdness of Choi and her family's role — Choi's father started a quasi-shamanistic, quasi-Christian cult, and Park's been under the family's influence since she was a young woman reeling from the loss of her mother. [Ask a Korean! / T.K.]
  • Syncretic religions and shamanism are relatively popular in Korea (Americans might be familiar with the Unification Church of Sun Myung Moon), but it's still deeply troubling to find out that your country's president is totally under the sway of a Rasputin-esque charlatan. [Quartz / Ilaria Maria Sala and Isabella Steger]

Ironically, part of Park's appeal was that, unlike other Korean politicians, she didn't have close family members on whose behalf she might be tempted by corruption. It turns out that's because the Chois alienated Park from her family — and stepped in to take up the corruption instead. [Ask a Korean! / T.K.]


Who is really standing with Standing Rock

Protesters in Standing Rock David McNew/AFP/Getty Images
  • Since last week, law enforcement has taken aggressive steps to try to break up the ongoing protests against the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline. [NYT / Sue Skalicky and Monica Davey]
  • The protests are being undertaken by both local Sioux activists and other progressive groups, including climate activists — though the native groups who started the protest urge against seeing it as a fight simply for "climate justice." [Transformative Spaces / Kelly Hayes]
  • (That said, some Sioux don't have a problem with the pipeline, and don't particularly appreciate the confrontations being staged by the protesters.) [CNN / Jessica Ravitz]
  • On Monday, the aggressive law enforcement response to the protests garnered attention on social media, thanks to a meme telling people to "check in" on Facebook from the location of Standing Rock (the site of the protests) as an attempt to fool law enforcement monitoring. [Snopes]
  • The effectiveness of this tactic is unproven at best, and at worst, a form of "slacktivism" that signaled solidarity without actually offering aid. [The Atlantic / Robinson Meyer and Kaveh Waddell]
  • The irony is that social media has been an important organizing and communication tool for the actual protesters — it's just that they had nothing to do with the current "check-in" fad. [Motherboard / Paul Spencer]
  • Those real-life protesters, in the meantime, continue to be threatened with police aggression — from both local police officers and "volunteers" from states as far away as Wisconsin. [WKOW / Savanna Tomei]
  • It's a stark contrast, as Aaron Bady pointed out for the Los Angeles Times, with the response taken by law enforcement to the takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge earlier this year by right-wing activists. Those activists were not only allowed to stand down without violence but were acquitted last week of charges — just as the cops moved to crack down at Standing Rock. [LAT / Aaron Bady]

Miscellaneous

  • If you stopped eating anything but candy corn, you'd probably die as a result, but intriguingly the protein deficiency will probably be the thing to do you in, not diabetes. [Gizmodo / Maddie Stone]
  • In defense of American cheese. [Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt]
  • Autodesk is training algorithms to design chairs that are lighter and sturdier than ones humans can make up. [Wired / Margaret Rhodes]
  • Skye Ferrante has figured out a lucrative way to make it as a sculptor: make portraits of escorts and then sell them to their rich clients. [NYT / Samantha Schmidt]
  • Stardew Valley is a game where everything, including and especially social interaction, obeys predictable rules. That makes it incredibly appealing for many people on the autism spectrum. [Game Informer / Elise Favis]

Verbatim

  • "This isn’t the most artful way to say it, but it’s like, where do you go when the only people who seem to agree with you on taxes hate black people?" [Ben Howe to FiveThirtyEight / Clare Malone]
  • "He starts hugging us both. He says, ‘There’s nothing you could ever do to make you not my daughter.’ After my girlfriend left, I’m crying on the couch. I say to my dad, ‘I think I’m going to hell.’ He grabs the Bible off the shelf and spends the next hour reading verse after verse saying that I am God’s beloved child. ‘I’m going to prove to you God loves you.’" [Julien Baker to Phoenix New Times / Jason Keil]
  • "You'd hate to commission a tech company to make a deadly drone, and then watch the drone kill the wrong people, and have the tech company say 'come on, man, look how cool those lasers were. You can't get over the killing-the-wrong-guys thing; you don't care about the technology.'" [Bloomberg / Matt Levine]
  • "A lot of cultural elites love to build up the poor mountain white to 'complicate' (read: derail) discussions of white privilege, only to tear him back down using the same pattern and style of moralizing typically reserved for Black Americans." [Elizabeth Catte]
  • "We kissed once in Union Square and a bunch of dudes came over to offer us coke and to invite us to Webster Hall. I think they thought we would have sex with them, and when we politely declined, they wished us a wonderful evening. It was the most chaste invite to a coke-fueled gangbang I've ever received." [Eater / Sara Benincasa]

Watch this: How a mathematician dissects a coincidence

Can you unknot a twist of fate with logic? Vox's Phil Edwards asked mathematician Joseph Mazur about his book, Fluke, and one of its most incredible stories. [YouTube / Phil Edwards]