Obama bemoans politics of racism, fear, in return to spotlight

NEWARK, New Jersey — Former President Barack Obama called on fellow Democrats to reject politics of “division” and “fear” while rallying on Thursday with party’s candidates for governors in Virginia and New Jersey.

“Why are we deliberately trying to misunderstand each other, and be cruel to each other and put each other down? That’s not who we are,” Obama said at the Virginia rally in front of several thousand supporters.

Stepping back into the political spotlight for the first time since leaving the White House in January, Obama did not mention President Donald Trump in his speeches at Richmond’s convention center or at a Newark hotel. But he did tell crowds at both events that they could send a message to the rest of the country in the upcoming elections.

“Our democracy’s at stake and it’s at stake right here in Virginia,” Obama said.
Virginia and New Jersey are the only two states electing new governors this year and those November 7 races will be considered a bellwether of Democrats’ strength in the face of Trump’s victory last year.

New Jersey Democrat Phil Murphy, Obama’s former ambassador to Germany, is facing Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno. Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, is running against Republican Ed Gillespie.

Obama’s remarks came on the same day Former President George W. Bush denounced bigotry in Trump-era American politics, warning that the rise of “nativism,” isolationism and conspiracy theories have clouded the nation’s true identity.

Obama bemoaned the rise of racial politics.

“What we can’t have is the same old politics of division that we have seen so many times before, that dates back centuries,” Obama said at the event in Newark for Phil Murphy.

“Some of the politics we see now we thought we put that to bed,” Obama said. “That’s folks looking 50 years back. It’s the 21st century, not the 19th century.”

The first black president offered himself as proof that the country could move forward, telling the crowd in Richmond, the former Capitol of the Confederacy, that he is a distant relative to Confederate President Jefferson Davis on his mother’s side.

“Think about that,” Obama said. “I’ll bet he’s spinning in his grave.”

Obama praised Northam, a pediatric neurologist, as a candidate who would represent Virginia well and accused Gillespie of running a fear-based campaign.

Gillespie spokesman Dave Abrams said Obama’s comments were not a “surprise.”

Guadagno’s spokesman, Ricky Diaz, suggested it’s Murphy and not Republicans who are divisive.

“Phil Murphy is the one who will divide New Jersey by raising taxes so high that only the über rich like him will be able to afford to live here,” he said.

Obama’s popularity is still undeniable. In an August NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 51 percent of Americans said they have a favorable opinion of Obama, while 35 percent had a negative opinion. In the same poll, 36 percent said they had a positive opinion of Trump and 52 percent had a negative opinion.

Obama never completely disappeared from public life, in part because of Trump’s constant criticism and efforts to undo much of Obama’s legacy after eight years in office. He has publicly defended his policies that Trump and the GOP-led Congress have set out to dismantle: the Affordable Care Act and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which allowed immigrants brought into the country illegally as children to be temporarily shielded from deportation.

Obama was forced to return “pretty quickly,” presidential historian Julian Zelizer of Princeton University said.

“The current president has changed all the conventional assumptions about what to do,” Zelizer said. “There is a sense of urgency that makes this moment different than others and former President Obama has continued to be directly in Trump’s line of fire — both his policies and his legacy.”

Les Kenney, of Richmond, said Obama’s speech was inspiring.

“It was great to see him again, he’s an energizer,” he said.


Kennedy’s Vote Is in Play on Voting Maps Warped by Politics

WASHINGTON — Justice Anthony M. Kennedy has long been troubled by extreme partisan gerrymandering, where the party in power draws voting districts to give itself a lopsided advantage in elections. But he has never found a satisfactory way to determine when voting maps are so warped by politics that they cross a constitutional line.

After spirited Supreme Court arguments on Tuesday, there was reason to think Justice Kennedy may be ready to join the court’s more liberal members in a groundbreaking decision that could reshape American democracy by letting courts determine when lawmakers have gone too far.

Justice Kennedy asked skeptical questions of lawyers defending a Wisconsin legislative map that gave Republicans many more seats in the State Assembly than their statewide vote tallies would have predicted. He asked no questions of the lawyer representing the Democratic voters challenging the map.

There was something like consensus among the justices that voting maps drawn by politicians to give advantage to their parties are an unattractive feature of American democracy. But the justices appeared split about whether the court could find a standard for determining when the practice was unconstitutional.

“Gerrymandering is distasteful,” said Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., “but if we are going to impose a standard on the courts, it has to be something that’s manageable.”

Some of the court’s more liberal members said the problem represented a crisis for democracy and that the Supreme Court should step in.

“What’s really behind all of this?” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked. She answered her own question: “The precious right to vote.”

In extended remarks, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. expressed worry that the court’s authority and legitimacy would be hurt were it to start striking down voting districts in favor of one political party or another.

“That is going to cause very serious harm to the status and integrity of the decisions of this court in the eyes of the country,” he said.

Paul M. Smith, a lawyer for the Democratic voters, urged the court to act. “You are the only institution in the United States that can solve this problem just as democracy is about to get worse because of the way gerrymandering is getting so much worse,” he told the justices.

Without the Supreme Court’s intervention, Mr. Smith said, other states will follow Wisconsin’s lead. The round of redistricting that will follow the 2020 census, he said, “will produce a festival of copycat gerrymandering the likes of which this country has never seen.”

The Supreme Court has never struck down an election map on the ground that it was drawn to make sure one political party wins an outsize number of seats. The court has, however, left open the possibility that some kinds of political gamesmanship in redistricting may be too extreme.

The problem, Justice Kennedy wrote in a 2004 concurrence, is that no one has devised “a workable standard” to decide when the political gerrymandering has crossed a constitutional line.

On Tuesday, he pressed Erin E. Murphy, a lawyer for Wisconsin lawmakers, about whether a state law could require drawing districts to have the maximum number of votes for a given political party. Other justices followed up on the point, and Ms. Murphy gave equivocal answers.

Justice Kennedy grew frustrated. “I have to say that I don’t think you ever answered the question,” he said.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked Ms. Murphy more fundamental questions.

