What is going on? What is Comey up to? Those are the questions dominating the end of this fevered political season. After castigating her handling of classified emails as “extremely careless,” Comey announced on July 5 that Hillary Clinton should not be prosecuted under a statute requiring “gross negligence” which, any lawyer will tell you, is exactly the same thing.
On October 28, ten days before the election, Comey wrote to several Congressional committee chairmen (in effect, announcing it publicly) that the FBI was in possession of “pertinent” email records it had obtained in the course of an unrelated investigation. He stated that because he had told the Congress the investigation was “completed” he felt obliged to tell them the FBI would review the emails although it was not known if they were “significant.”
The emails were on a laptop seized from Disgraced Former Congressman Anthony Weiner (as he will be known in perpetuity) in the FBI’s investigation of Weiner’s “sexting” activities with young girls. (If you don’t know what “sexting” is, Google it.) Weiner is the estranged husband of Huma Abedin who has been the devoted and trusted right hand of Hillary Clinton in the Senate, at the State Department, in dealings with the Clinton Foundation and in her Presidential campaign.
Not for the first time this year the political and media classes join the voters in baffled astonishment. The principals and public alike are left to speculate on the meaning of it all. Any additional details of the investigation to date come not from the FBI but from unsourced investigative reporters and that will be the case apparently through the election
No one, apparently including Comey and Abedin, knows what is in the emails. Abedin reportedly says she occasionally forwarded Mrs. Clinton’s emails to her Yahoo account because Mrs. Clinton preferred to read hard copies of documents rather than view them on a smartphone or computer screen. (We have not time to stop here to savor that irony.) Abedin regarded the Yahoo account as better equipped to print emails.
Abedin has also said that she did not mention Weiner’s laptop to the FBI as a possible vessel of her emails because she had used it only rarely and not for Clinton business. As anyone who occasionally borrows the spouse’s computer knows, once you have accessed your account on that computer, it is available to you (and anyone else who can sign in) anytime.
But for the Clinton operation’s reputation for secrecy and evasiveness, there is no reason right now to believe that the “new” emails are anything but copies of the old.
So why did Comey do it? He has brought down on himself the wrath of top officials at the Justice Department, probably the White House and that half or so of the country who support Mrs. Clinton, not to mention the likely future President. Surely he could have waited in compliance with Justice Department guidelines until after the election and justified himself to any future Congressional investigation with the truth: he simply did not know that there was anything “significant” in the emails. Writing about Comey’s strange announcement of non-prosecution on July 5, I explained in Hillary skates again:
“To this momentous political turning point, Comey brings a considerable reputation for integrity and courage. He garnered this during his service as Deputy Attorney General in the George W. Bush administration when, as acting Attorney General, he backed the White House down on a national security issue and also appointed the Special Prosecutor in the Scooter Libby case. Comey’s repute for probity might stand up better if he had applied his righteousness in a more bipartisan way.”
The force driving Comey does not seem to be anything but his concern about that very reputation for rectitude. He was at his most heatedly defensive responding in Congressional testimony to an insinuation by Congressman Trey Gowdy that the FBI under Comey was “not the same FBI” Gowdy had worked with as a Federal prosecutor. Reportedly Comey’s July 5 action caused a great rift among career employees.
That plummeting morale was compounded when it was revealed that, after July 5, Comey promoted to Deputy Director Andrew McCabe whose wife, as an unsuccessful Democratic state senate candidate in Virginia, received $467,500.00 in campaign funds in late 2015 from the PAC of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a longtime Clinton stalwart. That’s nearly half a million dollars. For a state senate seat. McAuliffe, a trustee of the Clinton Foundation, is under investigation by the FBI for failure to register as an agent of a foreign government.
The London Daily Mail quotes family friends reporting that even Comey’s wife has been pressing him to undo his July 5 announcement.
In Comey’s sudden announced reversal of position on a public Clinton investigation we can see a shadow of Pontius Pilate. Pilate, it will be recalled, was the Roman Prefect of Judea before whom Jesus was brought on charges that he claimed to be King and was thus a threat to Roman rule. Reluctant to condemn Jesus, Pilate attempted to persuade the mob to accept the execution of a thief in place of Jesus.
When the crowd would not relent Pilate entered a metaphor into the language and publicly and sanctimoniously washed his hands of the blood of Jesus.
Of course Pilate then turned Jesus over to the mob and high priests for execution.
So damaged is the candidacy of her opponent, Mrs. Clinton will survive this latest blow. The same cannot be said for the reputation for probity of Director James Comey. As I said in the earlier blog post, Comey’s July 5 decision was arguably wrong but defensible. His latest decision is certainly wrong but not defensible.