Copyright © 2016 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) since 2013, really, really, really doesn’t want Hillary Rodham Clinton to be the next President of the United States. And he’s going to use all the powers of his office to prevent it.
That’s the inescapable conclusion from the events of the last four days, ever since Comey released a letter he wrote to the Republicans in Congress in charge of the committees that oversee his agency saying there were “new developments” in the investigation of Clinton for allegedly jeopardizing national security by using a private server to handle her e-mails during her term as U.S. Secretary of State. The “new developments” were that the FBI had seized a laptop computer belonging to Anthony Weiner, estranged husband of Huma Abedin, a Clinton adviser so personally close to her she’s been referred to as “Hillary’s other daughter.”
Just about everybody who’s heard of Anthony Weiner (whose last name would usually be pronounced “Whiner,” but given what he’s most famous for “Wiener” has become irresistible to TV reporters) knows that he lost his seat in the U.S. Congress and was forced from political life in disgrace over inappropriate text messages he sent women, including women he barely knew. The FBI got involved in Weiner’s case because one of his alleged “sexting” targets was a 15-year-old girl in North Carolina. So they sought a court order to seize his laptop, and when they got it they found a number of messages from or to Abedin as well.
On October 28 Comey sent his letter and publicly released its contents. His letter didn’t say, or even hint at, what was in Abedin’s e-mails because he didn’t know, and neither did anyone else at the FBI. Comey didn’t obtain the necessary court order to read them until October 30. There’s still no evidence that any of the e-mails on the Weiner/Abedin laptop were sent either by or to Hillary Clinton, and it’s not known how many of them are “duplicates” of e-mails the FBI already has because Clinton turned them over last year in response to a subpoena.
In short, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, “there is no ‘there’ there” — and there won’t be without months of further investigation to determine whether there’s anything new relating to Clinton on Abedin’s hard drive, whether any of it contains classified information, and whether any of it warrants reversing Comey’s original judgment last July that, though Clinton and her staff had been “extremely careless” in handling classified information, there wasn’t enough evidence to charge her with a crime.
Ordinarily, neither the FBI nor any other law enforcement agency would release this kind of information against a candidate for public office less than two weeks before an election. As New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer wrote on the magazine’s Web site October 29 (http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/james-comey-broke-with-loretta-lynch-and-justice-department-tradition) “Comey’s decision is a striking break with the policies of the Department of Justice, according to current and former federal legal officials. Comey, who is a Republican appointee of President Obama, has a reputation for integrity and independence, but his latest action is stirring an extraordinary level of concern among legal authorities, who see it as potentially affecting the outcome of the Presidential and congressional elections.”
At first a lot of Washington commentators were willing to give Comey the benefit of the doubt and assume that he had just made a horrendous mistake. Then more information turned up. It seems that Comey had declined to answer questions about whether the FBI was investigating possibly illegal connections between Paul Manafort, former campaign manager for Clinton’s opponent Donald Trump, and the pro-Russian officials of Ukraine for whom Manafort used to work as a lobbyist. Comey had also refused to talk about whether the FBI was investigating allegations that Russia was behind the wholesale hacking and unauthorized release of the Democratic Party’s internal e-mails via WikiLeaks, which has led to several embarrassing stories about Clinton.
Why hadn’t Comey been willing to talk about these politically charged and sensitive allegations? Because, he said, he didn’t want to risk influencing the outcome of the election. But he had no compunction about embarrassing Clinton by writing a letter to Republican Congressmembers about the possibility that Anthony Weiner’s laptop just might contain e-mails that might bolster a criminal case against Hillary Clinton.
And Comey’s motives seemed even more questionable on November 1, when the Washington Post reported (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/after-release-of-documents-fbi-finds-itself-caught-in-a-partisan-fray/2016/11/01/9d466908-a068-11e6-8832-23a007c77bb4_story.html) about a “surprise tweet from a little-used FBI account … announcing that the agency had published on its Web site 129 pages of internal documents related to a years-old investigation into former President Bill Clinton’s pardon of a fugitive Democratic donor.” The donor was Marc Rich, a well-heeled and well-connected Clinton supporter whose pardon was announced in the final days of Bill Clinton’s presidency in 2001.
“For the second time in five days, the FBI had moved exactly to the place the nation’s chief law enforcement agency usually strives to avoid: smack in the middle of partisan fighting over a national election, just days before the vote,” Post reporters Rosalind S. Helderman, Tom Hamburger and Sari Horwitz wrote. “The publication of the files related to the Marc Rich pardon inquiry, which agency officials said was posted automatically in response to pending public records requests, came as the Clinton campaign and Democratic lawmakers continued to fume over FBI Director James B. Comey’s decision with less than two weeks before the election to announce that he was effectively resuming a review of Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices.”