“Could you tell me what the value is to democracy from political gerrymandering?” Justice Sotomayor asked. “How does that help our system of government?”

Ms. Murphy said that gerrymandering “produces values in terms of accountability that are valuable so that the people understand who isn’t and who is in power.”

That did not seem a sufficient reason, Justice Sotomayor said, “to stack the decks.”

Much of the argument concerned various statistical tests for identifying extreme gerrymandering. Misha Tseytlin, Wisconsin’s solicitor general, said the challengers were relying on flimsy and hypothetical social science evidence.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican and the former governor of California, says districts should be drawn by independent commissions rather than politicians. CreditTom Brenner/The New York Times

“Plaintiffs are asking this court to launch a redistricting revolution based upon their social science metrics,” he said.

Chief Justice Roberts told Mr. Smith that courts are poorly equipped to evaluate social science data. “It may be simply my educational background,” the chief justice said of the studies before the court, “but I can only describe it as sociological gobbledygook.”

Other justices seemed more comfortable with the studies.

“This is not kind of hypothetical, airy-fairy, we guess, and then we guess again,” Justice Elena Kagan said. “I mean, this is pretty scientific by this point.”

Justice Sotomayor said that “every single social science metric points in the same direction.”

There may be close cases, Justice Kagan said, but this was not one of them. “This map goes pretty much over every line,” she said.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer, in remarks that may have been aimed at Justice Kennedy, sketched out a series of criteria that he said amounted to a workable standard. He said courts should act only when there is one-party control of the state government and a map that creates a persistent and unjustified partisan advantage that is “an extreme outlier” when compared to other maps.

“I suspect that that’s manageable,” Justice Breyer said.

The case, Gill v. Whitford, No. 16-1161, started when Republicans gained complete control of Wisconsin’s government in 2010 for the first time at the beginning of a redistricting cycle in more than 40 years. Lawmakers promptly drew a map for the State Assembly that helped Republicans convert very close statewide vote totals into lopsided legislative majorities.

In 2012, after the redistricting, Republicans won 48.6 percent of the statewide vote for Assembly candidates but captured 60 of the Assembly’s 99 seats.

Democratic voters sued, saying the maps violated the Constitution. “This is one of the most extreme gerrymanders ever drawn in living memory of the United States,” Mr. Smith said on Tuesday.

The case is part of a larger debate over politics in redistricting, one that has taken on new urgency with the advent of sophisticated software. Both parties have engaged in partisan gerrymandering, but these days, Republicans have an advantage following a wave of victories in state legislatures that allowed lawmakers to draw election maps favoring their party.

Some critics, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican and the former governor of California, say districts should be drawn by independent commissions rather than politicians. Prominent Democrats, including former President Barack Obama and his first attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., are pushing to undo the redistricting gainsRepublicans made after the 2010 census when the next census is taken three years from now.

Outside the court during the arguments, several dozen activists rallied with signs that read “Equal Districts Under Law” and “Hands off our Districts!”

Mr. Schwarzenegger, who attended the argument, said afterward that he is hopeful that the justices will put a stop to partisan gerrymandering.

“We are here today to ask the Supreme Court to fix something that the politicians will never do,” he said. “As Einstein said, those who created the problem will not be able to solve it.”

Last year, a divided three-judge Federal District Court panel ruled that Republicans in Wisconsin had gone too far. The map, Judge Kenneth F. Ripple wrote for the majority, “was designed to make it more difficult for Democrats, compared to Republicans, to translate their votes into seats.”

The decision was the first from a federal court in more than 30 years to reject a voting map as partisan gerrymandering.

Wisconsin officials say that the lopsided representation of Republicans in the State Legislature is a product of geography rather than gerrymandering. Democrats have packed themselves into cities, effectively diluting their voting power, while Republicans are more evenly distributed across most states, the brief said.

Judge Ripple acknowledged that the distribution of the population explains at least some part of the gap.

“Wisconsin’s political geography, particularly the high concentration of Democratic voters in urban centers like Milwaukee and Madison, affords the Republican Party a natural, but modest, advantage in the districting process,” he wrote.

But he added that partisan gerrymandering amplified that advantage.

Most Americans Strongly Dislike Trump—but the Angry Minority (White Idiots) That Adores Him Controls Our Politics



A couple of days ago, Salon’s Bob Cesca made the point that the tie that binds Donald Trump to his followers is his eagerness to provoke liberals. He used this tweet from a Fox
These are obviously immature individuals who, like Donald Trump, seem to revel in juvenile taunts against people they don’t like. And they don’t like a lot of people.

So far, that base of Trump champions is holding fast in the opinion polls. The latest Pew Research survey was released on Tuesday, and it has him at a 36 percent approval rating, which tracks with most of the other polling, including Gallup, which has had him between 35 percent and 40 percent for most of his term. It’s when you dig into the details of the Pew poll that it becomes more interesting.

This particular poll surveyed how people describe the Trump presidency. The poll asked people whether they agreed with Trump on the issues, and the results break down fairly predictably on partisan lines. Just over two-thirds of Republicans agree with his positions, which isn’t a great number for a president in his first year, whose party nominally controls all branches of government, but it’s still a strong majority. Unsurprisingly, 94 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners disagree. All in all, 15 percent of respondents agreed with Trump on all or nearly all issues, 18 percent agreed with him on many issues, 21 percent agreed on a few issues — and 45 percent didn’t agree with him on issues at all.

But Pew also asked people what they think of Trump’s conduct in office. Again, most Democrats and Democratic leaners are appalled, as one might expect. On this, Republicans are more divided: Nineteen percent don’t like his conduct, while 46 percent say they have mixed feelings. But 34 percent like the way he conducts himself as president.

In fact, a larger proportion of Republicans either accept or embrace Trump’s aberrant presidential conduct than approve of his positions on policy. And here’s the kicker: when asked what people liked most about Trump’s presidency, the ones who approve of his performance actually cited his personality and conduct four times more often than his policies. In other words, those who like him like him because of his unseemly, unpresidential behavior, not in spite of it.

