The weekend brought a few more details, but not a whole lot more clarity, about the stunning news Friday that the FBI is once again looking at Hillary Clinton's exclusive use of an unsecured, private email server while serving as secretary of state. We know now, from various reports, that the feds are looking at some 650,000 emails found on a laptop that belonged to top Clinton aide Huma Abdein and her estranged husband, Anthony Weiner, who is under investigation in a separate matter. We know there are signs (in the metadata gleaned from the computer) that a large number of these emails, though by no means all or probably even most of them, were sent to or from Clinton's private server -- although it remains unknown whether these are emails that agents have already examined.
One thing that is clear: FBI Director James Comey had no choice but to notify Congress of this development, regardless of the proximity of the election.
Democrats, just months after praising Comey for his "integrity, (his) competence" (Harry Reid) and for having "the highest standards of integrity" (Tim Kaine), are now bashing him for seeming to interfere with the election. The opposite is true: Imagine Comey had known there were potentially thousands of emails that could be connected to an earlier investigation of Clinton he had declared completed -- an action that came with very real electoral benefits for her -- and chosen not to disclose that before the election. That's when he would have been guilty of interfering in the election, by being dishonest about where one of the candidates stood regarding potential law-breaking. The standard for honesty in courts of law is "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." Why include "the whole truth"? Because, as we've all been told since we were children, knowingly omitting truth is the same thing as a lie. This is common sense. The fact the FBI had more work to do regarding the single biggest story about Clinton during this campaign certainly qualifies as part of "the whole truth."
This is not the same thing as a prosecutor opening a new case during an election season, or introducing charges out of left field right before ballots are cast. This is a new development in a case that was open well before this year's primary contests began. And, it's worth noting, it's a new development that came out of a series of continuing probes of Clinton and people in her political orbit, not all of which we previously knew about in full: One new bit of information to come out this weekend is from the Wall Street Journal's report that four FBI field offices have been looking into potential corruption at the Clinton Foundation, with that investigation eventually split into two (one focusing on the foundation, another on a longtime Clinton ally, Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia).
The Journal's story lays out in some detail the stark differences of opinion within the Department of Justice about any and all investigations concerning Clinton. One can easily conclude from reading it that senior DOJ officials were trying to make sure the probes didn't go anywhere. Here's one example of what I mean, from the WSJ story:
"In February, FBI officials made a presentation (about the Clinton Foundation investigation) to the Justice Department, according to these people (familiar with the matter). By all accounts, the meeting didn't go well.
"Some said that is because the FBI didn't present compelling evidence to justify more aggressive pursuit of the Clinton Foundation, and that the career anticorruption prosecutors in the room simply believed it wasn't a very strong case. Others said that from the start, the Justice Department officials were stern, icy and dismissive of the case."
"According to a person familiar with the probes, on Aug. 12, a senior Justice Department official called Mr. McCabe to voice his displeasure at finding that New York FBI agents were still openly pursuing the Clinton Foundation probe during the election season. Mr. McCabe said agents still had the authority to pursue the issue as long as they didn't use overt methods requiring Justice Department approvals.
"The Justice Department official was 'very pissed off,' according to one person close to Mr. McCabe, and pressed him to explain why the FBI was still chasing a matter the department considered dormant. Others said the Justice Department was simply trying to make sure FBI agents were following longstanding policy not to make overt investigative moves that could be seen as trying to influence an election. Those rules discourage investigators from making any such moves before a primary or general election, and, at a minimum, checking with anticorruption prosecutors before doing so.
"'Are you telling me that I need to shut down a validly predicated investigation?' Mr. McCabe asked, according to people familiar with the conversation. After a pause, the official replied, 'Of course not,' these people said."
It's also worth noting this anecdote is presented mostly as how the events are portrayed by defenders of McCabe -- who was also in the news last week due to reports his wife, when running for a state Senate seat in Virginia, received almost $500,000 from a PAC controlled by McAuliffe. There's another side to the story that is less favorable to him, or at least to how FBI and DOJ brass in general approached the case:
"Others further down the FBI chain of command, however, said agents were given a much starker instruction on the case: 'Stand down.' When agents questioned why they weren't allowed to take more aggressive steps, they said they were told the order had come from the deputy director -- Mr. McCabe."
Where all this leaves us, politically, is unknown. The race has tightened considerably over the past week , in large part because people who typically vote for Republicans have gradually "come home" to GOP nominee Donald Trump after staying away from him up until now. (Even if we assume all of Gary Johnson's lost support in the Real Clear Politics average has gone to Trump, that would still mean undecideds are breaking for Trump over Clinton about 3-to-1.)
If nothing else, the revelation that Clinton is still very much under investigation could persuade some folks who were planning to cast a reluctant vote for her. It wouldn't take much of a shift in the most closely contested states to produce a sizable difference in the outcome. The same goes for the Senate races that could decide the balance of power in that chamber.
Whatever the outcome, Democrats have no one but themselves to blame for this. They voted for Clinton while she was still actively under investigation, so they chose her knowing what they might get with her. They shouldn't act so shocked that they're getting it.
More on Hillary and honesty:
- That time Comey shredded every one of her email excuses but said she still wouldn't be prosecuted
- The difference between her lies and Trump's lies
- Why her aversion to truth and transparency is the illness that apparently can't be cured