Though FBI spokespeople said the timing of the release of the Rich documents was purely coincidental — it was, they said, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request and came through a Web site that had been down for months and was only recently fixed — it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that James Comey is willfully and consciously attempting to influence the outcome of the November 8 election and make it more likely that Donald Trump, not Hillary Clinton, will be the next President.
It’s not a new thing for the FBI director to try to influence a Presidential election. As historian Jeff Kisselhoff reported on the Web site of The Nation October 31 (https://www.thenation.com/article/this-is-not-the-first-time-the-fbi-has-interfered-with-a-presidential-election/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=DAILY_2016_11_1&utm_term=daily), J. Edgar Hoover routinely manipulated the system to keep Presidents and Attorneys General beholden to him so he could keep his job for 48 years, from his initial appointment in 1924 to his death in 1972.
But even Hoover never interfered with a Presidential election so blatantly and publicly as Comey has this year. Hoover preferred to work in the shadows, assigning FBI agents to dig up derogatory information on Presidential candidates and anyone they might appoint as Attorney General so he could essentially blackmail them into letting him keep his job. “He’s got a file on everybody,” then-President Richard Nixon famously complained about Hoover on one of the White House tapes. Hoover was too street-smart and too good a bureaucratic infighter to risk pissing off a potential President by going public with derogatory information or unfounded allegations against them. But Comey has.
Comey’s actions just show how deep-seated the hatred of Hillary Clinton is in virtually all sectors of the Republican Party. Another Nation reporter, Joan Walsh, posted an article to the Nation site October 31 (https://www.thenation.com/article/the-dangerous-cowardice-of-james-comey/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=DAILY_2016_11_1&utm_term=daily) alleged that Jason Chaffetz, head of the House of Representatives’ Oversight Committee, may have had a behind-the-scenes role in Comey’s decision to go public with the latest development in the Clinton investigation.
“Two days before Comey released his letter,” Walsh wrote, “Chaffetz was boasting about the treasure trove of Clinton documents he already controlled and promising more investigations after the election, telling The Washington Post’s David Weigel: ‘Even before we get to Day One, we’ve got two years’ worth of material already lined up. She has four years of history at the State Department, and it ain’t good.’ That same day, Chaffetz reversed his decision not to vote for Donald Trump.” Walsh said that when Comey made his announcement last July that he wouldn’t recommend Clinton’s prosecution, Chaffetz “hauled him before Congress … to interrogate him about his failure to recommend charges against Clinton and even managed to get the FBI director to hand over his team’s investigative files, including notes from the bureau’s interview with Clinton herself.”
The Post article exposing the FBI’s release of the Rich documents also noted that another powerful Republican Congressmember, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina), is just waiting to get his hands on more derogatory information about Clinton so he can continue to investigate her. Gowdy led the multiple investigations into Clinton’s alleged role in the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya in 2011, which turned up absolutely nothing incriminating but have become such a talking point among Republicans that at this year’s GOP convention, the widow of one of the four U.S. officials killed in the attack said, “Hillary Clinton, how could you do this to my husband?” If you didn’t know the story you could have been forgiven for thinking Clinton had shot her husband personally.
Trump Surges Ahead in Latest Poll
The allegations against Clinton and the public splash with which Comey released his intention to investigate them further have had exactly the effect Comey seems to have wanted. On November 1 the Washington Post and ABC News released a new national poll that showed the race essentially dead even — Trump at 46 percent, Clinton at 45 — just 10 days after the same poll showed Clinton with a 12-point lead.
Comey’s action, as New York Daily News reporters Meg Wagner and Cameron Joseph acknowledged (http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/donald-trump-leads-hillary-clinton-new-poll-article-1.2853499), “hasn’t fully been accounted for in recent polling, as it takes people a few days to digest news and polling is a lagging indicator of how voters are feeling. But it came at the end of one of the rougher weeks for Clinton in months, with news of Obamacare rate spikes, new questions from WikiLeaks-released hacked e-mails of her top campaign staffer about how the Clinton Foundation operated all dogging her campaign.”
The news wasn’t all bad for Clinton, since even if she’s falling behind in the national poll she’s still leading in a number of the key “swing states” that, according to our creaky system for electing our national leader, could determine the outcome. The name of the game is the Electoral College, whose votes are allocated on a state-by-state basis, and it still remains entirely possible that Trump could win the popular vote but Clinton could win enough states to gain the needed Electoral College majority of 270 votes or more. (It could also happen the other way, too; election guru Nate Silver of the fivethirtyeight.com Web site says it’s actually more likely that Clinton could win the popular vote and Trump could win the election: http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-odds-of-an-electoral-college-popular-vote-split-are-increasing/?ex_cid=2016-forecast.)