That group represents about one-third of the Republican party, the same third that flocked to Trump during the primaries and enabled him to win over a crowded field that split the other two-thirds almost to the very end. These are older and more conservative white people, for the most part, who believe he should not listen to other Republicans and should follow his own instincts.

These are the people who some might refer to as “a basket of deplorables.” They like Trump’s coarse personality, and approve of the fact that he treats women like his personal playthings. They enjoy it when he expresses sympathy for neo-Nazis and neo-Confederate white supremacists. They cheer when he declares his love for torture, tells the police to rough up suspects and vows to mandate the death penalty for certain crimes. (Which of course the president cannot do.) Trump’s embrace of the odious birther movement was one of his greatest selling points, at least with this crowd.

This cohort of the Republican party didn’t vote for Trump because of his supposed policies on trade or his threat to withdraw from NATO. They voted for him because he said out loud what they were thinking. A petty, sophomoric, crude bully is apparently what they want as a leader.

While these people are endlessly fascinating to the press, there’s an important footnote here: According to the Pew survey, they only comprise 16 percent of the population. That’s tens of millions of people, which is disturbing, but it’s a long way short of a majority. So surely the other 65 percent of Republicans, the ones who find Trump’s personality and conduct unseemly, would not want to vote for congressional and Senate candidates who align themselves with him, right?

Unfortunately, according to this Vanity Fair article by David M. Drucker, the GOP consultant class doesn’t think so. They are among the 65 percent who find the president a ghastly embarrassment to their party, but that won’t stop them from pushing their candidates to embrace him and his style of politics:

[I]n meeting after meeting, Republican consultants have had one consistent message for clients and prospective clients running for office in 2018. It’s a message they tell me will not change, even after the avalanche of criticism directed at Trump by fellow Republicans for his failure to immediately condemn the racists who gathered in Charlottesville and his decision to conflate them with counter-protesters. “Your heart tells you that he’s bad for the country. Your head looks at polling data among Republican primary voters and sees how popular he is,” said one Republican strategist who, like most of the nearly two dozen I interviewed for this story, requested anonymity in order to speak candidly and protect their clients. “It would be malpractice not to advise clients to attach themselves to that popularity.”

That strategist has a point, unfortunately. Those over-50, white, non-college-educated voters are exactly the hardcore Republicans who come out in midterm elections. They’re the people who stormed the castle in 2010 and 2014 to stack the Congress with far right officials. And they scare the hell out of the GOP establishment, which — even after years of flag-waving and accusing liberals of hating America — is apparently willing to do whatever it takes to perpetuate the toxic politics of the man it perceives as “a bad guy.”

We are at or near a dangerous tipping point in American politics. Roughly 16 percent of the population, an angry, loud minority whose motive for political participation is mostly to tell others “fuck your feelings,” are in control of one of America’s two parties and have their own man in the White House. That’s not sustainable for the Republican Party or the country.

Heather Digby Parton, also known as “Digby,” is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.





“Why would a professor of Yiddish write about politics and power?” The question was posed on Tuesday night by Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief Yaakov Katz to Ruth Wisse, author of the best-selling book Jews and Power, the Hebrew edition of which should be released by the end of this year.

Wisse is a professor of Yiddish literature and of comparative literature at Harvard University, where Katz was a fellow at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism in 2012-13. Wisse had been one of his teachers.

Wisse saw nothing unusual in the question.

“Yiddish forces you to think about Jewish politics,” she said at Jerusalem’s Beit Avi Chai, citing how some 10 million people spoke Yiddish in 1939, and a short time afterward, “this world of Yiddish was extinguished.”

Wisse, 81, said she was greatly bothered growing up by the verse in the Passover Haggada that states: “In every generation they will rise up against us,” and she wondered why in all generations do people find Jews such a convenient political target.

She had never really found an answer.

“The puzzle is still with me,” she said.

What amazes her is that instead of being obsessed with this, the Jewish world simply accepts the recurring situation.

“We have not concentrated on politics,” she said. “How do Jews function politically in relation to other people?” The war against Jews, she said, is unilateral. “Most people think of warfare as a binary action.

There’s a winner and there’s a loser. Jews did not see war as a binary action. You were not defeated by Babylon, you did not meet God’s standards. They lost because they did not satisfy God’s requirements.”

In Wisse’s perception, “that makes you indestructible. You go into exile, but did Jews ever give up on returning to the Land of Israel?” she declared to a ripple of applause..

Other nations see Jews as a people that succeeds wherever it goes, she said. “It’s always entrepreneurial, but it never has the power to protect itself.”

Throughout history, she observed, Jews have been there to expel, to massacre and to expropriate from.

Wisse was critical of studies of antisemitism which, she said, are mostly statistics.

Although antisemitism stretches back to beyond the First Temple, Wisse said its modern form was created by emancipation, because Jews went into professions that were previously denied to them – and they excelled.

More than that, she noted, antisemitism has become a unifying political movement.

“All anti-liberal movements are attracted to antisemitism.”

Although fascism and communism are not doing too well on their own, what they have in common is antisemitism, which Wisse said is “the most powerful ideology of modern times.”

While she believes that the future of the State of Israel is in the hands of the citizens of Israel, she is convinced that neither Israel nor anyone else can solve the Arab problem. “The reason they’re against us is because they cannot accept the principle of coexistence,” she said.

When Katz tried to turn the conversation to American Jewry, Wisse said that “Israelis have come a long way. My worry is more for American Jewry.”

Then she paused for a moment and said that whatever his problems are at the moment, “[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is the leader of the free world.”

When the subject of BDS was raised by Katz, Wisse pointed out that it was nothing new.

“The boycott against Israel began in 1945. It’s one of the first things the Arab League adopted.” The idea at the time was to weaken Jewish industry in Palestine. Wisse is also convinced that the Arab world will never allow the Palestinians to have their own state – not that it would be very visible on the map if they did have a state.

Usually when speaking on this subject, she said, she has a large map of the Middle East on which one can hardly see Israel.

She did not have a very high opinion of Israel’s public diplomacy, which she said was always on the defense instead of being on the attack. In every synagogue, she said, there is a notice above the ark with the words “Know before whom you stand.” The same holds true when arguing with one’s enemies. “Know before whom you stand and attack, attack, attack.”

