FBI Director James Comey, whose reputation as a truth-teller was forever sealed when he served as deputy attorney general in the Bush administration, was the clear winner in the Hillary Clinton email story/scandal. In fact, he was pretty much the only winner.
Clinton lost, even as she was cleared of any illegality. In granting Clinton a reprieve, Comey still made a strong case that this scandal was different from all the Clinton faux scandals in that he — both a Republican and an Obama appointee — was not part of a vast right-wing conspiracy.
Comey took apart Clinton’s various explanations for using a private server and revealed that she had, in fact, sent classified information over that server. It’s more than possible, he added, “that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal email account,” meaning her account might well have been hacked.
And in words you’ll hear for the rest of the campaign, Comey called her handling of highly sensitive information “extremely careless,” which is not exactly what you want plastered atop your campaign résumé. But Comey also said that no “reasonable prosecutor” would charge Clinton and that, in piecing together all the information on the account, he found “no intentional misconduct.”
Still, the only good news on this day for Clinton, other than the fact that she won’t be indicted, is the same good news she gets every day: that Donald Trump is her presumptive opponent and that he would inevitably botch this opportunity. As New York Times columnist Ross Douthat tweeted: “This is a dark day for Clinton’s 2020 re-election campaign.”
And so, on to the rest of the losers.
Bill Clinton lost. No explanation needed.
Loretta Lynch lost. See above.
Barack Obama lost, at least for the day. In their first campaign trip together, Obama said his faith in Clinton “has always been rewarded.” Well, maybe not always.
Irony never loses, but it did take a beating, right along with transparency. Clinton used a private server to ensure that only those emails she chose to make public would be seen, and, because of her insistence on going private, everything would be made public. Given her history, she has what you might call reasonable paranoia, but, once again, in the lesson she should have learned as a young attorney for the House Judiciary Committee during Watergate, the cover-up is often worse than the crime. And, boy, did she ever cover up.
Oh, and of course, Trump lost.
In a day that should have been pure victory for Trump, on a day when it was virtually impossible for him to lose, on the day when Crooked Hillary became officially, as some on Twitter noted, Extremely Careless Hillary, Trump still lost. This was a hanging curveball that you couldn’t miss. Except that Trump, being Trump, whiffed badly.
It started when he tweeted, going to his default position, that the Clinton exoneration proved the system was “rigged,” implicitly suggesting that Comey was involved in a rigged outcome. He said that Clinton’s actions were far worse than those of Gen. Petraeus, who had, of course, pleaded guilty to sharing classified information with his mistress. It’s a start.
Later, at a rally in Raleigh, Trump said that Clinton had bribed Loretta Lynch by suggesting, via a report in The New York Times, that if Clinton wins the presidency, she might re-hire Lynch. He said it was “no accident” that Obama and Clinton were campaigning together on the day of the Comey announcement, suggesting that Obama was in on the deal, or at least knew about the deal, even though Comey insisted he had not informed anyone. And, as if to make it clearer, Trump said that it was time to take the country back from “these thieves and crooks.”
This is what you call classic overreach. Why not just give an honest critique of the decision without accusing everyone involved of being somehow on the take? OK, we already know the answer to that — because it’s Donald Trump, and, in his world, everything is rigged.
And Trump didn’t stop there. (Of course he didn’t.) At the same rally, while criticizing the Clintons and Obama and Lynch and the FBI, Trump praised — get ready — Saddam Hussein. And I’ll bet you were worried that it was going to be David Duke.
Here’s the quote, which, for context, was part of Trump’s criticism of Obama’s dealing with terrorists: “Saddam Hussein was a bad guy, right? He was a bad guy, really bad guy. But you know what he did well? He killed terrorists. He did that so good. They didn’t read them the rights, they didn’t talk. They were a terrorist – it was over.”
If the question is how badly can you step on your message, we now have the leader in the clubhouse. Not only is the uncharged Clinton a crook, Lynch is bribed, Obama is in on it, Comey is part of a rigged system and Saddam is the leader who showed us the proper way to deal with terrorists. And that was just one speech.
If you don’t know Comey’s background, read the story in The Washington Post about Comey’s willingness to battle with authority, including with Obama. The most famous instance came when Comey, as acting attorney general for the Bush administration, had refused to extend a warrantless domestic wiretap program. Upon hearing that Alberto Gonzalez, then White House counsel, was leading a team to a hospital to try to persuade ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft to overrule the decision, Comey literally raced to get there first.
In Senate testimony years later, Comey dramatically described how Ashcroft, who was in intensive care at the time, lifted his head from the pillow and, pointing to Comey, told Gonzalez and White House Chief of Staff Andy Card that “I’m not the attorney general. There is the attorney general.”
Well, I guess it depends on what your definition of rigged is.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons, Flickr