But an election in which Trump wins the popular vote but Clinton becomes President would be almost as dangerous for the future of American democracy than one Trump wins outright. The reason: unlike the last Presidential candidate who won the popular vote but lost the election, Al Gore, Donald Trump is not about to go gentle into that good night. He’ll offer the split result as proof that the election was rigged, as he’s said all along it would be — and he’ll have a point. There’s no doubt that a defeated Donald Trump will see it as his bounden duty to keep faith with his supporters and use all his considerable influence to make sure that, though Hillary Clinton may become President, she won’t be able to accomplish anything.
And he’ll have powerful allies in that: virtually the entire Republican delegation in both houses of Congress. As David Atkins reported on the American Prospect Web site October 25 (http://prospect.org/article/hostility-awaits-clinton), “House Republicans long ago made clear that, should Hillary Clinton win the Oval Office, she would not enjoy the “honeymoon” period that Congress traditionally offers incoming presidents. If anything, GOP lawmakers seem determined to create a more hostile environment for a new administration than any in recent memory. … Given the anti-Clinton acrimony that Donald Trump has ginned up among increasingly extremist GOP base voters, coupled with his unsubstantiated claims of a ‘rigged’ election, Clinton will likely be welcomed to Washington with calls for her impeachment or even imprisonment.”
If the 2016 election ends with Republicans keeping control of both the House and the Senate, Clinton will not only be unlikely to get any major legislation through Congress — like President Obama, she’ll have her hands full just keeping the government up and running — she’ll also be unlikely to get major appointments approved, especially to the U.S. Supreme Court. Congressional Republicans already have pulled off an unprecedented coup in denying President Obama’s choice to replace deceased Justice Antonin Scalia, Merrick Garland, even a hearing before the Senate. The Constitution says that the Senate shall “advise and consent” to Supreme Court appointments, but historically that’s meant either “advise and consent” or “advise and not consent” — not “don’t advise, and thereby keep the Court short-handed.”
A number of Republican Senators — John McCain of Arizona, Ted Cruz of Texas, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — have gone beyond the argument Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell used to justify not holding hearings on Garland, which was that the next President should be allowed to pick Scalia’s replacement. They’ve said they will not allow a confirmation vote on any Clinton nominee, essentially saying that they want the next Republican President to appoint the next Supreme Court justices. Whether the next Republican President takes office in 2017, 2021 or some time in the near or distant future, Republican Senators are content to wait to avoid “flipping” the Court from the 5-4 Right-wing majority it had when Scalia was alive to the 5-4 progressive majority that might result from an Obama or Clinton appointment.
The increasingly hard line Republican Senators are taking against any Democratic president making appointments to the Supreme Court is ironic when you realize Bill Clinton and Barack Obama both appointed relatively moderate justices. The most recent Republican Presidents, Ronald Reagan and both Bushes, mostly appointed hard-core reactionaries like Scalia, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Samuel Alito. There were partial exceptions: after the Senate voted down Right-wing extremist Robert Bork, Reagan appointed Anthony Kennedy, who’s mostly been a hard-line Right-winger — he wrote the loathsome Citizens United decision — but went off the reservation on two major issues, juvenile justice and Queer rights. And the first Bush appointed David Souter, a moderate who significantly disappointed the Republican base.
One thing the Comey announcements make more likely is that Republican House members may vote to impeach Hillary Clinton and remove her from the Presidency in her first few days in office. The fervor with which delegates to the Republican convention chanted “Lock her up!” just about every time Clinton’s name was mentioned — a cry Trump has stoked in his general-election rallies — Trump’s promise to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate and bring charges against her, and his snippy comment to her during one of the debates that if he gets elected “you’ll be in jail,” all indicate a desire for legalistic vengeance that, as a number of commentators have noted, seems to belong more to a banana republic or a long-term dictatorship than a country that prides itself on 240 years of being a representative republic.
“She won’t get impeached, but I can see a lot of pressure to appoint a special prosecutor for several matters half the country feels have gone unaddressed,” Ali Akbar, editorial director of the Right-wing Web site OnRabble.com, told Atkins in his American Prospect article. Though Clinton’s impeachment and removal from office would still leave a Democrat in the White House, Atkins wrote, “Fueling GOP pro-impeachment sentiment is that many Republicans see potential Vice-President Tim Kaine preferable to Clinton, whom they revile. In Akbar’s words, ‘we would see the devil better for the country than Hillary Clinton. Tim Kaine would be a huge relief.’”