Asked about President Donald Trump, Wisse said she couldn’t comment because there had never been a president like him in the United States. When the election campaign first started and she and her husband and their Conservative friends sat around the Shabbat table evaluating candidates, “Trump’s name never came up – not even once.” All she would allow herself to say about the Trump administration was “I’m more optimistic than I would have been with Hillary Clinton.”

Is New PAC Joe Biden’s Last Act in Politics or First Step Toward 2020?



Joe Biden isn’t done with politics yet.

The former vice president is launching a new political action committee Thursday that will keep him involved in elections and on the minds of fellow Democrats, potentially helping to lay the groundwork for another presidential bid in 2020.

Biden gave few details about his plans for the new PAC, called American Possibilities, in an email to be sent to supporters Thursday. But the former vice president, who has harbored presidential ambitions for decades, said he wants Americans to “dream big” again.

Related: Clinton Says Russia Likely Had American Help to ‘Weaponize’ Campaign Leaks

“The history of this nation is one of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. And that’s who we still are,” Biden wrote in the email, obtained by NBC News. “That’s why the negativity, the pettiness, the small-mindedness of our politics drives me crazy. It’s not who we are.”

Biden’s wife, Jill, said in an appearance on CBS “This Morning” on Thursday that the former vice president plans to be involved in the midterm elections next year.

“Joe is not going away and you know that, all of you,” she said. “He loves politics, he loves what he’s doing, and he said he would stay involved. So he set up this PAC because he’s going to be involved in the midterm elections.”

The ex-veep has stayed busy since leaving the White House in January, with projects at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Delaware, and his charitable foundation, which is focused on finding a “moon shot” cure for cancer.

The PAC is “a natural extension of what he said he would do when he left the White House – continue to build up and support the Democratic Party and focus on the issues he cares about,” said Kate Bedingfield, a former spokeswoman still involved with Biden.

Many former politicians, including Hillary Clinton, create political groups. But Biden’s is already being seen as the first step toward fulfilling the former vice president’s longstanding goal of winning the presidency.

Presidential speculation has swirled around Biden since he was sworn into the Senate at just 30 years old weeks after his wife and one-year-old daughter were killed in a tragic car accident.

He made his first real consideration about a White House bid in 1980, but ultimately passed before running in 1988, only be to derailed by a plagiarism scandal. He ran again in 2008 and when he came up short, Barack Obama offered him the consolation prize of the vice presidency.

Obama, then a freshman senator, wanted to balance his ticket with an elder statesmen like Biden, who by then had chaired both the Senate Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees and had a number of major pieces of legislation to his name, such as the Violence Against Women Act.

Image: Joe Biden
Former Vice President Joe Biden pauses as he greets the crowd on Capitol Hill on March 22. Susan Walsh / AP

But while Biden was one of the youngest people ever elected to the Senate, he would be the oldest president at 78 years old, if he ran and won. He’s only four years older than President Donald Trump, but even many Democrats would prefer to see a fresher face rise up to challenge Trump.

Still, after so many years in the party, plenty of other Democrats would be happy to see Biden as their nominee, and think he could connect with the white, working class voters who abandoned the party for Trump last year.

“I think he does miss it today. But we’ll see what he wants to do. He’d make a good president. He’d make a great president,” Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, a longtime former union organizer, told Politico Massachusetts Wednesday.

Walsh, who was spotting dining with Biden last week in Boston, added that he would “probably” support the vice president if he ran.

But Biden’s long history in politics has also produced a number of vulnerabilities that have never been fully tested in today’s Democratic Party, which has adopted a much more progressive stance on race, criminal justice, gender issues, abortion, and trade policies.

In the Palestinian hunger strike, politics is only half the story

In prisons across the State of Israel, about a thousand Palestinian men are starving themselves to death, their only daily source of sustenance a glass of salt water. Over two weeks into their hunger strike, their bodies are beginning to eat away at themselves, converting muscle into sugar.

The prevailing stance among Israeli political analysts, as well as Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, is that these men are pawns in a game. The players, the theory goes, are Marwan Barghouti, the hunger strike’s leader, a convicted terror chief who is serving five life sentences for the murder of Israelis during the Second Intifada, and the elite of the Palestinian Authority’s ruling Fatah party.

In December, Barghouti followed up years of opinion polls that showed him to be the most popular figure in Palestinian society when he secured the largest number of votes in the Fatah party’s seventh congress.

But in February, when the party’s elite gathered to vote on leadership roles — most importantly Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s first-ever deputy — Barghouti was surprisingly left off the list. A little over a month later, he managed to catapult himself into the public eye by organizing the strike, showing that even from a prison cell, he can command the attention and respect of the Palestinian people.

Barghouti, of course, did not invent Palestinian hunger strikes, and his 27 demands — including expanded visitation rights and better access to public phones and higher education — are very similar to the demands of previous strikers. What is new is the sheer size of the strike. According to the PA’s Prisoner Affairs Ministry, there are more than 1,500 who are still refusing food. Israel’s Prison Service (IPS) said the number of strikers started at 1,200, and has since fallen to 900.

A man holds a photo of Marwan Barghouti calling for his release during a rally supporting Palestinian prisoners detained in Israeli jails in the West Bank city of Hebron on April 17, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / HAZEM BADER)

There seems to be a consensus among Palestinians, that, whether or not the strike is ultimately about internal political jockeying, Barghouti is correct in his demands, and that it is worth risking death — and all the violence such death’s could engender — to force Israel to change the way it treats its Palestinian prisoners.

From the Israeli point of view, is there any merit to the strikers’ demands? Or is the strike only a political campaign, a vehicle for Barghouti to score points on Israel’s back and put pressure on the Palestinian leadership?

Other prisoners can ‘only dream’ of such treatment

In a report published last last week, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Israeli Defense Ministry agency responsible for administering civilian affairs in the West Bank and the crossings with Gaza, argued that Palestinian security prisoners are treated better than other prisoners anywhere in the region and even in most Western countries.

