Hillary Clinton was back this week, taking “absolute personal responsibility” by blaming Russia, FBI director James Comey, and misogyny for her second presidential-election loss. If the election had taken place on October 27, Clinton maintained, she’d be president. Perhaps if we were to all live in a vacuum where the electorate ignored everything the Democratic party’s flawed nominee said and did (and tried to hide), she would be in the White House — although even that’s debatable.
Clinton’s counterfactual tale about the infamous Comey letter has been a security blanket for many Democrats. But, as luck would have it, the FBI director was testifying in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, and he reminded us of some factors that Clinton ignored. And even if we concede that Comey’s letter to Congress helped sink Clinton, Clinton deserved that letter and Comey had no choice but to send it.
In essence, what many Democrats have been arguing for the past six months is that Comey should have actively buried evidence that was pertinent to an ongoing congressional investigation — one that incidentally turned up plenty of potential wrongdoing — because it might hurt their preferred candidate’s chances.
Comey confirmed that the FBI learned that classified e-mails were forwarded from Clinton’s e-mail account by Clinton aide Huma Abedin to her husband, former representative Anthony Weiner, so he could print them out. (This appears to be illegal, but perhaps all those immunity deals Comey was handing out came in handy.) Her computer, like other servers and laptops Clinton’s staff tried to dispose of, hide, clean, and whatnot, were supposed to have been in the hands of the FBI.
It’s worth pointing out that everything in the Comey letter was almost surely going to leak anyway, not only because of its connection to the Clinton investigation but also because this “fella Anthony Weiner,” as Comey referred to him, had access to classified information. That may not have made things any better for Clinton, but it certainly would have made the FBI look like it was actively protecting a candidate — which is undoubtedly why Comey said it was potentially “catastrophic.”
Whatever his political calculations, however, there was simply no reason for him not to apprise Congress of that kind of discovery. As an article in Newsweek pointed out at the time, Comey had an ethical obligation to inform Congress despite the best contrary efforts of overt partisans such as Attorney General Loretta Lynch, not only because Department of Justice rules maintain that relevant committees should be apprised of new evidence but also because Comey had informed Congress that he had completed its review. Once he did that, and once he came into possession of significant evidence that would have to be examined by the FBI, Comey had a duty to notify Congress to amend his initial testimony, which was no longer true.
Setting all that aside, however, it’s also worth reiterating that it was Hillary, not Comey, who initially set up a secret server to circumvent transparency, likely to hide favor trading related to her foundation. It was Hillary, not Comey, who sent unsecured classified documents through that server, which she almost surely knew was wrong. (The New York Times pointed out that chances are high these documents were intercepted by foreign powers.) It was Hillary, not Comey, who was responsible for attempts to destroy all evidence related to that server. It was Hillary’s people, as Comey noted in his original congressional testimony, that had “cleaned their devices in such a way as to preclude complete forensic recovery.” And it was Hillary’s aide who failed to inform the FBI about classified e-mails on her computer.
Rather than smearing Comey, Clinton should be thanking him for not suggesting she be indicted.
It was Hillary who ran a poor campaign and lost to one of the most unpopular presidential candidates in history. As former president Barack Obama’s adviser David Axelrod pointed out Wednesday, she never took responsibility for any of it.
He said: “But Jim Comey didn’t tell her not to campaign in Wisconsin after the convention. Jim Comey didn’t say, ‘Don’t put any resources in Michigan until the final week of the campaign.’ One of the things that hindered her in the campaign was a sense that she never fully was willing to take responsibility for her mistakes, particularly that server.”
Moreover, as Comey basically admitted again today, Clinton had clearly broken the law. The only struggle was proving intent (though gross negligence was the standard). So rather than smearing Comey, Clinton should be thanking him for not suggesting she be indicted.