Or is it an entirely inappropriate intervention in the political process by a public official?
At the end of the working week we were cruising to a perhaps anticlimactic finish to the presidential campaign when a letter from FBI Director James B. Comey advised Congress that the agency would once again be examining emails related to Clinton’s time as secretary of state. He said:
- the FBI would take “appropriate investigative steps” to determine whether the newly discovered emails contain classified information and to assess whether they are relevant to the Clinton server probe.
More than 1000 emails were found on a computer used by Anthony Weiner and his now estranged wife Huma Abedin, a top Clinton aide. Weiner, a former Congressman who resigned in 2011 when the first of what would become multiple sexting scandals were made public, was being investigated by the FBI over illicit text messages he sent to a 15-year-old girl in North Carolina.
Trump’s view was predictable. Hillary was guilty and should go to jail. The Clinton campaign was naturally upset, to say the least. They emphasised that Comey should “immediately provide the full details of what he is now examining” and were confident nothing new would come up.
John Kass, award-winning columnist in the Chicago Tribune, demanded that the Democrats should ask Hillary Clinton to step aside. He thinks that “having Clinton anywhere near the White House is just not a good idea” and the Clinton’s have only themselves to blame. Vice-presidential nominee, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, should stand in her place.
The Washington Post takes a different editorial line in The damage Comey’s bad timing could do.
They say that, as they have previously argued, Clinton’s email affair has been greatly overblown.
- According to the previous FBI review, the small amount of classified material that moved through Ms. Clinton’s private server was not clearly marked as such, and no harm to national security has been demonstrated.
The FBI conducted a thorough investigation for any prosecutable offenses, especially any involving the transmission of classified information. Mr. Comey rightly recommended against bringing charges; he told his staff that the decision was “not a cliff-hanger.” In deference to the reality that the target of the inquiry was a major-party nominee for president, he gave the public a summary of the facts and law behind his decision.
However, they believe that back in July Comey went too far in providing raw FBI material to Congress. Now he faced a dilemma:
- If Mr. Comey failed to tell Congress before Nov. 8 about his decision to review them, he would be accused — again — of a politically motivated coverup. By revealing it, he inevitably creates a cloud of suspicion over Ms. Clinton that, if the case’s history is any guide, is unwarranted. Hence Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s not unreasonable demand that Mr. Comey “immediately provide the full details of what he is now examining.”
Problem is, I think, that the chances of FBI completing a review of the emails in the next five working days are about zero.
Matthew Miller, director of the Justice Department’s public affairs office from 2009 to 2011, argued back in July that when Comey stepped to the lectern to deliver his remarks about Hillary Clinton:
- he violated time-honored Justice Department practices for how such matters are to be handled, set a dangerous precedent for future investigations and committed a gross abuse of his own power. (Emphasis added)
It is important, Miller says, that investigators and prosecutors are not the arbiters of guilt or wrongdoing. That is the role of the courts. Where charges are not laid it is important that investigators do not besmirch the reputations of the subjects of their investigations. These are long-standing guidelines in the Justice Department and the FBI. Comey chose to ignore long-standing guidelines, essentially leaving Clinton guilty, unless she proved her innocence, in a context where he said there was no legal basis to bring charges.
Transparency was chosen over fairness. Miller says:
- Imagine a situation in which the Obama Justice Department investigates major conservative activists such as the Koch brothers for possibly violating the law, but finding no reason to bring charges, the attorney general holds a news conference to outline all of the ways in which she finds their conduct deplorable. A Republican attorney general declining to bring charges against union officials but publicly excoriating their behavior would be similarly objectionable.
While Clinton shouldn’t have received special treatment, she does not deserve worse treatment from her government than anyone else, either. Yet by inserting himself into the middle of a political campaign and making unprecedented public assertions, that is exactly what Comey provided.
The entire exercise seemed designed to protect Comey’s reputation for integrity, while not actually demonstrating integrity. Real integrity is making a decision, conveying it in the ordinary channels, and then taking whatever heat comes. Generations of prosecutors and agents have learned to make the right call without holding a self-congratulatory news conference to talk about it. Comey just taught them a different lesson.
In the latest revelation Justice officials warned Comey in the clearest term that his proposed action would be viewed as influencing an election. Comey knowingly rejected their warnings. ‘Sources’ indicated that he feared a media leak and accusations of a coverup.
Craig Sargeant looks at what Comey needs to do to clean up the mess. Comey would have known that his cryptic language would suggest that there was a real problem here, and help the Republicans. To save his own skin he now needs to assess the emails with sufficient speed so that American voters have that information when they vote.
Nate Silver now has Trump at a 21% chance of winning. That was on the basis of polls taken before the FBI bombshell.
That’s up from about 16% around a week ago. 16.7% is the chance you have of getting your brains blown out when playing Russian roulette.
On Friday night I collected a few bits and pieces of interest during the week before I heard about the FBI bombshell.
Why did Trump run?
Michael D’Antonio knows Trump better than most. He wrote a biography about him after many hours of interviews in 2014. When asked on The World Today why Trump is running, he said:
- I think this a person who has a need for endless amounts of attention and almost a bottomless empty space inside of him.
And he’s sought to fill it up with wealth and power and notoriety and I think that it was the one thing that was left to try.
It’s a big ego trip, and he says Trump doesn’t understand that the presidency is not like a monarchy. Plus he and his supporters will be very sore losers.
What does Trump really think about the Clintons?
Also during the week an interview turned up from November 2008 showing Trump praising the Clintons with such passion, it raises questions about his true feelings for his Democratic rivals. Here’s the happy foursome:
Sounded as though he really meant it.
The economic implications of a Clinton presidency
Richard Holden writes that once the bookies start paying out you know it’s over. Apparently they are starting to pay out on the US election. So he takes a look at the economic consequences of a Clinton victory. His bottom line:
- Hillary Clinton has different packaging than Bill, the previous Clinton – and some important differences. But [her] proposals are hardly the stuff of the radical left. They are pretty centrist, but should make America a fairer place – with better, growth-boosting infrastructure.
The economic implications of a Trump presidency
David Francis finds that a Trump presidency would hurt both consumers and manufacturers. One study found that in the first year alone, the tariffs on Chinese, Japanese, and Mexican goods would amount to a 30 percent cut in wages. Millions of jobs would disappear, many in retail and services.