According to COGAT, the Israel Prisons Service “cares, protects the rights, and respects prisoners in Israeli jails. But, apparently, for those security prisoners on strike, it is not enough.”

The report scoffed at the demand for public telephones in prison wings and the right to receive a college education, implying they were not critical. It said the prisoners enjoy basic rights such as meetings with attorneys, medical treatment, and freedom to practice their religion, along with basic living conditions such as hot water, sanitation, proper ventilation and electric infrastructure.

Illustrative photo of a prisoner making a phone call at the Israeli Prison Service, Gilboa Prison, February 28, 2013. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

The report also noted the Palestinian inmates receive “regular visits” from the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The ICRC confirmed to The Times of Israel that it was able to visit hundreds of hunger strikes in recent days, but would not discuss Israel’s treatment of Palestinian prisoners, saying it needed to maintain neutrality.

Our teams just left Nafkha prison where they visited all detainees on hunger strike and collected oral greetings for their families

In addition to the rights the Palestinian prisoners receive, COGAT’s report listed benefits, including access to newspapers, the ability to send and receive letters and read and keep books, and a canteen, run by the inmates.

There are also television watching hours and electrical appliances such as kettles and mosquito killers.

The report highlights the fact that around one-third of the prisoners receive these conditions despite serving out sentences for “being directly responsible for the murder of Israelis.”

“Anyone who knows the Israeli prison system knows that the conditions of security prisoners meet a very high standard. Prisoners in the Palestinian Authority, Gaza, and even in the Western world, can only dream of the benefits that prisoners in Israel receive,” the report asserted.

‘If Israel wants to say it’s a democratic country, it must act like one’

But Yamen Zidan, an attorney representing the Palestinian prisoners’ committee, argued that to compare Israel to the West Bank, Gaza or anywhere else was “running away from the issue.”

“If Israel wants to say it’s a democratic country, it must act like one,” he said, pointing at Israel’s much-criticized policy regarding family visitation rights.

According to Israeli law, security prisoners are entitled to two visits a month. However, Zidan noted, because Palestinian prisoners are held in Israel, families must spend many hours on the road and waiting at border crossings, in many cases “leaving Ramallah at 3:30 a.m. for a 10 a.m. visit.”

Hence the demand for visits to be increased from 45 minutes to an hour and a half, he said — to make up for the long travel time and aggravation, which can discourage families from visiting as often as the law allows. He said that is why prisoners are also fighting to make things easier for their visiting family members, including demanding facilities for the comfort of the visitors at the prisons’ gates.

Additionally, there is the issue of relatives or whole families of prisoners being prevented entrance into Israel due to security concerns. Zidan said he did not know exactly how many prisoners were prevented from seeing family members, but was confident the problem was shared by over 500 of the 6,500 or so Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails.

Ofer prison near Ramallah. (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)

These issues are compounded in the case of Gazan prisoners, he said, whose families are allowed to visit only once every two months — if they obtain an entry permit.

Asked whether Israel has a right to prevent the entry of people it considers dangerous to its citizens, he countered by pointing out that families who visit Palestinian prisoners undergo security checks before crossing into Israel, and noted their buses are accompanied by police directly to the prison.

“The visiting families do not pose any security threat,” he said.

Critics of Israeli policy, including Barghouti, have highlighted the fact that transferring prisoners from occupied territory into the state proper is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, of which Israel is a signatory. Even the Red Cross, which has a good working relationship with the Israeli prison service, has issued a rare public rebuke of Israel for violating the convention.

Israel argues that it is not an occupying power in the West Bank, because the land between the Green Line and the Jordan River is “disputed territory” that is subject to ongoing negotiations.

It isn’t that the Palestinian prisoners are asking Israel to build prisons in the West Bank. These, according to Zidan, would contradict the Palestinian national movement’s aspirations to end Israeli construction beyond the Green Line.

Rather he argued, it was Israel’s job to solve the problem of how to facilitate the rights of prisoners to be visited by their families. He pointed to Ofer Prison, just outside Ramallah, as an example for a facility that enables relatively easy access, much more so than prisons located in remote areas of Israel.

Beyond the issue of visiting rights, Zidan said the demands are meant to give the Palestinians the human treatment allotted to Israeli prisoners.

“How does it hurt Israel?” he asked, if the prisoners are given simple privileges that are important to them, such as a few additional television channels.

“Rather than operating according to laws, the IPS operates according to outside political considerations,” he claimed, accusing successive governments run by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of gradually gnawing away at the privileges of security prisoners.

Then there is the one demand that is not aimed at Israel: that the International Committee of the Red Cross return to its policy of facilitating two family visits a month. Last year, the ICRC scaled the number back to only once a month because not enough family members were showing up for second visits to justify the costs.

‘Israel needs to think in the long run’

Sagit Yehushua, an Israeli criminologist who interviewed 18 terrorist leaders in Israeli jails and observed the IPS system between 2005 and 2006, did not come away from her experiences feeling that security prisoners were ill-treated. She did argue, however, that Israel was harming its own interests by curbing certain privileges, especially education.

Israeli criminologist Sagit Yehoshua (photo credit: courtesy)

“They do get everything they are supposed to receive according to the law — no more and and no less,” she said, acknowledging her bias as an Israeli.

“The IPS are not dehumanizing,” she added.

Yehushua, who received a PhD from King’s College London, said “credit” was due to the IPS for how it manages security prisoners.

“We don’t hear about prison riots — there is a lot of respect between management and the prisoners,” Yehushua said.

“I do think the IPS is doing its best so people can see their families,” she added. If a long time has passed, “they will try to find a way for people to be as satisfied if possible.”

And if there is no security risk, she said, the IPS will allow prisoners to speak to their families by phone.

One of the major demands of the strikers is to end what they say is “medical negligence.” The physicians in prisoners are half-jokingly called “Acamol doctors,” after the generic pain- and fever-reducing drug they allegedly prescribe for a majority of ailments.

Zidan said prisoners get basic medical attention, but it’s not enough: Some don’t get the right care, or it comes too late. Yehushua said that while she could not speak with confidence about the level of medical care, the issue never came up in her extensive interviews with prisoners.

