FBI Director James Comey didn’t quite give Republicans what they wanted. But he went out of his way to give them the next best thing.
Let’s start with a simple admission. Yes, Hillary Clinton brought much of this on herself. Her almost fanatical insistence on her privacy, and her justified suspicions that right-wingers out there would do her harm by obtaining personal information through FOIA requests, led her, just before she went to work for the government as Secretary of State, to establish her own email server, which, she even admits, turned out to be a colossal mistake.
Now, with that out of the way, let’s move on to just why the FBI was involved in this nonsense in the first place, according to Director Comey:
The investigation began as a referral from the Intelligence Community Inspector General in connection with Secretary Clinton’s use of a personal e-mail server during her time as Secretary of State. The referral focused on whether classified information was transmitted on that personal system.
Our investigation looked at whether there is evidence classified information was improperly stored or transmitted on that personal system, in violation of a federal statute making it a felony to mishandle classified information either intentionally or in a grossly negligent way, or a second statute making it a misdemeanor to knowingly remove classified information from appropriate systems or storage facilities.
Notice that the FBI’s job in this case was to see whether or not what Hillary Clinton did, related to her use of a private email server, actually violated a federal law. It was really that simple: did she or didn’t she break the law? Comey and his agency found that she did not. Okay, what he said was,
Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case…As a result, although the Department of Justice makes final decisions on matters like this, we are expressing to Justice our view that no charges are appropriate in this case.
Why wouldn’t a “reasonable prosecutor” bring the case? Because, as many lawyers have been saying all along, the case would fail. Remember that there had to be malicious intent or gross negligence. After months and months of looking, Comey couldn’t find either, but that didn’t stop the Bush-era Republican from publicly scolding Mrs. Clinton:
Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.
“Extremely careless”? Extremely? The word “careless” needed that particular modifier? Careless wasn’t good enough by itself? Somewhat careless wasn’t tough enough? That kind of Fox -like criticism hurled at Mrs. Clinton—and that’s really whom this whole thing was about; let’s don’t kid ourselves—is criticism that an FBI Director, who has worked for a Republican administration, ought not to have made in an election year, when the person he labeled “extremely careless” will be the Democratic Party nominee. It might have helped shed light on this controversy if Comey had bothered to mention just how screwed up our system for classifying information is, but he limited his criticisms to Mrs. Clinton, including this unnecessary critique:
While not the focus of our investigation, we also developed evidence that the security culture of the State Department in general, and with respect to use of unclassified e-mail systems in particular, was generally lacking in the kind of care for classified information found elsewhere in the government.
Now, if it was “not the focus” of the FBI’s investigation, one has to wonder why Comey found it necessary to essentially badmouth Clinton’s management of the State Department, at least in terms of how the agency handled classified information. Comey’s unsolicited criticism seemed full of purpose, whatever his purpose was. It obviously helps Donald Trump’s campaign, even if Trump isn’t smart enough to figure that out by himself.
On MSNBC, just after Comey’s announcement, Andrea Mitchell had on as her first Republican guest none other than Ben Carson. Huh? Ben Carson? Really? Was Sarah Palin busy? Needless to say, Carson was—when he was awake—fairly incoherent, but he did manage to say that Clinton’s “judgment” is the real issue, not the legalities. Ahhh, yes. Her judgment. That happens to be a Bernie Sanders special, which Trump has borrowed and devilishly embellished for the remainder of this campaign. The she-has-poor-judgment critique is bolstered considerably by Comey’s out-of-bounds commentary today.
Speaker Paul Ryan, reacting with Trump-like hysteria, said in response to Comey:
Declining to prosecute Secretary Clinton for recklessly mishandling and transmitting national security information will set a terrible precedent. The findings of this investigation also make clear that Secretary Clinton misled the American people when she was confronted with her criminal actions. While we need more information about how the Bureau came to this recommendation, the American people will reject this troubling pattern of dishonesty and poor judgment.
It remains to be seen what the American people will reject since we haven’t had an election yet. But what we can see is that for Hillary Clinton, even when she manages to clear one hurdle, another one is quickly put in front of her. Far from being “above the law,” as Paul Ryan and others have suggested today and in the past, she is in some ways below it. Even when the FBI director basically cleared her of legal liability, the Speaker of the House talked openly about “her criminal actions.” And the FBI director himself offered up, for whatever reason, a double-dose of criticism that happens to harmonize with “crooked Hillary” Tweets from the GOP nominee, a man who is demonstrably and dangerously dishonest, not to mention a walking, tweeting example of poor judgment.
Did James Comey say the things he said today in order to help Trump? I doubt it. He more than likely was trying to deflect criticism away from him and his agency by going as far as he could, rhetorically, to damage Hillary Clinton, even as he said—I repeat—“no charges are appropriate in this case.” And damage her he did. Fortunately, though, we can count on Republicans to overplay their hands, just like they have with Benghazi and other “scandals” of the past. In the meantime, for her it’s on to North Carolina with President Obama, both of them hopefully campaigning about things that matter, like what would a world with a nuclear-armed President Trump look like.