Assuming that the bizarre 2016 presidential campaign does not represent the new normal, the great Hillary Clinton email snipe hunt will go down as the most preposterous presidential election issue ever.
Just as the email furor seemed about to subside, the forlorn FBI director, James B. Comey, revived it by telling Congress that some emails in the computer of sex pervert Anthony Weiner might have something to do with Clinton, the boss of Weiner’s estranged wife, although it could be meaningless. Clinton sagged in the polls, Donald Trump surged, and his crowds roared “lock her up” with new fury.
To Trump, Comey went from loser to man of principle, and Republicans praised him, but Democrats and former Republican Justice Department officials blamed him for inserting the FBI into a political campaign in violation of longstanding policy.
Comey was a lifelong Republican and a high Bush administration official who sank more than $20,000 into the campaigns of John McCain and Mitt Romney, who ran against Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, but canceled his party registration after Obama made him FBI director in 2013. He has waffled from one side to the other to try to prove that he is nonpartisan, first announcing that the FBI had found no evidence that Clinton had committed a crime by using the government server and then saying the FBI was going to look again. After his murky note to Congress about Weiner’s emails, he sent a longer one to FBI colleagues explaining that regardless of the likelihood that there was nothing damaging for Clinton he was obliged to keep Congress abreast of things.
Clinton’s public approval ratings after leaving the State Department were sky-high before her bête noire, the New York Times, disclosed that she had used a private server while she was secretary of state. Media coverage mushroomed and Republicans made it the crime of the century. Might she have inadvertently revealed secrets to Russia or Middle Eastern jihadists, such as the identities of CIA agents or the fact that the CIA was killing civilians in drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen? The Russians or WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange might have hacked into her server, although Trump urged them to do it and investigators found no evidence that they had.
WikiLeaks had, however, published online millions of secret documents from electronic government files, including many that were indeed damaging to national security. Assange’s interference in the election on Trump’s behalf, not Clinton’s emails, may yet prove to be the story of the year. Clinton had denounced WikiLeaks’ attacks on national security and called for Assange’s prosecution. (He is ensconced in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, enjoying immunity from extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for sex crimes.)
The real oddity of the campaign is the assertion by Trump, Republican congressmen and crowds that Clinton should be locked up for using a private server when policy seemed to dictate that people use government domains for official business, even if no harm to national security had been shown. The law is the law, they say, and anyone but her would be prosecuted.
If that were true, thousands would be in jail, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose advice led to Clinton’s using a private server like he did, and nearly everyone in the George W. Bush White House. Memories are too short.
Using a private server was a boneheaded error by Hillary Clinton, one of a long stretch of them she has made throughout her public life, from what has always appeared to be a pathological fear of public scrutiny of what she does and writes, but she is not alone.
A few people at least ought to remember the Bush administration email scandal, which surfaced ever so briefly in 2007 when Congress looked into White House-directed firings of seven U.S. attorneys, including our own good Republican (and now Trump state director) Bud Cummins.
It turned out that, sometime after the Iraq invasion, units in the White House converted from a government server to servers run by the Republican National Committee. Eventually, the White House explained that it had decided that the White House political operations run by Karl Rove (and including Arkansas aide Tim Griffin) were violating the Hatch Act, which prohibits political work on government time and facilities, so they converted to domains run by the Republican Party, gwb43.com, mchq.org and georgewbush.com. Other facets of government began to use them, too, because the media could not access them through the Freedom of Information Act. Rove and others eventually deleted at least 22 million emails to avoid their recovery. It was a clear violation of the Presidential Records Act, a post-Watergate reform that made it a crime to destroy presidential records.
Congressional committees were not interested in pursuing the scandal. The media reaction was ho-hum. It did not involve a Clinton.