An ambulance exits the Ayalon Prison in Ramle (photo credit: Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Unlike other prisoners worldwide, in Israel the security prisoners are treated differently from criminals, and are physically separated. The policy is aimed at keeping inmates safe, but it has the side effect of turning security prisoners into a distinct community. The security prisoners thus enjoy the privilege of having democratically elected spokespeople represent them to prison management, unlike criminals, who each must represent themselves.

However, there are privileges that only criminals have access to, including freedom of movement within the prison, television channels, public phones and — most importantly, in Yehushua’s opinion — de-radicalization programs.

Regular de-radicalization programs are not an option because the security prisoners do not recognize the prison service and refuse to participate. But Yehushua made the case that the privilege to attain university degrees in prison, which was taken away in 2011, was a de-radicalizing program of sorts.

“They learned Hebrew, they learned about Israeli society, the Jewish people and its history,” when they studied for degrees in Israel. “By not giving them an education, we are ruining things for ourselves. They won’t necessarily de-radicalize, but they understand us better and learn how to communicate with us,” she said.

The reinstatement of the degree program is one of the strikers’ key demands.

Asked if she thought politics gets in the way of sensible prison policy, she replied, “Definitely,” and said Israel needed a more holistic approach that would give security prisoners the feeling they are being treated fairly and humanely.

“It’s easy to think about all the aspects of revenge. We need to think clearly about what benefits us — not just what makes us feel better,” Yehushua said.

“If there are issues of security, we need to find humanitarian ways to deal with them. If a person will see his family, he will feel grateful. He will begin to see us not only as the occupier, but also in a more human way,” she added. “I don’t care about right-wing or left-wing — I really don’t — I just think we need to think outside of the box.”

James Comey (White Freemason) Tried to Shield the F.B.I. From Politics. Then He Shaped an 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.

A polling place in the Bronx on Election Day last November. CreditHiroko Masuike/The New York Times

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.

Missing Emails

Hillary Clinton checking her BlackBerry while on Capitol Hill in January 2009. CreditChip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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

The J. Edgar Hoover Building, the headquarters of the F.B.I., in Washington.CreditBrendan Smialowski/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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

Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, where Ms. Lynch and former President Bill Clinton had an unscheduled meeting on the tarmac in June 2016. CreditSpencer Platt/Getty Images

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

Secret Service agents outside Mrs. Clinton’s home in Washington on July 2, 2016, the day she was interviewed there by federal agents. CreditAl Drago/The New York Times

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.

Russia Rising

Red Square in Moscow. The F.B.I. has been investigating whether members of the Trump campaign had ties to the Kremlin. CreditVasily Maximov/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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. The article 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.

‘Exceptional Circumstances’

Mr. Comey testifying before the House Judiciary Committee in September.CreditPablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

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.

John D. Podesta, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman, on board her campaign plane in September, a month before a large collection of his emails was posted online by WikiLeaks. CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

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

Anthony D. Weiner, the former New York congressman, at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July. CreditStephen Crowley/The New York Times

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.

Huma Abedin has long been one of of Mrs. Clinton’s closest confidants and served as a top aide during the campaign. CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

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.


Letter to Congress From F.B.I. Director on Clinton Email Case

In the letter, the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, said that new emails had surfaced in a case unrelated to the closed investigation into whether Hillary Clinton or her aides had mishandled classified information, and that the messages “appear to be pertinent to the investigation.”

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’

Donald J. Trump at an Oct. 28 rally in Maine, where he said of the reopening of the Clinton email investigation, “This changes everything.” CreditStephen Crowley/The New York Times

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.”

Political Consequences

Mr. Comey appearing in March at a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Russian interference in the presidential election. CreditZach Gibson/Getty Images

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.

When politics gets in the way of Jewish giving

NEW YORK (JTA) — Lisa Greer didn’t think twice when she used her cellphone to donate to IfNotNow, a Jewish organization that protests Israel’s West Bank occupation.

Greer and her husband, Joshua, had given millions to progressive Jewish and Israel causes, and she sits on the board of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. So last October, she gave the $5,000 contribution to IfNotNow from her donor-advised fund at the foundation, a mechanism for philanthropists to give to specific causes via local Jewish philanthropic bodies.

But two days later, the Jewish Community Foundation, the planned giving arm of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, blocked the donation. While Greer can choose where her fund’s money goes, the foundation has to approve every grant. And because IfNotNow protests federations and other Jewish establishment groups, the foundation said no.

It was the first Greer had ever heard of a grant being denied.

“We give to all different kinds of organizations. There’s never been an issue,” said Greer, who gave the IfNotNow donation in September. “I’d never heard of this happening before. I was beyond shocked. I really did start shaking.”

Greer’s gift isn’t the only contribution from a Jewish donor-advised fund to come under scrutiny. Nationwide, donor-advised funds affiliated with Jewish federations give a collective $1 billion per year, according to the Jewish Federations of North America. Of those gifts, relatively few are rejected — but red lines surrounding donor-advised gifts remain unclear. Beyond confirming a recipient nonprofit’s legal standing, federations often mandate only that a recipient’s mission be consistent with the federation’s goals — itself a vague requirement.

“Jewish Federations’ charitable goals include aiding the most vulnerable, building vibrant Jewish communities and supporting Israel,” read a statement from JFNA spokeswoman Rebecca Dinar. “Grants to organizations that fall outside of those parameters require each community to apply their own judgment.”

What falls within and outside those boundaries?

While the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles blocked the IfNotNow grant, it has allowed grants to the New Israel Fund, which supports a range of nonprofits that oppose occupation. Federations have also faced pressure on donor-advised donations to right-wing groups.

Last Thursday, Jewish Voice for Peace, which supports boycotts of Israel, issued a report tallying donor-advised gifts via Chicago’s federation-affiliated foundation to groups that JVP describes as “Islamophobic.” According to the report, gifts to two organizations — Middle East Forum and Investigative Project on Terrorism — totaled nearly $800,000 between 2011 and 2014. (Both groups say they do not oppose Islam but rather “Islamist violence” and “radical Islamic involvement in terrorism.”) Last year, students in J Street U, the student arm of the dovish Israel lobby, wrote an op-ed in the Forward detailing donor-advised gifts totaling more than $60,000 via the Chicago and Milwaukee federations to groups that fund West Bank settlement construction.

“If their only basis for who they give money to is whether it’s legal, they need to stop saying they stand together against all forms of hate,” said Michael Deheeger, one of the JVP report’s co-authors, about the Chicago federation. “They still retain total discretion over whether to let money go to these organizations. They can stop this today.”

For wealthy donors, donor-advised funds are a way to make giving easier. They place their money into a tax-free charitable account, tell the federation where they want it to go and the federation takes care of the rest, including paperwork and tax filing. Federations benefit by receiving an initial donation from each donor as well as a small percentage of each donation. Traditional charities like The United Way and the Salvation Army run donor-advised funds, as do mutual fund groups like Fidelity and Charles Schwab.

The popularity of donor-advised funds has grown beyond the Jewish community. According to The Economist, almost $80 billion sit in over 270,000 donor-advised funds today, compared to $34 billion in 180,000 donor-advised funds in 2010. In 2014, Jewish federations and affiliated foundations held over $17.5 billion in donor-advised funds, according to EJewishPhilanthropy.com.

Federations embraced donor-advised funds in recent years to cultivate wealthy families who wanted more say in where their donations go — unlike donations to the federation’s annual campaign, which are generally apportioned by the federation’s lay board and staff. But there are limits. Donors’ gifts from funds are subject to federation approval.

Andres Spokoiny, CEO of the Jewish Funders Network, which offers resources for Jewish philanthropists, said controversies on the margins of the funds shouldn’t tarnish their value as a way to facilitate giving. But the best way to assuage those concerns, he said, is for each federation to clearly set  its red lines.

“That gets inscribed into the broader question of what are normative positions for the Jewish community,” he said. “What are the limits of public discourse? It’s a debate that’s full of gray areas and the goalposts keep moving. The solution to that is to have an honest and open conversation in each community.”

Some federations do have specific policies on donor-advised gifts. Portland’s federation, for example, notes that it does not make its own allocations beyond Israel’s pre-1967 borders, but that it will generally accept donor-advised gifts intended for charities beyond the so-called Green Line. Others, including the Chicago federation’s foundation and the Los Angeles community fund, prefer not to single out any one cause or group in their guidelines for donors.

“It’s the donor’s money sitting at JUF, and very wide latitude is then given to the donor,” said Jay Tcath, executive vice president of the Jewish United Fund, Chicago’s federation. “Which is why there are groups on the right that are going to be funded that antagonize the left, and groups on the left we fund.”

Asked to elaborate on its denial of Greer’s request, the L.A. fund wrote in a statement to JTA that it will approve gifts to any nonprofit “whose programs and goals are not inconsistent with the fundamental mission of the Jewish Community Foundation,” and which is not anti-Semitic nor anti-Israel.

Jewish Voice for Peace would like the Chicago federation to establish a policy disqualifying funding to “Islamophobic” groups. In the period covered by the JVP report, the Chicago federation’s donor-advised funds made a total of $175 million in grants to 3000 organizations.

That included more than $750,000 of donor-advised gifts between 2011 and 2014 to the Middle East Forum, an organization led by researcher Daniel Pipes that the Southern Poverty Law Center included on a list of anti-Muslim extremist groups, and $26,000 to the Investigative Project on Terrorism, led by Steven Emerson, which also appears on the SPLC list.

“If they want to cast such a big tent that it puts them in the position of funneling money to hate groups, they need to stop positioning themselves as speaking on behalf of the entire Chicago Jewish community,” Deheeger said.

Tcath rejects JVP’s charge that his organization is Islamophobic, noting money it has raised for relief efforts in Syria and Bosnia as well as its work helping resettle refugees of all religions in Illinois. He said his federation opposes bigotry, and that SPLC’s list of Islamophobic organizations, which came out in December, two years after the period studied by JVP, could prompt a re-examination of those groups. But he added that JUF would not disqualify a group based solely on one or two of its founders’ offensive statements.

“Any bigotry is against our values and interests, but it is not for certain that everybody would really agree with that characterization of the Southern Poverty Law Center,” he said. “Are they serving the noble goals on which their mission statement is based? If that is the case, then we’re not going to stop the donors’ requests to the group because of this or that statement.”

The Chicago federation does set red lines: Tcath said any group that advocates violence toward, or forcible expulsion of, Arabs from Israel would not receive funding. On the left, he ruled out any group that promotes boycotts of Israel — including JVP — but not groups that support boycotts limited to the settlements. In the past, Tcath also recalls the federation denying a request to fund a church that engaged in proselytizing.

Tcath said he had “no idea” whether JUF would honor a request to fund IfNotNow, noting its focus on protesting Jewish federations like his own.

After being denied by the L.A. community fund, Greer gave her donation directly to IfNotNow. In the months since, she has kept her money in the donor-advised fund, noting her support of most of the organization’s work in the Jewish community. But she’s looking for a more progressive home for her philanthropy.

“If I can get a little bit of money back to the Jewish community through that 1.5 percent, it’s a good thing,” she said, referring to the percentage of each gift that goes to the Jewish Community Fund. “But I’m actively looking for an alternative, and if an alternative presents itself, or if I were given money to create an alternative, I would do it in a heartbeat.”

Trump Insists Jobs Numbers Were Phony In Past, They’re Very Real Now – Yep, Politics (LOL…..)



There’s a certain amusement as the job claims and employment numbers come out. President Trump, according to his spokesman at least, is insisting that while these numbers were, umm, less than wholly and entirely accurate in the past (he has actually said “phony”) now that they’re both good and referring to a time when he’s in office they’re just fine, bigly accurate. Which is amusing of course but we’ve also got to grasp that this is just how politics works. Good things that happen are due to the good person in office, bad things that happen either to his predecessor, enemies or worries about his successor. There is nothing unique about Trump in this except perhaps in the degree of shamelessness with which the idea is put forward. Hillary told us quite a lot about how great that 90s economy was but there are very few who are willing to insist that it was Bill that did it all even if the claim is often there unsaid.

So, a cocked eyebrow at the claim perhaps:

Donald Trump’s spokesman acknowledged on Friday that the White House was now cheering U.S. job growth figures that Mr. Trump routinely dismissed on the campaign trail as misleading.

Or in more detail:

Now that he’s president, Trump has changed his tune. On Friday, after the Labor Department announced the economy added 235,000 jobs and the unemployment rate fell to 4.7 percent in February, White House press secretary Sean Spicer announced that the president doesn’t think the jobs numbers are bogus anymore.

“I talked to the president prior to this and he said to quote him very clearly: ‘They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now,’” Spicer said.

Then Spicer and people in the White Hose briefing room laughed.

Laughter is indeed an appropriate response:

The economy created more than a quarter of a million jobs and the unemployment rate ticked down to 4.7 percent, according to Friday’s jobs report.

It’s entirely possible to construct an argument that Trump and his future policies are behind this. Markets are forward looking after all and if businessmen think that times are going to get much better then they will gear up with more staff in order to produce more. And the joy of the economy is that those animal spirits do matter, as Keynes said they did. If businesses all gear up, hire more to produce more, then the economy will get better. Simply because more people have been hired to produce more stuff and thus the demand is there for that more stuff. Shrug, this is just the way that it works.

However, I would hesitate to ascribe too much weight to that argument. Entirely willing to believe that there’s a bit there, you can decide how much you want it to be. For if I did want to ascribe much–or even more than a tad–of weight to that argument then I would be looking for a divergence from the previous trend. If a change in policy, a potential change in future policy, a change in who is President, had changed views of the economy then I would expect there to be something of a change in the figures as we found out about the new policy and the new President.

Song and dance, protest and politics to mingle at Oscars

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The 89th Academy Awards should be a very schizophrenic affair: equal parts pomp and politics.

The only thing expected to take the stage more often than the frothy front-runner “La La Land” at Sunday’s ceremony is protest (and probably some punchlines) over the policies of US President Donald Trump. For largely liberal Hollywood, his election has proven a rallying cause-celebre throughout an awards season that has otherwise been a parade of honors for Damien Chazelle’s celebrated musical.

Just how political things are going to get at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles may be the biggest question of Sunday night’s show, to be broadcast by ABC beginning at 8:30 p.m. EST, with red carpet coverage starting earlier. The current forecast for Sunday is only a slight chance of rain, though the inside of the Dolby Theatre is expected to be far stormier.

Even the usually glitzy lead-up to Sunday’s show has taken on the form of a gathering tempest. On Friday, the United Talent Agency, forgoing its usual Oscar party, instead held a rally over immigration. “We will not tolerate chaos and ineptitude and war-mongering,” Jodie Foster told attendees.

More strikingly, the six directors of the foreign film nominees on Friday released a joint statement condemning “the climate of fanaticism and nationalism we see today in the US and in so many other countries, in parts of the population and, most unfortunately of all, among leading politicians.”

The signees included the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, whose “The Salesman” is favored to win him his second foreign language Oscar. He isn’t attending the awards out of protest for Trump’s proposed travel ban from seven predominantly Muslim nations, including Iran.

This image released by Lionsgate shows Ryan Gosling, right, and Emma Stone in a scene from, "La La Land." The film is nominated for an Oscar for best picture. (Dale Robinette/Lionsgate via AP)

On Friday, he posted a video thanking the Hollywood community for its support of his Oscar boycott. In it, Farhadi condemned Trump’s policies and said they are “trying to promote hate.”

And sure to stoke the rhetoric at Sunday’s Oscars is news this weekend that US immigration authorities are barring entry to a 21-year-old Syrian cinematographer who worked on the documentary short nominee “The White Helmets,” about the nation’s civil war.

Meanwhile, some Trump supporters are calling for a boycott of the broadcast, expecting more speeches like Meryl Streep’s fiery remarks at the Globes — which prompted Trump to call her “overrated.” (The Academy of Motion Pictures on Friday added Streep, also a nominee, to its presenters.) But similar so-called boycotts have also trailed the Broadway sensation “Hamilton” and 2016’s top box-office hit, the “Star Wars” spinoff “Rogue One.”

ABC would be very happy with similar results, especially after last year’s telecast, hosted by Chris Rock, drew 34.4 million viewers, an eight-year low. Ads this year are still going for $2.1 million for 30-second spots.

Host Jimmy Kimmel will have a delicate balance on his hands. Play it too light and he’ll appear out of sync with the mood. Hammer too hard and he’ll alienate viewers already inundated by politics.

A lot of the suspense has been deflated by the juggernaut of “La La Land,” the Golden Globe winner and favorite to win best picture. It’s up for 14 awards, tying it with “Titanic” and “All About Eve” for the record.

Rock’s 2016 show, which he introduced as “the White People’s Choice Awards,” was rife with Hollywood’s diversity debate. But after two straight years of all-white acting nominees and the resulting “OscarsSoWhite” rancor, this year’s field is teaming with African-American actors and filmmakers, thanks to films like best-picture candidates Barry Jenkin’s coming-of-age tale “Moonlight,” Denzel Washington’s August Wilson adaptation “Fences” and Theodore Melfi’s uplifting space-race drama “Hidden Figures.”

For the first time, an actor of color is nominated in each acting category. A record six black actors are nominated. Four of the five films nominated for best documentary were made by black filmmakers. Bradford Young (“Arrival”) is the second black cinematographer ever nominated. Kimberly Steward, the financer of “Manchester by the Sea,” is the second black female producer nominated for best picture.

The nominees follow the efforts by Academy of Motions Pictures Arts and Sciences President Cheryl Boone Isaacs to diversify the membership of the largely white, older and male film academy. In June, the academy added 683 new members: 46 percent of them were female; 41% were nonwhite; and they pulled from 59 countries.

There is other turmoil, too. Only one major studio — Paramount, which distributed “Arrival” and “Fences” — scored a best picture nod this year — and its chief, Brad Grey, departed last week. Amazon, on the other hand, scored its first best-picture nomination with “Manchester by the Sea.”